“The end of Hong Kong as the world knew it”, Joshua Wong, one of the figures of the democracy movement, summed up on Twitter. The national security law, promulgated on June 30 by Chinese President, Xi Jinping, shattered the relative freedoms that the former British colony enjoyed until then: freedom of expression, freedom of the press but also independent justice, under the “one country, two systems” principle.
Its objective: according to Beijing, to ensure stability and put an end to the vandalism that punctuated the protests of 2019 in Hong Kong; according to pro-democracy activists, deliver the final blow to the protest movement.
This text “It’s certainly not as dark as it looks”, local chief executive Carrie Lam replied at a press conference on Tuesday July 7. She assured that it would be applied “Vigorously” and warned against everything “Crossing the red line” : “The consequences of a violation of this law are very serious. “
What does this law provide for?
The national security law came into effect just over a year after protests against the influence of the Chinese central government in Hong Kong began. Scalded by these events, the Beijing government imposed it in just a few weeks – the regime tabled it in the Chinese parliament on May 22.
This text, the content of which has been kept confidential until the last moment, aims to punish four types of “crimes”: subversion, separatism, terrorism and collusion with outside forces. It makes the Chinese courts competent for the most serious crimes, the sentences of which can range from ten years’ imprisonment to life imprisonment.
Since 1er July, support for the independence of Hong Kong, Taiwan, Tibet and the Xinjiang region became illegal in the former British colony.
A document, released on the evening of July 6, also broadens the powers of the Hong Kong police over surveillance, effectively removing much of the power of judicial review. Law enforcement agencies can conduct warrantless searches if they believe national security is under threat “Imminent”. The police chief has also been given the power to monitor and suppress any online information if there are any “Reasonable grounds” to think that it violates said law.
Police can order Internet companies, as well as service providers, to remove any information and seize all of their material. If refused, they would be subject to fines and up to one year in prison. Companies are required to provide identification records and assistance in decrypting data.
The police chief can ask international political organizations to deliver information about their activities in Hong Kong – including personal data, sources of income and expenses.
For her part, Carrie Lam has also been granted broad powers over surveillance, such as the power to intercept communications.
What are the immediate consequences?
“I have not seen (…) widespread fear among the people of Hong Kong”, estimated, a week after the promulgation of the law, the head of the local executive. Less than twenty-four hours after its entry into force, when thousands of Hong Kongers gathered to mark the anniversary of the territory’s handover to China on 1er July 1997, the police made the first arrests of people in possession of symbols in favor of independence or greater autonomy for the territory. Among the approximately 370 people arrested, 1er July ten were for violations of national security law.
Since then, pro-democracy activists have ostensibly brandished sheets of white paper or have used word games and slogans whose sound is reminiscent of those now prohibited, but which have a different meaning. However, that did not stop the authorities from arresting eight protesters who were silently holding large sheets of immaculate paper in a shopping center.
Some traders have withdrawn their posters supporting the pro-democracy movement. Many residents have erased the computer traces of their engagement. Social media giants Facebook, Google and Twitter have said they will not respond to requests for information about their users, while Chinese Tiktok has announced the suspension of its application in Hong Kong, “In the light of recent events”.
In addition, the government of the former British colony asked the schools on July 6.“Examine teaching materials, including books” and them ” remove “ in case of “Content that is out of date or that may be similar to the four types of offense” defined by law. Works written by figures from the pro-democracy movement had started to disappear from library shelves a few days earlier.
What have been the international reactions?
Many Western countries, including twenty-seven members of the United Nations Human Rights Council, have condemned the text, fearing that it will lead to the suppression of all political opposition. They urge Beijing to reconsider this law.
US threatens China with retaliation, promising not to “Sit idly by”. Congress passed a law to punish Chinese officials who apply the new security rules and target the banks that finance them.
For its part, Canada has announced the suspension of its extradition treaty with Hong Kong as well as its exports of military equipment “Sensitive”.
Facing a “Manifest violation of autonomy” of the territory, the British Prime Minister, Boris Johnson, has announced his ambition to facilitate access to British citizenship for holders of a special passport to which are eligible nearly three million inhabitants of the former -colony. China has said it will fight back if the UK expands immigration rights.
For its part, Taiwan has announced the opening of an office to accommodate Hong Kong residents wishing to settle on the island. Taiwan “Carefully monitor the implementation of the law”, assured its president, Tsai Ing-wen, on July 7, while the country fears to become the next target of Beijing.