New Rules Establish Broad Police Powers Under Hong Kong National Security Law

Following the passage and immediate enactment of Hong Kong’s controversial new national security law, the Hong Kong government issued implementation rules for Article 43 of the law. That article allows Hong Kong police to search and confiscate private property, censor published content, conduct surveillance, and take other actions against individuals suspected of violating the law. Kelly Ho at Hong Kong Free Press summarizes the new rules:

According to the latest legal document, an officer of – or above – the rank of assistant commissioner can authorise officers to enter premises without a warrant under “urgent” situations to search for evidence. Police can also apply for a warrant to demand suspected violators of the national security law to surrender their travel documents to restrict them from leaving the territory.

The secretary for security may issue a written notice to freeze assets if they have “reasonable grounds” to suspect the property is related to an offence endangering national security. Additionally, the secretary for justice may apply for a restraining order or charging order to the Court of First Instance in order to confiscate or forfeit such property.

Meanwhile, the commissioner of police is to be given powers to control the dissemination of information online, when they have “reasonable grounds” to suspect such information may lead to national security crimes. Such enforcement may require a relevant publisher, platform service provider, hosting service provider or network service providers to remove information that the authorities deem a threat to national security. They may also restrict or stop anyone from accessing to such platforms. [Source]

On July 3, Beijing appointed hardliner Zheng Yanxiong to head the new Office for Safeguarding National Security in Hong Kong. A former county and provincial official, Zheng is known for overseeing a harsh crackdown on a village uprising in Wukan, Guangdong in 2011. Immediately after the law went into effect on June 30, police moved to make their first arrests and to warn protesters against carrying signs or chanting slogans that are now deemed illegal. The first person arrested under the law, Tong Ying-kit, has been charged with “inciting secession and terrorist activities.”

Many in Hong Kong are reeling from the sudden changes to their way of life. Vivian Wang, Elaine Yu, and Tiffany May report for The New York Times:

In recent days, as China took a victory lap over the law it imposed on the city Tuesday, the defiant masses who once filled Hong Kong’s streets in protest have largely gone quiet. Sticky notes that had plastered the walls of pro-democracy businesses vanished, taken down by owners suddenly fearful of the words scribbled on them. Parents whispered about whether to stop their children from singing a popular protest song, while activists devised coded ways to express now-dangerous ideas.

Seemingly overnight, Hong Kong was visibly and viscerally different, its more than seven million people left to navigate what the law would mean to their lives. The territory’s distinct culture of political activism and free speech, at times brazenly directed at China’s ruling Communist Party, appeared to be in peril.

For some who had been alarmed by the ferocity of last year’s unrest, which at times transformed shopping districts, neighborhoods and university campuses into smoke-filled battlefields, the law brought relief and optimism. For others, who had hoped the desperate protest campaign would help secure long-cherished freedoms, it signaled a new era of fear and uncertainty.

“This is home,” said Ming Tse, sitting in the cafe he manages, which once loudly supported the protesters. “But I don’t think this place loves us anymore.” [Source]

Authorities are moving quickly to remove newly offensive content from libraries and schools. From Dan Strumpf at The Wall Street Journal:

Two books by the activist Joshua Wong and one title by lawmaker Tanya Chan were among those listed as “under review” on the city’s online library catalog on Sunday. In a statement, a government spokeswoman confirmed that some books had been removed from circulation pending a review for compliance with the new security law.

“The book collection must comply with the law of Hong Kong,” said the spokeswoman, without stating how many books were affected. “While legal advice will be sought in the process of the review, the books will not be available for borrowing and reference in libraries,” she said.

Ms. Chan said the action undermined assurances by officials that the law would only affect a small minority of people.

“It’s affecting what books people can have access to,” Ms. Chan said in an interview. “It’s affecting each and every aspect of our people’s normal lives.” [Source]

School curriculums are also being reviewed and altered, with published materials that might violate the new law removed. From Chan Ho-him of the South China Morning Post:

Following the withdrawal of several publications from public libraries last week, the Education Bureau said on Monday that schools should get rid of reading materials which “possibly violate” the new legislation, while insisting that pupils should be taught the positive values of safeguarding national security.

Principals have called on the bureau to seek legal advice and then issue clearer guidelines on schools’ new responsibilities, while critics raised concerns over the impact on academic freedom if university libraries were also targeted.

[…] The Education Bureau said schools should review their book collections in line with the four categories of offences under the new law, but would not be required to submit their catalogues to officials for further vetting.

“If any teaching materials including books have content which is outdated or involve the four crimes under the law, unless they are being used to positively teach pupils about their national security awareness or sense of safeguarding national security … they should otherwise be removed from the school,” a bureau spokesman said. [Source]

Journalists have also expressed fear that their work could become more risky under the new law, as it establishes government supervision over Hong Kong’s previously free media. Prior to the national security legislation, Hong Kong’s relative press freedoms had already been eroding in recent years under Beijing’s increasing sway. Kimmy Chung reports for the South China Morning Post:

Chris Yeung Kin-hing, chairman of the Hong Kong Journalists Association, said on Thursday that he worried local journalists could be prosecuted when reporting on issues thought to be related to national security.

“Under the categories of crimes of secession, subversion, and terrorism, there are references saying that any incitement or advocation of those crimes is also liable to punishment under the law,” he said.

“So are media reports considered an act of endangering national safety, and will the publication of certain interviews and articles be deemed problematic?

“When the red line is unclear and moving according to political needs, media organisations may self-censor on some sensitive topics and refrain from interviewing those who are criticised by state media,” the veteran journalist added. [Source]

Likewise, academics are concerned about how the law may impact their research and independence. From Andrew Silver at Nature:

But some academics are concerned that the law could allow the central government to interfere with independent research in the name of national security. “Academics in Hong Kong are very concerned about possible changes,” says an administrator at a university in Hong Kong who requested anonymity because they think their university is under pressure to publicly support the security law. They worry that a national security law could be used to restrict the publication of sensitive research, such as studies on the new coronavirus. Scientists on the mainland need government approval to publish research relating to the origins of the pandemic.

A Hong Kong-based editorial board member for a scientific journal who also requested anonymity because they need permission to speak to the press, says they are worried that foreign research grants or international collaborations — particularly with the United States — could be defined as foreign interference and restricted under the law. [Source]

Legal scholar Jerome Cohen, in one of several commentaries on the impact of the new law, wrote:

The new “rule of law,” enforced by Mainland police and their local minions, is “Do what we say and you will be fine and even happy.” People will gradually lose even their freedom to be silent. Sadly, the time for benign optimism has plainly passed. [Source]

As on the mainland, some Hong Kongers are finding creative ways to evade the new rules. Protesters have since taken to carrying blank placards, as a way to avoid including any illegal language, but that has not stopped them from being arrested.

Several international tech companies have recently announced they will no longer comply with requests for user data from Hong Kong authorities.

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