Hong Kong Article 23 National Security Law Fast-tracked Under CCP Pressure

Hong Kong is set to pass a new domestic national security law that critics worry will further curtail civil liberties already endangered by the 2020 National Security Law imposed by China. The passage of domestic security legislation is a requirement of Article 23 of Hong Kong’s Basic Law, but a previous effort to introduce it in 2003 sparked a June 1 protest march, attended by approximately 500,000 Hongkongers, that forced officials to shelve the bill. This version of the bill was first floated in January and is now, due in no small part to strong Chinese pressure, being rushed through Hong Kong’s normal legislative process. It is expected to be adopted by mid-April. At the Financial Times, Chan Ho-him and William Langley reported on the fast-tracking of a bill that stiffens penalties on actions that the city’s government holds endanger national security:

The bill was published on Friday, ahead of a special meeting of Hong Kong’s pro-Beijing legislature and just days after a public consultation ended.

John Lee, the city’s leader, has called on lawmakers to approve it at “full speed”, while China’s vice-premier Ding Xuexiang this week said the city should quickly approve the law.

[…] It includes a maximum penalty of life imprisonment for crimes of treason or insurrection and raises the maximum penalty for sedition to seven years from the current two years.

Those found guilty of the theft of state secrets face a penalty of up to 10 years in prison under the draft law. The definition of state secrets has been broadened to include data on the economic, social, technological or scientific development of Hong Kong or the mainland. [Source]

At The New York Times, David Pierson reported on the Hong Kong government’s stated rationale for the law and expert concerns that it will diminish human rights in the city:

[Hong Kong’s Chief Executive] Mr. Lee said the law is necessary to close gaps in an existing national security law imposed by Beijing in 2020 that was used to quash pro-democracy protests and jail opposition lawmakers and activists. Mr. Lee has depicted Hong Kong as a city under mounting national security threats, including from American and British spy agencies.

[…] “This law will have far-reaching impacts on human rights and the rule of law in Hong Kong,” said Thomas Kellogg, the executive director of the Georgetown Center for Asian Law. “It’s clear that the government is continuing to expand its national security tool kit to crack down on its political opponents.”

[…] But the Hong Kong Journalists Association has expressed concerns about the law over the potential new limitations on press freedom. And the Bar Association of Hong Kong had recommended that the law’s definition of sedition include the intention to incite violence, to narrow the scope of the offense. But the draft of the law did not include such language.

The bill unveiled on Friday also proposed extending the time a person suspected of endangering national security can be detained, without charge, to as many as 14 days, from a previous limit of two days. The law would also empower the police to seek permission to block a suspect from consulting a lawyer if access to legal advice were deemed detrimental to national security. [Source]

On Twitter, AFP’s Hong Kong correspondent Xinqi Su posted a thread detailing how the law stiffens penalties and institutes rules that seem to undermine the normal operation of the law:

The Hong Kong government claims broad public backing for the law, citing 99% support in a recent public consultation on the law. Only 93 people and organizations of the over 13,000 that submitted opinions on the law publicly opposed it, 10 of whom a Hong Kong government spokesperson dismissed as “overseas anti-China organizations and abscondees.” This year’s consultation earned only 15% of the 90,000 public responses elicited during the same exercise done before the shelved Article 23 bill that elicited protests in 2003. Eric Lai, a researcher at the Georgetown Center for Asian Law, told BBC Chinese: “How authorities have tried to speed up the consultation and legislation has created an impression that the consultation exercise was conducted purely for the sake of formality.”

Beijing is pressing the Hong Kong government to act fast. During a press session at the National People’s Congress on Thursday, Hong Kong delegate Chan Yung relayed that Chinese Vice-Premier Ding Xuexiang, who heads the Party’s central leading group on Hong Kong, urged the Hong Kong government to pass the new bill as soon as possible during a closed-door meeting. Ding also urged Hong Kong lawmakers to strengthen patriotic education—an ongoing Party priority both domestically and in Hong Kong, which has already undergone sweeping changes to its education system after the passage of the 2020 National Security Law. At the nationalist Party-run publication Global Times, Chen Qingqing quoted a Beijing-aligned expert who dismissed criticism of the bill, claiming that it compares favorably to similar laws in democratic countries:

The sentencing standards for the offenses are appropriately stringent, aligning with the spirit of the rule of law, international standards, and customary practices, Willy Fu, a law professor who is also the director of the Chinese Association of Hong Kong and Macao Studies, told the Global Times on Friday.

The primary purpose of punishment is to make the criminals and those intending to commit similar crimes clearly understand that they will face severe consequences for their actions, thereby serving as a deterrent and maintaining national security, social stability, and public interest, he said.

In comparison, the maximum penalty under the US’ national security law is death. The national security laws of countries such as the UK, Canada, Australia, and Singapore are more complex, more stringent, and carry heavier penalties, Fu said.

Once the loopholes in national security are fixed, Hong Kong can have a more stable social environment, allowing it to concentrate its efforts on boosting the economy and addressing livelihood issues, experts said. [Source]

A number of international governments and organizations have criticized the bill. British foreign minister David Cameron urged the Hong Kong government to “re-consider” the bill, which prompted an outraged response from the Chinese government that Cameron was “maliciously smearing and attacking Hong Kong’s human rights, freedoms and rule of law.” Canada and a number of European Union member states have expressed an intention to submit diplomatic notes against the bill to the Hong Kong government. Over 80 international human rights organizations signed a joint statement condemning the proposed law.

Domestic pushback has been limited, likely due to fears over the city’s rapidly eroding civil liberties. The Hong Kong Journalists Association wrote an opinion against the law, arguing that the extension of the crime of sedition to anyone who “intends to arouse hatred or enmity between residents of the HKSAR or between residents of the HSKAR and different parts of China” would “further choke the freedom of speech and the press.” Some criticism came from unlikely corners. Regina Ip, a government advisor who was security chief during the failed 2003 introduction of the law, blasted the law’s definition of “foreign forces” as overly broad. From Kahon Chan and Willa Wu at the South China Morning Post:

Regina Ip, who was security chief in charge of a previous aborted attempt at the legislation in 2003, questioned how an organisation with members from just one “place” could be considered an “international organisation”, thus be deemed an “external force” under the new law.

[…] “Do you just want to cover Taiwan? Why not spell out ‘Taiwan’ in a clause like the Societies Ordinance, which would be more clear?”

[…] It is understood authorities have steered clear of using the more direct reference of “foreign forces” and opted for “external forces” to avoid Taiwan, which China sees as a part of the country to be reunited with in future, being seen as “foreign”. [Source]

During the consultation period, one comment encouraged the government to ban Facebook, Youtube, Signal and Telegram (an encrypted messaging app popular in Hong Kong during the 2019 protests). All four are blocked in China. The Hong Kong government insists that it has no plan to block access to the apps.


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