'From now on, Hong Kong enters new era of reign of terror'

Updated: Jul 01, 2020, 07:52 IST | Agencies | Hong Kong

"We hope the law will serve as a deterrent to prevent people from stirring up trouble," said Tam Yiu-Chung, Hong Kong's sole representative on the Standing Committee

Pro-democracy protesters are arrested by the police officers in the Causeway Bay district of Hong Kong. File pic/AFP
Pro-democracy protesters are arrested by the police officers in the Causeway Bay district of Hong Kong. File pic/AFP

China approved a contentious Hong Kong national security law. Xi Jinping signed a presidential order promulgating the law after it was approved by the Standing Committee of the National People's Congress. It will be added to the Basic Law, Hong Kong's constitution.

"We hope the law will serve as a deterrent to prevent people from stirring up trouble," said Tam Yiu-Chung, Hong Kong's sole representative on the Standing Committee. He said punishments would not include the death penalty, but did not elaborate on further details.

Passage of the law came amid fears in Hong Kong and abroad that it would be used to curb opposition voices in the city. The legislation is aimed at curbing subversive, secessionist and terrorist activities, as well as foreign intervention in the city's affairs. It follows months of anti-government protests in Hong Kong, and is expected to be enforced on July 1. Speaking in a video message to the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva, Hong Kong leader Carrie Lam said the law would "only target an extremely small minority" of lawbreakers.

Critics say it's the most significant erosion to date of Hong Kong's British-style rule of law and the high degree of autonomy that China promised the city would enjoy at least through 2047 under a "one country, two systems" framework.

Pro-democracy activists Joshua Wong, Agnes Chow and Nathan Law said on Facebook they are withdrawing from their organisation Demosisto, which then announced that it would disband with the loss of its top members. "From now on, Hong Kong enters a new era of reign of terror, with arbitrary prosecutions, black jails, secret trials, forced confessions, media clampdowns and political censorship," said Wong.

Taiwan, the EU and Japan condemned the move. "Democracy and freedom are shared universal values of Hong Kong and Taiwan," the island's Mainland Affairs Council said.

Japan's foreign minister said the law "will undermine trust for the principle of 'one country, two systems'." European Council President Charles Michel said, "We deplore this decision. This law risks seriously undermining the high degree of autonomy of Hong Kong, and having a detrimental effect on the independence of the judiciary."

What the law means for Hong Kong

Hong Kong, a semi-autonomous that Britain handed over to Beijing in 1997 under a "one country, two systems" framework, attempted to enact a national security law in 2003, but withdrew it after massive protests. This year, China took the matter in its own hand and eventually enacted the law that gives Beijing power over the city-state. The legislation is aimed at curbing subversive, secessionist and terrorist activities, as well as foreign intervention in the city's affairs. Here's how China will operate in Hong Kong under the new law:

. Beijing will set up a national security office in Hong Kong to collect and analyse intelligence and deal with criminal cases related to national security

. Hong Kong will set up a national security commission to enforce the laws, with a Beijing-appointed adviser

. Hong Kong chief executive will pick judges to hear the cases, which has raised concern about the independec of the judiciary

.' Trials in certain cases can take place in mainland China

. Maximum jail term is life imprisonment

. Beijing will the authority to interpret the law, and the new legislation will be used if there's a conflict between the national and existing Hong Kong law

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