A security officer looks on after the second plenary session of the National People’s Congress at the Great Hall of the People in Beijing on May 25. (Photo: Noel Celis/AFP)
The Diocese of Hong Kong has signed an open letter to the Chinese government demanding that controversial new security laws being imposed by the mainland be pulled back.
The letter, which was signed by 86 human rights and social justice organizations including the diocese’s Justice and Peace Commission, was addressed to Li Zhanshu, chairman of China’s rubber-stamp National People’s Congress, nominally responsible for the law.
“We are writing to express our grave concerns regarding the recent adoption by China’s National People’s Congress (NPC) of a formal decision to directly impose national security legislation on Hong Kong. We urge the Standing Committee of the National People’s Congress (NPCSC) to reject the legislation,” the letter said.
“Although no details of the law’s contents have been made publicly available, the decision — along with recent comments by Chinese and Hong Kong officials — suggest that it will threaten the basic rights and freedoms of the people in Hong Kong. We are particularly concerned about the law’s impact on Hong Kong, especially its vibrant civil society.”
More details of the new laws, which cover sedition, succession, terrorism and acts by foreign powers and could put Catholics including senior clergy in danger of prosecution, were unveiled by Chinese state media at the weekend.
Fresh institutional infrastructure will be set up that will see a new top-level committee chaired by Chief Executive Carrie Lam that will contain a Beijing representative to oversee laws that have caused widespread consternation in the city.
Authorities in Beijing have scheduled a meeting of the NPCSC for June 28, the second in a week and a highly unusual move.
“… we are hard pressed to find a reason for the second NPCSC session this month other than that the NPCSC is set to approve the Hong Kong national security law by the end of the month,” stated the NPC Observer, which analyses the decisions of China’s parliament.
“The NPCSC will of course first approve the law some time during the upcoming three-day session. President Xi Jinping will then sign a presidential order to promulgate it, and it would at that point officially become a national law. The new law could become official on July 1, 24 years after the handover of Hong Kong by Great Britain to China.”
Some details of the new law were made public following the NPCSC meeting that concluded on June 2, but a full draft was not released. Beijing has confirmed that under the new rules it will have the authority to extradite people charged under the legislation for trial in the mainland’s opaque and brutal justice system.
A local national security commission supervised by Beijing will oversee the legislation. Hong Kong will be required to carry out most of the enforcement under the new law, but Beijing will be able to overrule local authorities in some cases. Both Beijing and the Hong Kong government continue to insist these will only be rare cases, but most observers remain unconvinced.
Beijing’s dedicated office in Hong Kong will make security assessments, gather and analyze intelligence and “advise” and “supervise” local authorities on national security. Crucially. it will also handle selected criminal cases.
Hong Kong’s police force and Department of Justice will set up dedicated units to handle national security,
The Hong Kong chief executive will also have the power to appoint specific judges to hear new national security cases. State-run newswire Xinhua claimed human rights and those of freedom of speech and assembly would be protected with the caveat that restrictions could be imposed for national security.
The new laws will also empower authorities to scrutinize schools including dozens of Catholic diocesan and religious schools on vague national security grounds.
Meanwhile, schools could also be targeted under another controversial new law, passed on June 12 by the Hong Kong Legislative Council, that makes insulting China’s national anthem a crime punishable by fines.
On June 18, Hong Kong Education Department ordered elementary and middle schools to display the Chinese national flag and sing the Chinese national anthem on special occasions.