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HK dismisses global criticism against new security law

The proposed law will bring further devastating consequences for human rights in the city, activist groups warned
Men walk near a national security law poster in Hong Kong.

Men walk near a national security law poster in Hong Kong. (Photo: Government of Hong Kong via HKFP)

Published: February 21, 2024 10:13 AM GMT
Updated: February 21, 2024 10:21 AM GMT

Hong Kong government has slammed UK-based advocacy group Hong Kong Watch and dozens of other activist groups who expressed grave concerns that an impending new security law would bring “further devastating consequences” for human rights in the city.

The groups had made “skewed remarks” that the authorities were undermining human rights with the upcoming enactment of legislation, the HK government said in a statement on Feb. 20, Hong Kong Free Press reported.

The new, homegrown security law under Article 23 of the city’s mini-constitution reportedly seeks to criminalize seven types of acts including treason and secession.

“The joint statement smacks of deliberate smears and is no further from the truth,” a government spokesperson said in the statement.

The condemnation from the authorities came in response to a statement opposing the legislation issued by Hong Kong Watch and signed by groups based in countries including the US, UK, and Canada.

The joint statement said the proposed provisions in the legislation were vague and would result in criminalizing of free expression.

“The proposed law includes a number of procedural changes that will dramatically undermine the Hong Kong people’s due process and fair trial rights,” the joint statement read.

Hong Kong is entitled to enact a domestic security law criminalizing offenses endangering national security under Article 23 of the city’s Basic Law, known as the mini-constitution of the former British colony, HKFP reported.

The law is separate from the National Security Law (NSL) imposed by Beijing in 2020 in response to a massive pro-democracy movement that erupted in 2019.

Activists say that with the legislation Beijing has not only suppressed all forms of dissent by arresting and jailing hundreds of pro-democracy protesters and supporters but also effectively cut off a higher degree of autonomy, basic rights, and freedoms promised under the “One Country, Two Systems” framework during the 1997 British handover.

“The introduction of Article 23 will bring further devastating consequences for human rights beyond those brought by the National Security Law when it was imposed by Beijing in 2020,” the Hong Kong Watch statement added.

Beijing-imposed NSL criminalized secession, subversion, terrorism, and collusion with foreign forces, leading to the shuttering of independent media outlets and civil society groups while dozens of pro-democracy politicians and activists including Catholic media tycoon Jimmy Lai have been arrested and jailed. Many are still detained awaiting trials.

HK authorities maintained the NSL restored law and order in the city, but another legislation was necessary to plug “loopholes.”

According to the public consultation document, the proposed new law covers five types of crime: treason, insurrection, theft of state secrets and espionage, sabotage endangering national security, and external interference, HKFP reported.

The law is expected to be passed by the Legislative Council within this year without any hurdles as recent changes in election rules effectively made the legislature a ‘patriots-only’ pro-Beijing bloc.

The authorities have suppressed local opposition to the proposed law by using the Beijing-imposed NSL, which bars protests. Pro-regime lawmakers and business groups have endorsed the law.

Foreign governments have also not reacted to the impending legislation. Last week, government adviser Regina Ip said, “Not a single country has issued a statement” since authorities published a 110-page paper as part of a month-long public consultation.

In its statement, the overseas activist groups said they urged countries to “publicly oppose the introduction of Article 23” and impose sanctions on officials responsible for pushing it.

“They need to send a clear and strong message to the Chinese government that repression has a cost,” the statement read.

In response, the Hong Kong government said the statement “squarely reflects the ongoing national security threats which anti-China and destabilizing forces pose.”

The groups’ calls could potentially amount to the offense of foreign collusion under the Beijing-imposed national security law, the government added.

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