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Benedict Rogers

Repression in Hong Kong would be dangerous for all

If Article 23 goes ahead in its proposed form, the free world should be prepared to act
Published: February 28, 2024 11:57 AM GMT

Updated: February 29, 2024 06:00 AM GMT

Members of the League of Social Democrats hold up a banner that reads, Without democracy, there can be no livelihood. Put the people above the country, human rights above the regime. There can be no national security without democracy and human rights, outside the Central Government offices in Hong Kong on Feb. 27.

Members of the League of Social Democrats hold up a banner that reads, "Without democracy, there can be no livelihood. Put the people above the country, human rights above the regime. There can be no national security without democracy and human rights," outside the Central Government offices in Hong Kong on Feb. 27. (Photo: AFP)

Four years ago, the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) regime in Beijing sounded what most people thought was the final death knell to Hong Kong’s freedoms, autonomy, and the rule of law.

The imposition of the draconian national security law on the city resulted in the dismantling of press freedom, civil society space, democratic participation, and freedom of expression.

Hong Kong has been transformed from one of Asia’s most open societies into one of the region’s most repressive police states.

But now, the government is proposing a new security law designed to bury the corpse of Hong Kong’s freedoms. This domestic security law — invoking Article 23 of the Basic Law — will prohibit seven crimes, including treason, secession, sedition, subversion, theft of state secrets, prevent foreign political organizations from conducting political activities in the city, and local political organizations from establishing ties with foreign political bodies.

A month ago, Hong Kong’s Security Bureau published a public consultation document. The consultation exercise ends today, and draft legislation is expected next month.

Hong Kong’s legislature is now an entirely pro-Beijing puppet body, which is unlikely to debate or amend the bill significantly, so we can expect the new law to be fast-tracked and enacted in weeks.

"If anyone is using 'gangster tactics,' it is the Hong Kong government"

Hong Kong Watch made its submission to the consultation on Feb 27. We received an automatic reply saying our submission had been “well received.”

I suspect that when they read it, the word “well” might be deleted from the automated response. The Hong Kong government is not looking for constructive criticism — it seeks kowtowing, unquestioning, submissive loyalty.

Although the government’s consultation paper began with the words “We welcome your views,” when 86 civil society organizations led by Hong Kong Watch and including Freedom House, Human Rights Watch, and Index on Censorship, issued a statement expressing concerns about the proposed legislation, we were condemned by the Hong Kong government.

Hong Kong’s Security Secretary Chris Tang accused us of using "gangster tactics," “slander” and “intimidation” and described us as “anti-China organizations seeking to disrupt” and “endanger our national security.”

I can’t think of the last time gangsters issued statements that were written with carefully researched legal analysis and scholarly reviews, backed by some of the largest and most respected non-governmental organizations (NGOs) in the world.

If anyone is using “gangster tactics,” it is the Hong Kong government.

Proposals in the consultation paper for the new law include measures that will fundamentally undermine due process and fair trial rights in Hong Kong. These include extending police detention without charge, preventing contact between arrestees and lawyers of their choice, and denying those convicted under national security offenses their eligibility for a reduction in their sentences for good behavior.

Ominously, the consultation paper also proposes “eliminating certain procedures” to “speed up” national security trials — without explaining which procedures may be eliminated.

"It is already extremely dangerous for people in Hong Kong to have contact with foreign political organizations"

Like the current national security law, the Article 23 legislation will carry an extra-territorial application. It is possible that this very article may be a crime under the new law.

Under the existing national security law, it is already extremely dangerous for people in Hong Kong to have contact with foreign political organizations.

In the national security law trial of Jimmy Lai, the 76-year-old Hong Kong media entrepreneur, and British citizen, I have been named as a “collaborator” with WhatsApp exchanges between him and me that pre-date the introduction of the national security law presented as evidence of collusion with foreign forces.

The proposed Article 23 legislation will make such communications even more dangerous.

Providing donations or information to a foreign body deemed to be “an external intelligence organization” will now be a criminal offense. This could have implications for the Catholic Church in Hong Kong, among others, given its communion with the worldwide Church and with the Vatican State.

One would have thought that the existing 2020 national security law was enough. Almost all pro-democracy activists and politicians have either been jailed, driven into exile, or silenced already. Independent media has shut down. Opposition political parties have been disbanded or neutered. Why the need for another repressive law?

The Hong Kong government justifies the enactment of Article 23 as a response to what it describes as the “black-clad violence” of the 2019 protests. It claims that the 2019 “color revolution” was stirred up by “agents of external political or intelligence organizations” and accuses foreign governments of “barbaric and gross interference” in China’s internal affairs. “External forces” operating “under guises such as ‘fighting for rights’ and ‘monitoring of human rights’” are accused of “grooming” agents to infiltrate Hong Kong.

The language of the consultation document illustrates the Hong Kong government’s paranoia and that of its CCP masters. A new crime of “incitement of hatred against the fundamental system of the state, such state organs as provided for in the constitution, the offices of the [Central People’s Government] … and the constitutional order” of Hong Kong is proposed, under offenses relating to “seditious intention.” Arguably, by its own actions, no one has incited such hatred against itself more than the Hong Kong government, the Hong Kong police force, and the CCP regime in Beijing.

"Vague provisions will criminalize peaceful exercise of human rights and have a detrimental impact on human rights defenders”

The international community should watch the implementation of Article 23 closely and call it out.

A security law is not a problem per se — most Western democracies have national security legislation. Most of us would agree that safeguarding national security against genuine threats is a legitimate goal for any government.

However such laws should be in accordance with international human rights obligations and should strike a balance between protecting national security and upholding basic freedoms.

The national security law in Hong Kong already fails to strike such a balance, and the new law will tighten the noose against freedom and the rule of law even further.

As the United Nations Special Rapporteur for human rights defenders, Mary Lawlor, has already warned in a tweet, “vague provisions will criminalize peaceful exercise of human rights and have a detrimental impact on human rights defenders.”

If Article 23 goes ahead in its proposed form, the free world should be prepared to act.

The United States should consider new sanctions against officials in the Hong Kong government responsible for dismantling and burying Hong Kong’s freedoms, and the United Kingdom, Canada, Australia, and the European Union should consider finally imposing sanctions of their own against the same culprits.

The Vatican should break its silence. To allow the repression in Hong Kong to continue with impunity would be dangerous for us all.

*The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the official editorial position of UCA News.

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