Hong Kong Lawmakers Approve Law That Gives Government More Power To Curb Dissent

HONG KONG (AP) — Hong Kong lawmakers unanimously approved a new national security law on Tuesday that grants the government more power to quash dissent, widely seen as the latest step in a sweeping political crackdown that was triggered by pro-democracy protests in 2019.The legislature passed the Safeguarding National Security Bill during a special session

Powered by NewsAPI , in Liberal Perspective on .

news image

HONG KONG (AP) — Hong Kong lawmakers unanimously approved a new national security law on Tuesday that grants the government more power to quash dissent, widely seen as the latest step in a sweeping political crackdown that was triggered by pro-democracy protests in 2019.

The legislature passed the Safeguarding National Security Bill during a special session that lasted Tuesday. It comes on top of a similar law imposed by Beijing four years ago, which has already largely silenced opposition voices in the financial hub.

Hong Kong’s Legislative Council, which is packed with Beijing loyalists following an electoral overhaul, rushed the law through to approval. Since the bill was unveiled on March 8, a committee held daily meetings for a week, following an appeal by Hong Kong leader John Lee to push the law through “at full speed.” After the vote, Lee said that the law would take effect Saturday.

Critics worry the new law will further erode civil liberties that Beijing promised to preserve for 50 years when the former British colony returned to Chinese rule in 1997.

It threatens stringent penalties for a wide range of actions authorities call threats to national security, with the most severe — including treason and insurrection — punishable by life imprisonment. Lesser offenses, including the possession of seditious publications, could also lead to several years in jail. Some provisions allow criminal prosecutions for acts committed anywhere in the world.

A screen displays the vote count after the third reading of the Basic Law Article 23 legislation at the Legislative Council in Hong Kong, Tuesday, March 19, 2src24. Hong Kong’s lawmakers unanimously passed a new national security law that grants the government more power to quash dissent in the southern Chinese city. (AP Photo/Louise Delmotte)
A screen displays the vote count after the third reading of the Basic Law Article 23 legislation at the Legislative Council in Hong Kong, Tuesday, March 19, 2024. Hong Kong’s lawmakers unanimously passed a new national security law that grants the government more power to quash dissent in the southern Chinese city. (AP Photo/Louise Delmotte)

via Associated Press

Legislative Council President Andrew Leung said in the morning he believed all lawmakers were honored to have taken part in this “historic mission.” Leung, who as Council president usually would not vote, also cast a vote to mark the occasion.

John Burns, an honorary professor of politics and public administration at the University of Hong Kong said the process reflected the city’s “disabled accountability system, weakened by design.”

The lawmakers did examine the bill in detail, he said, and the government adopted some amendments proposed by legislators. But during debate many legislators focused on ways to expand the state’s reach on national security issues and increasing penalties for related crimes.

“For those who care about accountable government, the process is disappointing, but not surprising, given the centrally-imposed changes since 2020,” he said.

Simon Young, a professor at the law faculty at the University of Hong Kong said the legislature did more than “rubber-stamping” the law, noting that officials attended lengthy meetings to clarify the bill. But Young said that in the past the legislature might have sought experts’ input.

“It is regrettable that this was not done on this occasion,” he said.

Lawmakers vote for Article 23 in the chamber of the Legislative Council after the conclusion of the readings of the Article 23 National Security Law, in Hong Kong on March 19, 2src24. Hong Kong's legislature unanimously passed a new national security law on March 19, introducing penalties such as life imprisonment for crimes related to treason and insurrection, and up to 2src years' jail for the theft of state secrets. (Photo by PETER PARKS/AFP via Getty Images)
Lawmakers vote for Article 23 in the chamber of the Legislative Council after the conclusion of the readings of the Article 23 National Security Law, in Hong Kong on March 19, 2024. Hong Kong’s legislature unanimously passed a new national security law on March 19, introducing penalties such as life imprisonment for crimes related to treason and insurrection, and up to 20 years’ jail for the theft of state secrets. (Photo by PETER PARKS/AFP via Getty Images)

PETER PARKS via Getty Images

Hong Kong’s political scene has changed dramatically since the massive 2019 street protests that challenged China’s rule over the semi-autonomous territory, and the imposition of Beijing’s National Security Law.

Many leading activists have been prosecuted, while others sought refuge abroad. Influential pro-democracy media such as Apple Daily and Stand News were shuttered. The crackdown prompted an exodus of disillusioned young professionals and middle-class families to the U.S., Britain, Canada, and Taiwan.

Hong Kong’s mini-constitution, the Basic Law, requires the city to enact a home-grown national security law. A previous attempt in 2003 sparked a massive street protest that drew half a million people, and forced the legislation to be shelved. Such protests against the current bill were absent largely due to the chilling effect of the existing security law.

Both Chinese and Hong Kong governments say the Beijing-imposed law restored stability after the 2019 protests.

Officials insist the new security law balances security with safeguarding rights and freedoms. The city government said it’s needed to prevent a recurrence of the protests, and that it will only affect “an extremely small minority” of disloyal residents.

Hong Kong's Chief Executive John Lee, center, Secretary for Justice Paul Lam, centre left, and Secretary for Security Chris Tang, centre right, attend a press conference following the passing of the Basic Law Article 23 legislation at the Legislative Council in Hong Kong, Tuesday, March 19, 2src24. (AP Photo/Louise Delmotte)
Hong Kong’s Chief Executive John Lee, center, Secretary for Justice Paul Lam, centre left, and Secretary for Security Chris Tang, centre right, attend a press conference following the passing of the Basic Law Article 23 legislation at the Legislative Council in Hong Kong, Tuesday, March 19, 2024. (AP Photo/Louise Delmotte)

via Associated Press

The measure targets espionage, disclosing state secrets, and “colluding with external forces” to commit illegal acts, among others. Its provisions include tougher penalties for people convicted of endangering national security by certain acts if they’re also found to be working with foreign governments or organizations to do so.

Those who damage public infrastructure with the intent to endanger national security could be jailed for 20 years, or, if they colluded with external forces, for life. In 2019, protesters occupied Hong Kong’s airport and vandalized railway stations.

Businesspeople and journalists have expressed fears that a broad law against disclosure of state secrets and foreign interference will affect their day-to-day work.

Observers are closely watching to see if the authorities will extend enforcement to other professional sectors and its implications on liberties for Hong Kongers.

Support HuffPost

Our 2024 Coverage Needs You

Your Loyalty Means The World To Us

At HuffPost, we believe that everyone needs high-quality journalism, but we understand that not everyone can afford to pay for expensive news subscriptions. That is why we are committed to providing deeply reported, carefully fact-checked news that is freely accessible to everyone.

Whether you come to HuffPost for updates on the 2024 presidential race, hard-hitting investigations into critical issues facing our country today, or trending stories that make you laugh, we appreciate you. The truth is, news costs money to produce, and we are proud that we have never put our stories behind an expensive paywall.

Would you join us to help keep our stories free for all? Your contribution of as little as $2 will go a long way.

As Americans head to the polls in 2024, the very future of our country is at stake. At HuffPost, we believe that a free press is critical to creating well-informed voters. That’s why our journalism is free for everyone, even though other newsrooms retreat behind expensive paywalls.

Our journalists will continue to cover the twists and turns during this historic presidential election. With your help, we’ll bring you hard-hitting investigations, well-researched analysis and timely takes you can’t find elsewhere. Reporting in this current political climate is a responsibility we do not take lightly, and we thank you for your support.

Contribute as little as $2 to keep our news free for all.

Dear HuffPost Reader

Thank you for your past contribution to HuffPost. We are sincerely grateful for readers like you who help us ensure that we can keep our journalism free for everyone.

The stakes are high this year, and our 2024 coverage could use continued support. Would you consider becoming a regular HuffPost contributor?

Dear HuffPost Reader

Thank you for your past contribution to HuffPost. We are sincerely grateful for readers like you who help us ensure that we can keep our journalism free for everyone.

The stakes are high this year, and our 2024 coverage could use continued support. If circumstances have changed since you last contributed, we hope you’ll consider contributing to HuffPost once more.

Support HuffPost

Already contributed? Log in to hide these messages.

Related

governmenthong kongdissentpro democracy hong kong

Read More