'This is the end of Hong Kong': China pushes security law after unrest
Pro-democracy demonstrators hold a flag and chant slogans during a protest calling for the city's independence at a mall in Hong Kong on May 16, 2020.
AFP/Isaac Lawrence
'This is the end of Hong Kong': China pushes security law after unrest
Jing Xuan Teng (Agence France-Presse) - May 22, 2020 - 8:00am

BEIJING, China — China's parliament said it will introduce a proposal Friday for a national security law in Hong Kong at its annual session, in a move the US warned would be "highly destabilising" for the financial hub.

The announcement late Thursday was quickly decried by pro-democracy lawmakers and activists as "the end of Hong Kong", with fears it will stoke unrest and tighten Beijing's grip on the semi-autonomous city.

China has made clear it wants new security legislation passed after Hong Kong was rocked by seven months of massive and sometimes violent pro-democracy protests last year.

The proposal, planned for the first day of the National People's Congress, would strengthen "enforcement mechanisms" in the financial hub, the parliament's spokesman Zhang Yesui said.

China's parliament considers it "necessary to improve and uphold the 'One Country, Two Systems' policy," Zhang said, referring to the arrangement that has underpinned the city's liberties and free market economy.

Article 23 of Hong Kong's mini-constitution, the Basic Law, says the city must enact such laws to prohibit "treason, secession, sedition (and) subversion" against the Chinese government.

But the clause has never been implemented due to deeply held public fears it would curtail Hong Kong's cherished civil rights.

The city enjoys freedoms unseen on the Chinese mainland which are protected by an agreement made before former colonial power Britain handed the territory back to Beijing in 1997. 

An attempt to enact Article 23 in 2003 was shelved after half a million people took to the streets in protest.

The controversial bill has been put back on the table in recent years in response to the rise of the Hong Kong's pro-democracy movement.

Zhang did not provide more details about the proposed law. 

But if it is introduced to the NPC it is likely to be approved, as the body rubber-stamps decisions already made by Communist Party policymakers.

US State Department spokeswoman Morgan Ortagus warned that imposing such a law on Hong Kong would be "highly destabilising, and would be met with strong condemnation from the United States and the international community".

President Donald Trump earlier Thursday also promised a response when told of the move on Hong Kong.

"I don't know what it is, because nobody knows yet. If it happens, we'll address that issue very strongly," Trump said.

'Zero respect'

Hong Kong's largest pro-Beijing political party DAB was quick to voice its support for the "responsible move". 

But pro-democracy lawmakers were furious.

"This is the end of Hong Kong, this is the end of One Country, Two Systems, make no mistake about it," Civic Party lawmaker Dennis Kwok told reporters.

Lawmaker Tanya Chan said Beijing had "shown zero respect for Hong Kong people" by attempting to enact the law without consultation.

"Many Hong Kongers must be as angry as us now, but we must remember not to give up," she added.

Chris Patten, Hong Kong's final British governor before the 1997 handover, said the proposal signalled a "comprehensive assault on the city's autonomy" and would be "hugely damaging".

Hong Kong has its own lawmaking body, the Legislative Council, or Legco.

But at least two Hong Kong deputies to the NPC have said they would propose the idea of introducing the law without going through city's legislature, using a mechanism provided for under the Basic Law. 

"It indicates two possible things," said Adam Ni, director of the Canberra-based China Policy Centre.

"First, Beijing does not believe that security law can make it through HK's Legco, at least not without a major political storm, and second, protests and dissent has made the legislation of this law more urgent."

Maya Wang, senior China researcher for Human Rights Watch, also described the "alarming" move as "the end of Hong Kong".

"#HongKong has been the safe harbour for dissent; it's the light, the conscience, the voice that speaks truth to an increasingly powerful China," she tweeted.

The US Congress late last year angered China by passing a law that would strip Hong Kong's preferential trading status if it is no longer considered autonomous from the mainland.

The State Department warned Thursday that China's actions could impact its decision on that status.

US senators on Thursday also introduced legislation to impose sanctions on any entity involved in curbing Hong Kong's autonomy. 

That could include police cracking down on demonstrators and Chinese officials involved in Hong Kong policy — as well as banks that conduct transactions with anyone involved in curbing the territory's freedoms. 

Senator Pat Toomey, who spearheaded the legislation, described Hong Kong as "the canary in the coal mine for Asia".

"Beijing's growing interference could have a chilling effect on other nations struggling for freedom in China's shadow," he said. — with Xinqi Su in Hong Kong

CHINA HONG KONG HONG KONG PROTESTS
As It Happens
LATEST UPDATE: December 2, 2020 - 3:44pm

Millions march in Hong Kong in a powerful rebuke of an extradition law feared to expose them to China's capricious justice system.

December 2, 2020 - 3:44pm

Leading Hong Kong dissident Joshua Wong is jailed alongside two other young activists on Wednesday for leading an illegal rally outside the city's police headquarters during last year's huge democracy protests.

Wong is sentenced to 13.5 months in jail while his colleagues Agnes Chow and Ivan Lam get 10 months and seven months respectively, an AFP reporter inside the court says. —  AFP

December 1, 2020 - 12:36pm

 When Hong Kong protester Hei saw fellow activists put behind bars for taking part in last year's democracy protests, she was determined to keep the flame burning by writing them letters.

Thousands have been arrested and held in custody for a range of offences during the huge and sometimes violent protests that convulsed the financial hub last year.

The city's prison system strictly controls inmate access to information about life outside, so Hei decided to keep them up to date on the democracy movement by putting pen to paper. Her mailing list now has almost 60 people on it.

"It's a relationship between comrades-in-arms and we have trust in each other," the 22-year-old told AFP, asking to use just one name to protect her identity. 

"We share the same pain. I hope letter-writing can strengthen people's confidence in the movement." — AFP

November 27, 2020 - 2:19pm

Hong Kong prison staff were wrong to cut the hair of a veteran dissident known for his long locks, the city's top court said Friday, in the second significant ruling against authorities this month.

The decision comes as powerful establishment voices call for an overhaul of the judiciary — something opponents fear could muzzle the Hong Kong legal system's vaunted independence as Beijing cracks down on critics.

Friday's ruling by the Final Court of Appeal is the culmination of a long legal battle by Leung Kwok-hung, 64, who served a brief jail sentence in 2014 linked to his protesting.

Better known by the sobriquet "Longhair", he is one of the city's best known dissidents, beginning his career campaigning against British colonial rule and later becoming a fierce critic of Beijing. 

A panel of top judges — including Chief Justice Geoffrey Ma — unanimously ruled that Leung's rights had been breached under sexual discrimination laws when his hair was cut in jail.

Hong Kong prison authorities insist all male inmates — AFP

November 24, 2020 - 5:15pm

A Hong Kong man was dragged from a court shouting democracy slogans and remanded into custody on Tuesday after becoming the third person to be charged under a sweeping new national security law.

The man's detention is a stark illustration of how the new legislation, imposed by Beijing this summer, has created a host of speech crimes with stiff consequences for those accused of breaching the rules.

Ma Chun-man, 30, was bundled away by police as he shouted "Spread the word, democracy is cultivated with blood and sweat" after being charged with "inciting secession" — one of the new national security crimes — according to an AFP reporter in court.

Prosecutors said Ma was arrested seven times by police between 15 August and 22 November and that he had chanted slogans calling for Hong Kong's independence from China. — AFP

November 12, 2020 - 5:23pm

China warned Thursday the mass resignations of pro-democracy lawmakers in Hong Kong were a "blatant challenge" to its authority over the city.

Fifteen legislators were set to quit the chamber in protest at the Beijing-sanctioned ousting of four colleagues, leaving the assembly a muted gathering of government loyalists.

The resignations come with the city's beleaguered pro-democracy movement and avenues of dissent already under sustained attack since Beijing imposed a sweeping national security law this year.

Half of the group had made good on their pledge by Thursday afternoon, which sparked a furious response from Beijing's Hong Kong and Macau Affairs Office.

"It once again showed their stubborn confrontation against the central government and a blatant challenge to the power of the central government. We severely condemn this," a statement said. — AFP

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