Hong Kong Introduces Harsh 'National Security' Bill

Some residents could face life sentences under law seen as crackdown on dissent
By Newser Editors and Wire Services
Posted Mar 8, 2024 2:40 PM CST
Proposed Hong Kong Law Cracks Down Hard on Dissent
Tens of thousands of people march through a Hong Kong street on July 1, 2003, to protest the Hong Kong government's plans to enact an anti-subversion bill. The bill was withdrawn after the march.   (AP Photo/Vincent Yu, File)

Hong Kong unveiled a proposed law on Friday that threatens life imprisonment for residents who "endanger national security," deepening worries about erosion of the city's freedoms four years after Beijing imposed a similar law that all but wiped out public dissent. More, from the AP:

  • It's widely seen as the latest step in a crackdown on political opposition that began after massive pro-democracy protests in 2019. Since then, the authorities have crushed the city's once-vibrant political culture. Many of the city's leading pro-democracy activists have been arrested, while others fled abroad. Dozens of civil society groups have been disbanded, and outspoken media outlets like Apple Daily and Stand News have been shut down.

  • Hong Kong leader John Lee has urged legislators to push the Safeguarding National Security Bill through "at full speed," and lawmakers began debate hours after the bill was released publicly. It's expected to pass easily, possibly in weeks, in a legislature packed with Beijing loyalists following an electoral overhaul.
  • The proposed law will expand the government's power to stamp challenges to its rule, targeting espionage, disclosing state secrets, and "colluding with external forces" to commit illegal acts. It includes tougher penalties for people convicted of working with foreign governments or organizations to break some of its provisions.
  • The law would jail people who damage public infrastructure with the intent to endanger national security for 20 years—or life, if they collude with an external force to do so. In 2019, protesters occupied the airport and vandalized railway stations.
  • Similarly, those who commit sedition face a jail term of seven years, but colluding with an external force to carry out such acts increases that penalty to 10 years.
  • The bill allows prosecutions for acts committed anywhere in the world for most of its offenses.
  • Critics say the proposed law would make Hong Kong even more like mainland China. The European Union said the bill covers "an even wider range" of offenses than previously disclosed, including sweeping bans on external interference and significantly hardened provisions on sentencing.
  • Hong Kong's mini-constitution, the "Basic Law," requires the city to enact a national security law, but a previous attempt in 2003 sparked a massive street protest that drew half a million people, and the legislation was shelved. Such protests against the current bill are unlikely, due to the chilling effect of the 2020 law after it was enacted to quell the 2019 protests. During a one-month public comment period that ended last week, 98.6% of the views received by officials showed support, with only 0.72% opposing the proposals, the government said.
(More Hong Kong stories.)

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