In vague language, the law criminalizes secession, subversion, terrorism and collusion with foreign powers. People convicted of such crimes can be sentenced to life imprisonment.
Police officers had been told the evening before during a training session that anyone who saw an independence flag waving or singing for independence would be arrested, a police source said. In addition, the source said anyone who sought and found flags of independence would be arrested.
Despite a strong police presence and the threat of more severe penalties, hundreds of people came out Wednesday in the busy Causeway Bay shopping district, distributing flyers and waving posters. Riot police fired pepper spray into the crowd at one point and deployed a purple flag that warned protesters that it was in violation of the new law.
July 1 is traditionally a day of protests in the city, but for the first time since the delivery, the police have not given permission for demonstrators to organize peaceful demonstrations.
Speaking after Wednesday’s annual flag-raising ceremony, Hong Kong’s top official, Carrie Lam, said the law is “a crucial step in ending the chaos and violence that has occurred in recent months” in city.
“National security law is the most important development in securing ties between China and the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region since delivery,” he said, framing criticisms of the law as “vicious attacks”.
Here are some of the law’s main strengths, according to a translation by the Chinese state news agency Xinhua.
- The law establishes four new crimes of secession, subversion, terrorism and collusion with foreign powers. The maximum penalty for each is life imprisonment.
- The Chinese central government will establish its presence of law enforcement in Hong Kong, labeled “Office for Safeguarding National Security”.
- A secret national security committee for Hong Kong will also be established, consisting of officials from the Hong Kong government and an adviser appointed by the Chinese central government. According to a summary published by the Hong Kong government, the work of this group “must not be disclosed to the public” and “the committee’s decisions cannot be subject to judicial review”.
- Activities such as damage to public transport and public services “in order to pursue the political agenda” can be considered terrorism – a provision that appears to affect protesters who stopped the city’s traffic and infrastructure last year.
- A terrorism charge may also include the vaguely worded provision of “other dangerous activities that seriously endanger public health, safety or protection”.
- The law aims to perceive foreign interference in Hong Kong. During the protests, the Chinese government accused “foreign forces” of interfering in the affairs of the city. The law states that anyone who “steals, spies, obtains for payment or illegally provides state secrets or information” to a foreign country, institution, organization or individual will be guilty of an offense in case of collusion with foreign powers.
- The law also makes it offensive for people to appeal to a foreign country, institution, organization or individual to impose sanctions or blockades on Hong Kong. The United States has said it will impose visa restrictions on current and former Chinese officials in Hong Kong.
- Working with a foreign government, institution, organization or individual to incite hatred against Hong Kong or the Chinese central government is now a crime.
- The law can also be applied to non-permanent residents in Hong Kong and those who violate the law will be expelled, regardless of belief. It also applies to non-residents abroad who violate the national security law abroad. This raises the prospect that foreign citizens are accused of suspected crimes while abroad have to visit the area.
- Those convicted of a national security crime in court cannot stand for election or hold public office.
- The Hong Kong CEO now has the power to appoint judges to handle national security cases. National security cases involving state secrets can be tried without a jury.
- Hong Kong courts will oversee national security cases, but Beijing can take over the process certain circumstances, the application of Chinese law and prosecution standards.
- In these cases, Beijing can choose which court will hear the case and in which court it will be heard, which means that cases could potentially be kept on the mainland. Last year’s anti-government protests were sparked by a bill that would allow extradition to mainland China.
- Evidence will be held in an open court but when the case involves “state secrets or public order” it can be moved behind closed doors.
- A new national security unit will be established in the Hong Kong police force which will have the power to search for property, intercept information and perform secret surveillance without a warrant. It can also recruit members from outside of Hong Kong, potentially allowing mainland agents to operate in the city.
- The law also directs the Hong Kong government, along with the new commission, to strengthen its management over foreign news agencies and non-governmental organizations.
- Ultimately, the national security law wins over local laws: the new legislation states that in the event of a conflict with the existing Hong Kong law, the national security law will prevail.
Opponents of the law say it marks the end of “one country, two systems” – a principle that Hong Kong has kept democracy and civil liberties limited since it came under Chinese control.
Basically, those freedoms include the right to assembly, a free press and an independent judiciary, rights that are not enjoyed on the Chinese mainland.
On Wednesday, the Chinese government firmly defended the law, calling it a perfect embodiment of “one country, two systems” politics.
“If we wanted to implement” a country, a system “, things would have been much simpler,” said Zhang Xiaoming, deputy executive director of the Chinese offices in Hong Kong and Macau. “We could have directly applied the Chinese penal code, the indictment law and the national security law in Hong Kong. Why should we do everything to create a national security law for Hong Kong?”
Despite the swift passage of the law, officials said it was carefully written and took opinions and feedback from Hong Kong into consideration. They also put aside concerns and fears about the impact of the law on freedom of speech, judicial independence and political diversity, reiterating that it only targets a small minority of people who intend to cause serious harm to Hong Kong.
Shen Chunyao, director of the Legislative Affairs Committee of the National Standing’s Congress Standing Committee, the main Chinese legislative body that approved the new law, said that only in “very rare” circumstances did Chinese State security agents and judicial authorities would be involved in Hong Kong cases.
“We don’t want to see (such events), but we have to create a system that takes these risks and factors into account,” he said.
But Jimmy Lai, a Hong Kong media tycoon known for his outspoken support for the city’s pro-democracy movement, said the law “indicates a deadly ambush in Hong Kong because it replaces our law and our rule of law” .
Human rights group Amnesty International said the legislation “poses the greatest threat to human rights in the city’s recent history.”
United States Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said it was “a sad day for Hong Kong and people who love freedom across China” with the imposition of national security legislation in Hong Kong.
He said the law “destroys the autonomy of the territory and one of China’s greatest achievements”.
Contributed by Steven Jiang from CNN, James Griffiths, Roger Clark, Karina Tsui, Jadyn Sham, Vanesse Chan, Chermaine Lee, Kylie Atwood, Philip Wang.