Despite Beijing officials’ denials, it’s been fiercely debated in the past days and weeks to what degree the now officially passed new controversial law for Hong Kong that would allow authorities to crack down on pro-democracy protesters and “foreign forces” who attempt to destabilize the semi-autonomous region can be applied retroactively.
Hours ago the law was finally published, though an official English translation has been slow to emerge:
— Kris Cheng (@krislc) June 30, 2020
Expected to take effect immediately, starting Wednesday, some crimes could be published with a maximum lifetime jail sentence.
And there’s no independent review, instead an incredibly opaque process where “closed” trials can take place on the basis of “national security”. Axios points out in its initial review of the text:
It includes sweeping definitions of crimes and penalties that gives the government broad power to limit people’s political freedom, while explicitly denying any kind of independent oversight of the law or how it is carried out.
Currently the US, Britain, and European countries are pouring through it, readying a reaction. Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab said Tuesday that the law’s contents will determine Britain’s next step.
“Despite the urging of the international community, Beijing has chosen not to step back from imposing this legislation,” Raab said in a statement. “China has ignored its international obligations regarding Hong Kong. This is a grave step, which is deeply troubling. We urgently need to see the full legislation, and will use that to determine whether there has been a breach of the Joint Declaration and what further action the UK will take.”
As expected, the sweeping legislation is ambiguous enough on the ‘foreign interference’ angle that it leaves Beijing as the ultimate interpreter in terms of the law’s application.
It’s further still ambiguous on the question of its having a retroactive effect.
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Here are some of the brief early highlights as translated and paraphrased by Hong Kong politics specialist Kris Cheng:
- max life imprisonment
- anyone convicted cannot run for public office (or be disqualified) without mentioning for how long
- cases involving national secrets will not have open trials
- uncertain if have retroacting effect – no bail for suspects
- suspects may hire lawyers, but it may be possible after first interrogation
- chief executive selects judges, judges can be disqualified if they made remarks endangering national security
- cases can be heard behind closed doors to protect national secrets
- Beijing has jurisdiction for cases when foreign forces were interfering, when Hong Kong gov cannot effectively implement the law, when China faces substantial national security threats
- The law applies to foreigners committing the said crimes outside Hong Kong
East Asia analyst Tom Fowdy also noted the law is designed to have a chilling effect on the kind of mass protests and unrest seen over much of the past year:
Article 24 In order to coerce the Central People’s Government, the HK SAR Government or international organizations or intimidate the public in order to achieve political ideas, organize, plan, implement, participate in or threaten to implement the following terrorist activities
— Tom Fowdy (@Tom_Fowdy) June 30, 2020
And more paraphrased snippets via Axios:
- Leading a terrorist organization carries a minimum sentence of 10 years and a maximum of life in prison, but it’s unclear what sorts of organizations that designation will apply to.
- There is concern in Hong Kong that the prohibition of “terrorist activity” will be applied broadly and arbitrarily. The law does get specific in some instances, with “destroying a vehicle” cited as possible terrorist activity.
- The law requires Hong Kong to carry out “national security education” — a particularly controversial element given local resistance to propaganda in schools.
- The law also requires Hong Kong’s police to establish a national security division, and states that it may hire “specialists and technicians from outside the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region” — meaning mainland China.
Ultimately, it’s clearly a huge blow to Hong Kong independence activists:
Imagine turning Hong Kong into a state of chaos for a full year and destroying everything in the belief you could force “five demands” on the government and then this is what you end up with in the end.
— Tom Fowdy (@Tom_Fowdy) June 30, 2020