Hong Kong activists cleared social media profiles and closed campaign groups after Beijing passed a new territory security law that says many fear they will be able to take them to prison.
The National People’s Congress standing committee approved the measure on Tuesday morning and will be promulgated in Hong Kong on Wednesday to mark the 23rd anniversary of its return to Chinese rule.
The legislation, aimed at repressing the often violent anti-government protests that swept Hong Kong last year, will criminalize secession, subversion, terrorism and collusion with foreign forces.
The full text of the law has not yet been published, but public broadcaster RTHK has cited sources stating that under “special circumstances”, the main leader of Hong Kong and the national security agency led by Beijing to Hong Kong could send “serious” national security court proceedings in the courts of mainland China.
High-profile activists Joshua Wong, Nathan Law and Agnes Chow resigned from their political group, Demosisto, and the group itself announced its closure a few hours after news of the law passed. The National Front of Hong Kong, an independence group, also announced its closure, but said its work will continue in Taiwan and the UK. Another independence group, Studentlocalism, also said it will cease to function.
According to local reports, the penalties for national security crimes range from three to 10 years in prison, with life imprisonment for “serious cases”. The law should not be applied retroactively, although any action that has “endangered the state” in the past two years could be used as evidence in court, they say.
Although reports say that China would only exercise jurisdiction in a minority of serious national security cases that the Hong Kong government is unable to handle, many Hong Kong have not been reassured.
“It’s all so vague. Whatever they say about targeting only a few people, I can’t trust them, “said Marie Tsang.
“I feel very uncomfortable because you don’t know where the red line is, you don’t know what they mean for national security crimes, so just a second guess,” said Tsang, who said he deleted many of his photos and posts. online and is trying to emigrate.
A student who identified himself as Kelvin said he found the law “unnecessary” and “disturbing”.
“Many things in this law are open to interpretation. Authorities can choose the judges and how they interpret things will become a precedent in the courts, “said the 27-year-old, who said he also deleted photos and posts online.
Activists showed rebellion by staging a lunchtime protest in a mall in the prestigious central business district. Several people sang songs and sang slogans. Some showed flags for independence and raised posters against the national security law and invited people to take part in a protest on July 1st. A large number of police officers conducted research on some of them.
Some hope that the security law will end protests. A 70-year-old market stall owner, who identified with Ms. Ha, said heavier penalties are needed to prevent “rioters from destroying Hong Kong.”
“It will scare people and they won’t cause chaos anymore,” he said.
Ip Kwok-him, a deputy from Hong Kong at the National People’s Congress of China, said that the law is not “a toothless tiger” and would have a “deterrent effect”.