Hong Kong’s new security law unveiled: Here’s what it means

Hong Kong’s new security law unveiled: Here’s what it means

Hong Kong's legislative council on Friday began debating the new domestic national security law amid mounting concerns about diminishing freedoms in the city, nearly four years after a similar Beijing-imposed law almost wiped out dissent.

The bill, currently known as Article 23, once approved would be added to Hong Kong's mini-constitution and co-exist along with the Beijing-imposed national security law.

The proposed law triggered rare protests in Hong Kong last month, with activists and rights groups raising alarm over the city’s bid to tighten the noose around human rights and dissent in the financial hub.

"The rapid progression of legislation under Article 23 shows the government’s eagerness to further dismantle human rights protection and turn its back on its international obligations,” Amnesty International said on Friday.

Under the new law, treason would be punishable with life sentences, while those found guilty of damaging public infrastructure with the intent to endanger national security would be awarded 20 years or life.

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. Its expansive definition of external forces includes foreign governments and political parties, international organisations, and "any other organisation in an external place that pursues political ends".

Possession of publications deemed seditious could attract up to three years in prison under the law, which also grants law enforcement rights to search, seize and destroy any such material.

Under the proposed law, consultaion with lawyers "may be restricted" in view of "circumstances endangering national security".

Hong Kong leader John Lee has urged lawmakers to pass the "Safeguarding National Security Bill" at “full speed”. The bill is expected to be approved swiftly by the majority of Beijing-backed lawmakers and implemented before mid-April.

"The geopolitics have become increasingly complex, and national security risks remain imminent," a government statement said.

British foreign secretary David Cameron along with the members of the EU have called on Hong Kong to "reconsider" the proposed law over far-reaching provisions in the bill on "external interference" and the law's extra-territorial reach.

However, the draft bill states: "Human rights are to be respected and protected, the rights and freedoms, including the freedoms of speech, of the press and of publication, the freedoms of association ... are to be protected".

The legislature's president, Andrew Leung, said the process to pass the bill was accelerated as it was necessary to safeguard the city's national security.

"If you look at other countries, they enacted it within a day, two weeks, three weeks ... So why can't Hong Kong do it in a speedy manner? You tell me," the pro-Beijing politician said, according to the Associated Press.

Hong Kong's mini-constitution, the Basic Law, requires the city to enact a national security law, but a previous attempt in 2003 was shelved following a public backlash and mass protests.

A year after the 2019 pro-democracy movement in Hong Kong, Beijing imposed a draconian national security law that made alleged crimes of secession, subversion, terrorism and collusion with foreign forces punishable by a maximum sentence of life imprisonment.

China critics accused the city administration of weaponising the law to throttle dissent by arresting nearly 300 people, mostly activists and lawyers.

Last year, the city police offered bounties of HK$1m (£99,757) on more than a dozen activists living abroad, including former lawmakers Nathan Law and Ted Hui, who have been accused of colluding with foreign forces.

The government claims during a one-month public comment period which ended last week, 98.6 per cent of the views received by officials showed support, and only 0.7 per cent opposed the proposals.