Marking the anniversary of Hong Kong s return to Chinese control, a top city official defended the national security law imposed by Beijing and said Thursday it would be used further in the coming year to ensure stability.
Hong Kong Chief Secretary John Lee said the law stipulates that human rights be respected and allows residents to enjoy freedom of the press and free assembly.
The security law was implemented one year ago as authorities cracked down on dissent in Hong Kong after the territory was rocked by mass anti-government protests in 2019. Since then, large-scale demonstrations have been banned and a number of pro-democracy activists and journalists have been arrested, have ceased public activities or have left Hong Kong.
For two years in a row, authorities banned an annual June 4 candlelight vigil commemorating the bloody 1989 crackdown on pro-democracy demonstrators in Beijing’s Tiananmen Square, and a yearly July 1 pro-democracy protest, citing pandemic social distancing restrictions.
Police in June arrested seven journalists and executives of the now-defunct Apple Daily, a pro-democracy newspaper that was a vocal critic of Hong Kong and China’s governments. Authorities also froze $2.3 million in assets linked to Apple Daily, which ceased operations last week.
Lee was speaking at a reception commemorating the 24th anniversary of the former British colony’s return to China in 1997. It coincides with the centenary of the Chinese Communist Party on the mainland, where Hong Kong's top leader Carrie Lam has been attending.
He said Hong Kong was on the rebound as the national security law restored social and political stability.
“Our team has more confidence than ever in Hong Kong’s prospect. In the coming year, we will continue to uphold national security with determination and improve the implementation of the one country, two systems principle,” he said.
On Thursday morning, a group of four activists including Raphael Wong, the head of the League of Social Democrats political party, marched through the streets of Wan Chai carrying a banner that called for the release of political prisoners. It occurred amid a heavy police presence after the yearly pro-democracy protest was banned.