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Make no mistake – this new security law turns Hong Kong into a Chinese police state

My wife asked me not to do this piece as even writing about the city and Beijing is now a high-risk activity 

Stuart Heaver
Hong Kong
Wednesday 01 July 2020 13:08 BST
Hong Kong police make first arrests under new security law

My wife asked me not to write this piece because, at 4pm UK time on Tuesday, writing about China and Hong Kong became a high-risk activity after Beijing imposed a draconian security law on the city.

The new law lists four categories of offences – secession, subversion, terrorism, and collusion with a foreign country or external elements. In effect, it means that any criticism, protest, letter, banner, publication, organisation, song or social media post could be considered a potential criminal offence, with a maximum penalty of life imprisonment.

Make no mistake: this new law sanctions a police state and outlaws anything that Beijing considers to be a threat to national security, which is often a euphemism for anything, or anyone, that the ruling Communist Party of China (CCP) disapproves of. Thousands are hastily deleting their social media accounts and disbanding their advocacy groups.

Article 48 mandates that the Chinese government will establish a National Security Office (NSO) in Hong Kong, the duties of which notably include the collection and analysis of national security intelligence and the “processing” of national security cases. According to Articles 60 and 61, agents of the NSO are not bound by Hong Kong’s legal jurisdiction.

To some critics, that sounds like a terrifying 21st-century Chinese version of secret police, operating with impunity, within a major international city.

The first arrest under the new law came swiftly. Hong Kong police reported on Wednesday that a man was apprehended for possession of a flag advocating Hong Kong independence. It was not made clear whether he was displaying the flag, or just carrying it in his bag, but in Hong Kong’s brave new world, the distinction is probably irrelevant.

The corporate interests and pro-Beijing political elite in the city welcomed the new law even before they had seen it or read it. Hong Kong’s chief executive, Carrie Lam, said the law will help the city emerge from the chaos created by anti-government protests, so it can “shine again”. The truth is that it has snuffed out any remaining light in Hong Kong.

As I write this, a few thousand die-hard protesters are still defiantly opposing the law in the streets of the Causeway Bay district, despite the personal risk. The protest has already been banned of course, but now riot police not only use pepper spray and water cannon on citizens, they hold a new purple banner displaying a sinister threat.

It warns the public that their flags, banners or chants could “constitute offences” against the new law. These protesters know that if arrested they could legally face the prospect of being extradited to mainland China, denied an open trial and condemned to spend the rest of their lives behind bars in a prison, in an unknown location.

This isn’t a theoretical civil rights issue; this is raw fear. Not surprisingly, many determined advocates of democracy have reluctantly stayed at home. As one protester texted me this morning, “it’s just too dangerous now”.

Most of the protesters in Hong Kong whom I have interviewed are ordinary citizens who want to secure basic human rights for their families, but even the most radical front-liners are only seeking the democracy and freedom they were promised by London and Beijing before the handover to China in 1997.

PM announces new route to citizenship for Hong Kongers

That’s why the UK government has a solemn duty of care to these citizens. Hongkongers can no longer ask for help for fear of violating the new law, which forbids “collusion with foreign countries”.

Article 38 states that even non-residents can be prosecuted for their acts outside of Hong Kong, so now everyone is at risk. A foreign passport will not protect this Hong Kong resident or anyone else from arrest at the airport and a long prison sentence imposed by a secret court, if it suits Beijing.

That’s why my wife asked me not to write about it.

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