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Defined: What is Hong Kong’s new safety legislation, and what does Article 23 specify


The story thus far: Hong Kong’s new safety legislation has drawn widespread criticism from a number of Western international locations, the United Nations and human rights teams, which contend that the “rushed” laws will additional threaten freedom and empower the federal government to suppress dissent within the monetary hub.

Hong Kong lawmakers fast-tracked the “Safeguarding National Security Bill,” unanimously passing it on March 19, inside a fortnight of it first being tabled within the Legislative Council on March 8. The new guidelines, known as ‘Article 23’, revise present rules and penalties, and add 5 new classes of offences — treason, riot, espionage and theft of state secrets and techniques, sabotaging nationwide safety, and exterior interference — a few of which carry penalties of imprisonment, even as much as life.

The Hong Kong authorities has mentioned that the home-grown safety legislation, which turned efficient from March 23, would “plug the gaps” of the same safety laws imposed by Beijing in 2020 in response to huge pro-democracy protests that rocked Hong Kong in 2019.

Also learn | Hong Kong’s plan for brand spanking new nationwide safety legislation triggers civil liberty fears

Why does Hong Kong have a brand new safety legislation?

When the British, who had taken management of Hong Kong within the nineteenth century, handed over the territory to China in 1997, Beijing vowed to respect and protect the area’s autonomy for 50 years as a part of an agreed-upon coverage, which got here to be referred to as the “one country, two systems” precept. The Sino-British Joint Declaration of 1984 mirrored the fundamental rules of the “one country, two systems” mannequin and dictated the phrases below which Hong Kong was to be returned to China. 

The declaration and Hong Kong’s Basic Law, the town’s constitutional doc that Beijing enacted in accord with the declaration, enshrined the town’s “capitalist system and way of life” and granted it “a high degree of autonomy” till 2047, says the Council on Foreign Relations (CFR). On July 1, 1997, Hong Kong turned a Special Administrative Region of China and the Basic Law got here into impact. The Basic Law assured the rule of legislation and fundamental freedom of speech, and was formally adopted by China’s National People’s Congress in 1990.

However, escalating tensions between the pro-Beijing ruling elite and pro-democracy civil society in recent times resulted in a sequence of huge protests in opposition to China’s alleged makes an attempt to erode Hong Kong’s autonomy.

The 2019 anti-government demonstrations in opposition to a laws that allowed extraditions of accused for trials in mainland China noticed 1000’s of Hong Kongers taking to the streets, protesting in opposition to the growing interference of Beijing and calling for extra autonomy.This was adopted by a police crackdown on protestors. The Bill was withdrawn, however police brutality in opposition to protestors continued till the outbreak of COVID-19, garnering worldwide consideration.

Pro-democracy protesters being arrested by police throughout a conflict in Wan Chai district on October 6, 2019 in Hong Kong, China.
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Getty Images

In 2020, Beijing bypassed the native legislature and imposed a sweeping nationwide safety legislation on Hong Kong. The legislation criminalised subversion, secession, terrorism and collusion with international forces to intervene within the metropolis’s affairs. It was extensively seen as a part of Beijing’s clampdown on dissent in response to the 2019 protests, as demonstrators had been focused and media retailers had been shuttered. The authorities have since arrested practically 300 individuals, largely pro-democracy activists, lawmakers, and journalists, charging over 170, whereas many others have been silenced or compelled into self-exile.

The Hong Kong authorities, which hailed the safety legislation as restoring peace, got here out with its model of the Beijing laws earlier this 12 months, arguing {that a} home-grown nationwide safety legislation was a “constitutional responsibility” below Article 23 of the Basic Law. 

According to reviews, Hong Kong officers felt that they wanted to fill authorized gaps, notably to cope with “soft resistance” after the 2019 protests, for the reason that Beijing-imposed legislation handled just some offences. Hong Kong’s pro-Beijing chief John Lee mentioned the “long-overdue” laws was essential to hold Hong Kong secure in opposition to “potential sabotage” and “undercurrents that try to create troubles,” — notably concepts of ‘Hong Kong’s independence.’

Also Read | The story of Hong Kong, a metropolis torn between two methods

What is Hong Kong’s Article 23? 

Article 23 of the Basic Law mandates that the Hong Kong authorities should independently enact legal guidelines to ban nationwide safety offences. In 2003, a Bill associated to Article 23 was first proposed, however the Hong Kong authorities was compelled to withdraw the draft after practically half 1,000,000 individuals took to the streets in protest, fearing it will undermine civil liberties.

Nearly twenty years later, in January this 12 months, the native authorities started public session on a brand new native safety legislation. The laws aimed to focus on “an extremely small minority of people who endanger national security,” in line with the federal government.

The Bill was launched within the metropolis’s Opposition-free legislature on March 8 for examination following a month-long public session. It was unanimously accredited by lawmakers on March 19. The Hong Kong authorities claimed that its public session confirmed 99% assist for the proposals.

Lawmakers raise their hands to vote after the second reading of the Basic Law Article 23 legislation at the Legislative Council in Hong Kong, March 19, 2024.

Lawmakers increase their fingers to vote after the second studying of the Basic Law Article 23 laws on the Legislative Council in Hong Kong, March 19, 2024.
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What are the brand new offences and penalties below the brand new legislation?

The laws expands upon the 2020 Beijing-imposed safety legislation, encompassing offences associated to theft of state secrets and techniques, treason, riot, nationwide safety, and exterior affect. It consists of jail sentences of as much as life for treason, riot, sabotage by colluding with exterior forces to wreck public infrastructure and inciting members of the Chinese army to mutiny. Further, it imposes 20 years of imprisonment for espionage and 10 years for the illegal disclosure of state secrets and techniques and sedition. The legislation grants police the authority to detain suspects for as much as 16 days with out cost and features a provision for closed-door trials,BBC has reported.

1. Treason: An individual accused of committing treason faces as much as 14 years in jail for partnering with an exterior armed power that’s at battle with China, to hazard the sovereignty, unity or territorial integrity of the nation, or threaten or use power; publicly manifesting intentions to commit treason; or failing to report back to authorities about one other particular person they know who’s committing treason.

2. Sedition: An individual who “does an act or utters a word” with seditious intentions, or colludes with an exterior power with such intention faces as much as 10 years in jail. The jail sentence for inciting armed forces personnel to mutiny is life imprisonment. Under the legislation, a legislation enforcement official has the ability to take away or obliterate publications which have seditious intentions. 

3. Theft of secrets and techniques: If convicted of espionage, an individual might face 20 years of imprisonment. Unlawful acquisition, possession and disclosure of state secrets and techniques is punishable with an individual going through as much as 10 years in jail. As per the legislation, a state secret may be associated to any main coverage selections, defence, diplomatic affairs, technological developments and the connection between the China and Hong Kong governments. 

4. Endangering nationwide safety: An individual accused of damaging public infrastructure with the intent to hazard nationwide safety faces 20 years in jail, and life imprisonment if the act is completed in collusion with an exterior power. An individual unlawfully utilizing a pc or digital system to hazard nationwide safety additionally faces 20 years in jail.

5. External interference: The legislation appears to be like to stop international organisations from working within the metropolis by imposing more durable penalties on individuals convicted of working with such our bodies to intervene in or affect authorities coverage, the Legislative Council, courts, or elections. An individual faces as much as 14 years for such “external interferences.”

What is the reason for concern for lawmakers and human rights teams worldwide?

Lawmakers, politicians, worldwide rights teams and pro-democracy activists from all over the world have expressed “grave concerns” over the laws. They have described the legislation as a “large nail in the coffin of human rights and the rule of law.”

A bunch of 88 worldwide parliamentarians and public figures have issued a joint assertion condemning the passage of the Bill below Article 23, calling on governments to unite in opposition to the “flagrant breach” of the Basic Law, the Sino-British Joint Declaration, and worldwide human rights legislation.

“New legislation under Article 23 will bring a further devastating blow to the city’s autonomy, rule of law, rights and fundamental freedoms, beyond the impact of the National Security Law imposed by Beijing in 2020… The legislation undermines due process and fair trial rights and violates Hong Kong’s obligations under international human rights law, jeopardising Hong Kong’s role as an open international city,” the assertion says. Signatories embrace leaders from the U.S., the U.Okay., Canada, South Korea and Malaysia. 

Separately, the United Nations has described the legislation as “a regressive step for the protection of human rights in Hong Kong,” warning that it might erode elementary freedoms. The U.Okay. has additionally cautioned in opposition to the legislation’s “far-reaching implications,” noting that its broad definitions of nationwide safety and exterior interference will make it tougher for these residing, working, and doing enterprise in Hong Kong. The U.S. State Department has additionally expressed issues concerning the vagueness of the legislation’s language.

The EU says the laws might “significantly affect” its work within the metropolis and impression Hong Kong’s “long-term attractiveness as an international business hub.”

Amnesty International’s China director Sarah Brooks mentioned the legislation takes repression to the “next level.” “This legislation imports mainland Chinese legal concepts of ‘national security’ and ‘state secrets’ directly into Hong Kong law in a way that is deeply disturbing for the city’s future,” Ms. Brooks mentioned in a press release.

What is China’s defence?

A defiant China has hit again on the worldwide neighborhood for interfering in its inner affairs. Beijing maintains that the legislation “fully safeguards” the rights and freedoms of Hong Kong residents and can defend “core national interests,” permitting Hong Kong to give attention to financial growth.

Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson Lin Jian has emphasised Beijing’s agency opposition to the “smearing and slandering” of the laws by some international locations, stating that the brand new legislation balances the safety of nationwide safety, safeguarding rights and freedom, and selling financial growth. The spokesperson warned that any assaults or makes an attempt to discredit the brand new legislation are “doomed to fail.”

China has additionally hit again strongly on the U.Okay. for “blatantly trampling” on worldwide legislation and fundamental norms, accusing it of displaying a “deep-rooted colonial mentality and teacher-like behaviour.” 

Meanwhile, the spokesperson for the Commissioner’s Office of China’s Foreign Ministry in Hong Kong asserts that the laws won’t intervene with regular business exercise, markets, or the free stream of knowledge.

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