Hong Kong toughens its repressive arsenal with a new security law

(Hong Kong) Hong Kong’s local parliament unanimously voted Tuesday for a new national security law that provides for life imprisonment for offenses such as treason or insurrection, and arouses concern in the West.

“Today is a historic moment for Hong Kong,” said the territory’s leader, John Lee, specifying that the law would come into force on March 23.

The text adopted by the Legislative Council complements the national security law imposed by Beijing in 2020 after the previous year’s major demonstrations in favor of democracy in Hong Kong.

The new law lists five categories of offenses in addition to those punishable by the 2020 text: treason, insurrection, espionage and theft of state secrets, sabotage endangering national security, sedition and “external interference”.

The United States, Great Britain, the European Union as well as business circles and human rights defenders have expressed concern about a law which will further restrict freedoms in Hong Kong, and had asked lawmakers to take more time to examine the impact.

But Hong Kong’s Legislative Council (LegCo), which does not include an opposition representative, debated the text in an accelerated manner and its 89 members approved the law, called “Article 23”, unanimously.

The United Nations said on Tuesday it was “deeply troubled” by the ambiguities of a text adopted according to it in an alarming “rush”.

The High Commissioner for Human Rights Volker Türk highlighted, in a press release, vague provisions which “could lead to the criminalization of a wide range of behaviors protected by international law (…), in particular the freedom of expression, freedom of peaceful assembly and the right to receive and transmit information.

The National Security Bureau of Hong Kong, managed by Beijing, for its part assured that an “extremely small number of people” risked being sentenced under this article 23.

Nearly 300 people have so far been arrested in Hong Kong under the national security law, and dozens of politicians, activists and other public figures have been jailed or forced into exile.

“A lock” against external threats

According to Mr Lee, this new legislation was necessary to fill the gaps left by the 2020 law.

He also repeatedly cited Hong Kong’s “constitutional responsibility” to pass this law, as he believes is required by the Basic Law, the mini-Constitution that has governed the island since its handover from Great Britain to China. in 1997.

The law will “enable Hong Kong to effectively prevent, prohibit and punish espionage activities, plots and traps set by foreign intelligence services, infiltration and sabotage carried out by hostile forces” , Mr Lee said on Tuesday.

The new legislation will also “effectively prevent violence (…) and color revolutions,” he said, referring to the mass pro-democracy protests that began in 2019.

The official, sanctioned by the United States for his handling of the protests as security chief, called the law an “effective barrier” as authorities seek to combat “threats from external forces and terrorism.” local “.

The text provides for penalties of up to life in prison for sabotage endangering national security, treason and insurrection, 20 years for espionage and sabotage, and 14 years for “external interference”.

The law also expands the definition of the crime of “sedition”, dating from the British colonial era, to include inciting hatred against Chinese communist leaders, with an aggravated penalty of up to 10 years’ imprisonment. .

Like previous legislation from 2020, certain offenses committed outside Hong Kong will fall under its jurisdiction. During the 1997 handover, Hong Kong was guaranteed certain freedoms, as well as judicial and legislative autonomy, for 50 years, as part of an agreement entitled “One country, two systems”.

This agreement helped strengthen the city’s status as a global financial center, thanks to a reliable judicial system and political freedoms distinct from those of the rest of China.

The new text puts an end to a large part of the legal guarantees that Hong Kong benefited from, in order to align with the legislation of mainland China.

reference: www.lapresse.ca

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