China passes Hong Kong security law

HONG KONG (AFP) – China passed a sweeping national security law for Hong Kong yesterday, a historic move that critics and many western governments fear will smother the finance hub’s freedoms and hollow out its autonomy.

The legislation was unanimously approved by China’s rubber-stamp Parliament, little more than six weeks after it was first unveiled.

“It marks the end of Hong Kong that the world knew before,” prominent democracy campaigner Joshua Wong tweeted as his political party Demosisto announced it was disbanding.

The United States (US), Britain, the European Union (EU) and the United Nations (UN) rights watchdog have all voiced fears the law could be used to stifle criticism of Beijing.

The law bypassed Hong Kong’s fractious legislature and the wording was kept secret from the city’s 7.5 million inhabitants.

Supporters hold Chinese and Hong Kong national flags during a rally to celebrate the approval of a national security law for Hong Kong. PHOTO: AP

There was no formal announcement from Beijing on the passage of the law. Instead the news filtered out via Beijing politicians and local media outlets in Hong Kong.

At her weekly press conference yesterday morning, Hong Kong leader Carrie Lam declined to comment on whether the law had been passed or what it contained.

“The fact that Hong Kong people will only come to know what’s really in this new law after the fact is more than preposterous,” Claudia Mo, an opposition lawmaker, told AFP.

As part of the 1997 handover from Britain, Hong Kong was guaranteed certain freedoms – as well as judicial and legislative autonomy – for 50 years in a deal known as ‘One Country, Two Systems’.

The formula formed the bedrock of the city’s transformation into a world class business hub, bolstered by a reliable judiciary and political freedoms unseen on the mainland.

A summary of the law published by the official state agency Xinhua this month said the legislation would cover subversion, secession, terrorism and colluding with foreign forces.

China’s security agencies will be able to set up shop publicly in the city for the first time.

And Beijing will have jurisdiction over some cases, toppling the legal firewall that has existed between Hong Kong and the mainland’s party-controlled courts.

Analysts said that even without details the security law radically restructures the relationship between Beijing and Hong Kong.

“It’s a fundamental change that dramatically undermines both the local and international community’s confidence towards Hong Kong’s ‘One Country, Two Systems’ model and its status as a robust financial centre,” Hong Kong political analyst Dixon Sing told AFP.

On the mainland, national security laws are routinely used to jail critics, especially for the vague offence of “subversion”.

Beijing and Hong Kong’s government reject those allegations.

They have said the laws will only target a minority of people, will not harm political freedoms in the city and will restore business confidence after a year of historic pro-democracy protests.

Millions took to the streets last year while a smaller hard core of protesters frequently battled police in violent confrontations.