Chief Executive Carrie Lam has tried to downplay the potential impact of the Hong Kong’s new security law. Addressing the United Nations Human Rights Council in a video conference on June 30, she said:
“[The national security law] will only target an extremely small minority of people who have breached the law, while the life and property, basic rights and freedoms of the overwhelming majority of Hong Kong residents will be protected.”
This statement was misleading.
Hong Kong authorities swiftly moved to use the law against dissidents and unveiled sweeping new police powers that restrict freedoms citizens previously enjoyed.
The day after the law came into force on July 1 proved to be chaotic. Police used water cannons and rounds of tear gas on pro-democracy protesters. Journalists were reportedly asked to leave as protesters filled the streets with funeral papers and barricades made of trash and bricks.
Within 15 hours, the Hong Kong Police Force announced its first alleged violation of the law: a man holding a flag that read “Hong Kong independence.”
By 10 p.m. local time, police reported more than 300 arrests for “unlawful assemblies, disorderly conduct in public places, furious driving, and breach of the #NationalSecurityLaw, which accounted for 9 arrests.”
Then, on July 6, Lam’s government revealed details of how the law would be enforced. Among the new powers: Police are permitted to conduct warrantless searches, place travel restrictions on suspects, and demand personal information from media companies.
Pro-democracy books were pulled from the shelves of public libraries in Hong Kong, with authorities claiming the books were under review for suspicion of violating the new law.
In a press release July 2, the Hong Kong government said the slogan "Liberate Hong Kong, the revolution of our times," used by some protesters, would be banned as it “connotes ‘Hong Kong independence’ … subverting the State power.”
"Hong Kong is entering into turbulent waters. Beijing will resort to harsh legislation, more direct interference and behind-the-scenes arms-twisting," the Hong Kong Journalists’ Association (HKJA) said in a statement.
Citing the breadth of the government’s approach, the group said it feared journalists would be prone to “the trap of the national security law."
Numerous Western countries, including the United States and the United Kingdom, have condemned the law.
The United Kingdom said the law and China’s actions violate terms of the agreement under which Hong Kong was returned to Chinese rule in 1997.
The “one country-two systems” principle was to protect the autonomy and freedoms of Hong Kong residents, ensuring that Hong Kong would maintain its own government, economic and legal system for 50 years.
The U.K., along with Australia, has offered asylum to Hong Kong residents. The U.S. Congress quickly passed legislation authorizing sanctions against Hong Kong police and Chinese Communist Party leaders.
Secretary of State Mike Pompeo denounced the law as “draconian.”
Chinese and Hong Kong officials continue to downplay the impact.
“The national security law for HKSAR will punish the tiny minority of people who endanger national security and protects the vast majority of Hong Kong residents,” said Luo Huining, director of the Liaison Office of the Central People's Government in Hong Kong.
Beijing has protested international interference. China has a rightful duty to “safeguard sovereignty, security, and development interests,” Liu Xiaoming, Chinese Ambassador to the UK, said at a news conference.
China’s state-run Xinhua News Agency posted a “rumor busters” series of tweets claiming the law doesn’t undermine the Hong Kong freedoms.
But pro-democracy activists said no part of Hong Kong speech is safe.
“The reality is, under the Hong Kong national security law, every sentence said by every person at every moment could touch the red line and be said as violating the law,” Benny Tai, a legal scholar in Hong Kong, told the Hong Kong Free Press.
“How could the national security law only target a small group of people?”
An English-language version of the security law is here. Under its provisions, anyone believed to be carrying out terrorism, separatism, subversion of state power and collusion with foreign forces could face life in prison.