China passes sweeping HK security law, heralding authoritarian era

 

* China's national security law takes effect in HK

* Crimes punished with up to life in prison

* U.S. begins removing HK special status

* Joshua Wong's Demosisto said it would dissolve

* Activists plan to defy police ban on July 1 rally

 

By Meg Shen and Yew Lun Tian, Reuters

Thomson Reuters Foundation News - 1 July 2020

 

HONG KONG/BEIJING, July 1 (Reuters) - Beijing on Tuesday unveiled new national security laws for Hong Kong that will punish crimes of secession, subversion, terrorism and collusion with foreign forces with up to life in prison, heralding a more authoritarian era for China's freest city.

 

As the law came into force, authorities were set to throw a security blanket across the heart of the city's financial centre on Wednesday after activists vowed to defy a police ban and rally against the measures.

 

Local media said up to 4,000 officers would be deployed to stamp out any protests.

 

China's parliament passed the detailed legislation earlier on Tuesday, giving Beijing sweeping powers and setting the stage for radical changes to the global financial hub's way of life.

 

Beijing had kept full details shrouded in secrecy, giving Hong Kong's 7.5 million people no time to digest the complex legislation before it entered into force at 11 p.m. (1500 GMT) on June 30.

 

The timing was seen as a symbolic humiliation for Britain, coming just an hour before the 23rd anniversary of when Hong Kong's last colonial governor, Chris Patten, a staunch critic of the law, tearfully handed back Hong Kong to Chinese rule.

 

Amid fears the law will crush the city's freedoms, prominent activist Joshua Wong's Demosisto and other pro-democracy groups said they would dissolve.

 

"The punitive elements of the law are stupefying," Simon Young, a law professor at the University of Hong Kong's law school and a barrister, told Reuters.

 

"Let us hope no one tries to test this law, for the consequences to the individual and the legal system will be irreparable."

 

The legislation pushes Beijing further along a collision course with the United States, Britain and other Western governments, which have said it erodes the high degree of autonomy the city was granted at its July 1, 1997, handover.

 

Britain and some two dozen Western countries urged China to reconsider the law, saying Beijing must preserve the right to assembly and free press.

 

"The United States will not stand idly by while China swallows Hong Kong into its authoritarian maw," U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said in a statement.

 

He said the United States would stand with the people of Hong Kong and "respond to Beijing's attacks on freedoms of speech, the press, and assembly, as well as the rule of law."

 

Washington, already in dispute with China over trade, the South China Sea and the coronavirus, began eliminating Hong Kong's special status under U.S. law on Monday, halting defence exports and restricting technology access.

 

China, which has rejected criticism of the law by Britain, the European Union, Japan, Taiwan and others, said it would retaliate.

 

Hong Kong leader Carrie Lam, in a video message to the United Nations Human Rights Council in Geneva, urged the international community to "respect our country's right to safeguard national security".

 

She said the law would not undermine the city's autonomy or its independent judiciary.

 

Authorities in Beijing and Hong Kong have repeatedly said the legislation is aimed at a few "troublemakers" and will not affect rights and freedoms, nor investor interests.

 

As the law was passed in Beijing, the Chinese People's Liberation Army garrison in Hong Kong held a drill which included exercises to stop suspicious vessels and arrest fugitives, according to the Weibo social media account of state-run CCTV's military channel.

 

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