According to the deputy head of the Office for Hong Kong and Macao, many businessmen expressed gratitude to him for saving the "stability" of the territory. In the new law, the definitions of four crimes - secession, subversion, terrorism, collaboration with foreign forces - are so broad that they include situations created this year in Hong Kong with pro-democracy demonstrations. The law is drawn up in six chapters and 66 articles. Crimes committed abroad are also punishable. National education.
Beijing (AsiaNews) - At a press conference held this morning in the capital, the deputy head of the Hong Kong and Macau Affairs Office Zhang Xiaoming, said the new security law for Hong Kong in force since 1am this morning, is a "birthday gift" for the city, 23 years after Hong Kong's return to the motherland on July 1, 1997.
Announced last May at the National People's Congress, the law was drafted without the people of Hong Kong ever being informed of what the text contains. The local parliament never discussed or debated it. Yet the law is in vigor since last night and only the Chinese text has been published, last night.
Zhang defended himself by saying that in the past weeks he has had meetings with many Hong Kong personalities - many business people and civil society representatives - who have expressed their gratitude to him for having saved the "stability" of Hong Kong.
Zhang is convinced the new law will guarantee the principle of "One country, two systems", ensuring the liberal style of the territory. "No one has more power than us to define and interpret [this principle] - he said - and nobody understands the truth better than we do".
The security law
The new law consists of six chapters and 66 articles and aims to prevent and punish four crimes: secession, subversion, terrorism, collaboration with foreign forces that threaten national security. The definitions of these four crimes are so broad that they include situations that arose in Hong Kong this year with pro-democracy demonstrations.
Secession, for example, aims to target groups that call for the independence of the territory from China, such as "Demosisto", which yesterday - in anticipation - was officially dissolved.
Subversion also provides for the prohibition of "serious interference, obstruction or damage" to the exercise of power by the organs of state or of Hong Kong. A specific case was the invasion of Hong Kong's parliament last year to block the vote on the extradition law.
Acts of terrorism also include fires, poisons, destruction of means of transport and infrastructure: all things that happened in episodes of vandalism, after democratic and peaceful demonstrations.
The crime of collaboration with foreign forces is so extensive that it includes the use of illicit means that cause hatred towards the governments of Hong Kong and China. Many local figures have asked - the United States or Great Britain - to put pressure on Beijing, to put sanctions on representatives of the Chinese government, up to implementing a law on the tax status of Hong Kong.
At the press conference, as an example of "hate", Zhang cited rumors that the police killed some demonstrators at Prince Edward tube station a year ago. The Hong Kong government has always denied these killings, but these rumors persist and many honor these dead on exiting the subway.
It is also considered a crime to financially help or offer hospitality to groups that are guilty of these crimes. In this way, supporters of opposition groups now live in fear.
The penalties range from 10 years up to life imprisonment for "more serious" crimes; from three years to 10 for the more "regular" ones.
The law also provides for an influence on the education of young people. The Hong Kong government has a duty to promote national security education through schools, groups, the media and the internet. This element will affect the teachers who have so far supported the democratic movement and will allow the government to enter and increase its hold on the education system.
"One nation, one system"
Although Zhang said the new law defends the "one country, two systems" principle, there are many criticisms of some aspects of the law.
First of all, the fact that in order to check - some say "to spy" - on crimes against security, there will be an office in Hong Kong (National Security Office) which depends directly on the central government and is not subject to Hong Kong law. In addition, in cases where the law on safety clashes with the legislation of the territory, the first trumps the second. And as in China, if there are any security trials that involve "state secrets", they will be held behind closed doors.
The law speaks of rare cases – interference of foreign forces against which the Hong Kong government is unable to act – where the intervention of the central power will be necessary, through the Supreme Court of the Chinese People. Observers point out this literally legislates for the extradition of suspected criminals to China under the law, something the people of Hong Kong fought for a whole year.
Another disturbing fact is that Hong Kong citizens, permanent residents and non-permanent residents can be prosecuted for the four crimes upon entering Hong Kong, even for acts committed while they were abroad.
At the press conference, Zhang Xiaoming assured that the law will not have retroactive value, following "modern legal principles".