03/19/2024, 17.53
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Hong Kong’s national security law quickly approved

Every lawmaker spoke in support of the new legislation implementing Article 23, which imposes life in prison in case of insurrection and grants police exceptional powers. Set to come into force this Saturday, the bill’s quick approval highlights the power of Hong Kong’s Chief Executive John Lee. After the vote, Lee called it a “historic day”, protection from a “colour revolution”. For him, “there must be one country before two systems”.

Hong Kong (AsiaNews) – Hong Kong lawmakers approved the controversial Safeguarding National Security Bill, which further restricts freedoms and imposes greater penalties for political crimes like treason and sedition.

The bill, which runs into more than 200 pages, was rushed through Hong Kong’s Legislative Council (LegCo). Tabled just 11 days ago, it went through first reading last week, and took only one session to be passed in second and third readings on the same day.

For its backers, the legislation was urgently needed to "protect" Hong Kong from "external interference", above all, it is meant to avoid a repeat of 2003, when hundreds of thousands of people took to the streets in opposition to a similar draft, forcing the government at the time to pull back. Now, like in mainland China, dissent is impossible in Hong Kong.

With the blessing of the People's Republic of China, Hong Kong Chief Executive John Lee, a former head of security and a Beijing loyalist, has pulled off a show of strength.

Nor has he tried to respect the formalities by sticking to LegCo’s usual procedures, which he controls entirely anyway since only "patriotic" lawmakers were elected in the last vote in December 2021.

That election was a far cry from Hong Kong's last, real vote, those for district councils in 2019, when pro-Beijing candidates were roundly defeated.

In the end, the law implementing Article 23, the section in the Basic Law that calls for Hong Kong to adopt its own national security legislation, was passed with 89 votes in favour and none against.

No one raised any objection to the fact that in such a sensitive matter there were no hearings involving members the judiciary, as is normally the case.

What counted was that the law be passed as soon as possible and with as much support as possible, a true farce that saw 88 LegCo members speak in favour of the law.

The 89th, speaker Andrew Leung, who usually does not cast a vote, did not want to be outdone and added his ballot this time.

If further proof was needed, this bill shows how much democracy has been stifled in Hong Kong,

John Lee himself wanted to be personally in the chamber and took to the floor immediately after the vote to seal the "historic moment".

“[The legislation] is needed to guard against people who invade our home,” he said.  “We need to have such tools which are effective in guarding against ‘black violence’ and colour revolution … we no longer need to worry about people destroying public infrastructure with the new law.”

Hong Kong had "walked on the wrong path", he claimed, before Beijing imposed its own national security law in 2020 following massive pro-democracy protests that resulted in but a few cases of hooliganism in reaction to police violence.

“We must correctly understand that there must be one country before two systems, and the two systems must not be used to resist one country,” Lee added.

This is a very clear sign that the Basic Law, the constitution adopted by the former British colony when it was returned to China in 1997 under the "one country, two systems" formula, is being dismantled.

As of next Saturday, 23 March, anyone guilty of treason and insurrection in Hong Kong will get life in prison.

And it is clear how these offences are defined; all one needs to do is look at the trial of Jimmy Lai, the founder of the Apple Daily newspaper, who is referred to as a "conspirator" simply for supporting the call for democracy.

Sedition can now entail up to 14 years in prison, a charge already laid at hundreds of protesters over the past few years.

Above all, the new law seriously undermines fundamental individual liberties, with the detention period of suspects without legal counsel expanded from a maximum 48 hours to an additional 14 days.

In a nutshell, Hong Kong police can do almost anything from now against anyone on a “national security" basis. No one will now dare take to the streets as they did in 2019.

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