China passed a new security law in Hong Kong to ensure a legal infrastructure to deal with protests and other challenges, which impinge upon its authority. This has significantly reduced Hong Kong’s autonomy.
This new law has 66 articles that were only revealed when the law came into effect on June 30, 2020. The articles revolve around secession, subversion, terrorism and collusion. While China claims that this law will return stability to Hong Kong, critics argue it hampers freedom of speech.
The law states that the four categories of crime are punishable by a maximum sentence of life imprisonment. Damaging public transport can be considered terrorism, guilty individuals cannot stand for public office, companies can be fined, trials might happen behind closed doors, suspects can be wire-tapped and kept under surveillance, and international NGOs and news agencies will be more closely monitored.
Furthermore, Beijing has set up a security office in Hong Kong with personnel outside the purview of the local authorities. Some of the cases can also be tried in mainland China, on the office’s discretion. Hong Kong will have its own National Security Commission, with an adviser appointed by Beijing. It is on Beijing’s discretion how the law will be interpreted, not Hong Kong’s, and it will also come above any local laws. Hong Kong’s judicial independence also comes under fire here as Chinese courts, which are controlled by the ruling party, have a nearly 100 per cent rate of conviction.
First arrests under the new law were made last week as the police arrested 10 protesters, searched their homes and took DNA swabs—something almost unheard of. China currently uses DNA data to keep track of its Uighur Muslim population. Experts fear racial profiling and discrimination under the new law.
Most importantly for travellers, this law—specifically article 38—will also apply to people from outside Hong Kong, and “who are not permanent residents of Hong Kong.” The scope of the law in its vague terminology exceeds beyond Hong Kong and could possibly apply to any one of us: asserting extraterritorial jurisdiction beyond its ‘one country, two systems’, and over essentially everyone. To put this in context, mainland China’s criminal law is limited to crimes committed within China.
Does this mean anyone can violate the NSL and be prosecuted in Hong Kong, or even China? Possibly. Article 38 could also make foreign journalists, academics and activists reconsider travelling to Hong Kong.
Currently, nearly two dozen countries have extradition agreements with Hong Kong, but the NSL has prompted some—like Canada—to withdraw from that agreement. IPAC has also asked member countries to suspend their extradition arrangements with Hong Kong.