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“Alarming” Hong Kong national security law takes effect

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“Alarming” Hong Kong national security law takes effect

Hong Kong’s new national security law came into force on Saturday, carrying harsh penalties of up to life in prison for crimes such as treason and insurrection.

The law – commonly known as Article 23 – targets five categories of national security crimes and was quickly passed by Hong Kong’s Parliament without opposition on Tuesday.

The United States, European Union, Japan and Britain have been among the strongest critics of the law, with British Foreign Secretary David Cameron saying it would “further undermine rights and freedoms » of the city’s inhabitants.

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken on Friday expressed “deep concern” that the law could be used to undermine rights and curb dissent, adding that it could damage Hong Kong’s reputation as a international financial hub.

But Hong Kong leader John Lee called the adoption of the “National Security Ordinance” a “historic moment.”

He has often spoken of Hong Kong’s “constitutional responsibility” in creating new legislation, as required by the Basic Law, the city’s mini-constitution since its handover from Britain to China in 1997.

Lee also said the law was needed to “prevent black-clad violence”, a reference to the massive and sometimes violent pro-democracy protests in Hong Kong in 2019, which brought hundreds of thousands of people to the streets to demand greater autonomy in the face of Beijing’s influence.

In response, authorities cracked down on protesters and Beijing imposed a national security law in 2020 – targeting secession, subversion, terrorism and collusion with foreign forces – which had the effect of silencing voices of opposition within Hong Kong’s once vibrant civil society.

So far, nearly 300 people have been arrested under the 2020 law.

But Lee – who was hit with US sanctions for his role as security chief during the 2019 protests – said Article 23 was still needed to “close” legislative loopholes in Beijing’s law .

Under the new law, penalties of up to life in prison for sabotage endangering national security, treason and insurrection; 20 years for espionage and sabotage; and 14 years for external interference.

It also expanded the British colonial-era crime of “sedition” to include inciting hatred against the leadership of the Chinese Communist Party, with an increased penalty of up to 10 years in prison.

City leader Lee is now empowered to create new offenses punishable by prison terms of up to seven years through subsidiary legislation, while the security minister can impose punitive measures on activists who are abroad, including the cancellation of their passports.

Police powers have also been expanded to allow people to be detained for up to 16 days without charge – a jump from the current 48 hours – and to bar a suspect from meeting lawyers and communicating with others.

The United Kingdom and Australia updated their travel advice on Friday to warn citizens of the risks of breaking the new law when traveling to Hong Kong.

Former U.S. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi told a news conference Friday that the new law was an “alarming expansion of the Chinese Communist Party’s attack on freedom in Hong Kong.” “.

A previous attempt by the government to introduce Section 23 in 2003 was abandoned after half a million Hong Kongers protested against the law.

This time, public reaction in the city was muted after the law was passed.

But protests are expected around the world, from Australia and Canada to Britain, where a large Hong Kong diaspora resettled after the government cracked down on 2019 protests.

“The goal of this new law is to crush the only bit of freedom left in Hong Kong by extending sentences and expanding the definition of national security,” said American activist Frances Hui.

Hui – who is the subject of a $128,000 (£102,000) bounty issued by Hong Kong authorities – called on the Biden administration to impose sanctions on those involved in passing the new law.

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