The new national security law formally took effect in Hong Kong at 11.00pm, at the end of a whirlwind day in which the legislation was unanimously approved by the Standing Committee of the National People's Congress, inserted into Annex III of the Basic Law, promulgated via presidential order by Xi Jinping, and finally gazetted by the Hong Kong government.
The full details of the new legislation – banning acts of secession, subversion, terrorism and collusion with foreign forces to endanger national security – was only published late on Tuesday night in the government gazette.
Details of the law were only immediately available in Chinese.
As had been reported earlier, the maximum penalty for offences is life imprisonment.
Offenders deemed to have had a large part in more serious crimes face ten years to life in prison, while those who are judged to have had more minor roles can have shorter sentences or face some sort of restrictions.
An article in the law says attacking or destroying government facilities so that they are unable to function normally, constitutes subversion.
Acts such as arson, or damaging public transport and utilities as a means to threaten the central or HKSAR governments fall under the offence of terrorism.
People who lobby for sanctions against the SAR or mainland governments or use various means to stir up 'hatred' against the authorities could be subject to a maximum penalty of life imprisonment.
And those who organise, plan, implement or take part in secessionist activities would fall afoul of the new law, regardless of whether violence is used.
While the bulk of national security cases will be handled by local authorities, a mainland agency to be set up in Hong Kong can assume control in three specific circumstances.
These include when cases involve 'complicated situations' where there's foreign interference and the SAR government has difficulties exercising its jurisdiction; when the local government cannot effectively enforce the law; and when there's a serious threat to national security.
Suspects would then be tried in a mainland court, under mainland law.
And even for cases heard in Hong Kong, any case that involves national secrets, public order, or are deemed inappropriate for an open trial, the media and the public can be barred from attending either parts of, or the entire trial.
Like on the mainland, the outcome of the trial will be made public.
The Secretary for Justice can also decide for certain cases to be heard by three judges in the High Court instead of a jury, if they involve national secrets or external forces.
This would be to protect the safety of the jurors and their families, the law said.
The new law also specifies that staff of the new mainland agency are not under Hong Kong's jurisdiction when they are investigating national security cases.
Even the agency's vehicles should not be checked by local law enforcement authorities while carrying out their duties.
Authorities would also have the power to surveil and wiretap people suspected of endangering national security.
In addition, anyone convicted of violating the new legislation would not be allowed to stand in any elections in Hong Kong.
They would also lose the right to take up any public office, or become a member of the Chief Executive Election Committee.
Those who’ve previously taken an oath to uphold the Basic Law and swear allegiance to the SAR, including lawmakers, district councillors, government officials or public officers, Executive Council members, judges and members of the judiciary, will lose their positions immediately.
The new law states that it overrides the local laws of Hong Kong, and also apply to non-permanent residents of the territory.
The Chief Executive, Carrie Lam, had earlier sought to allay concerns over the new law, again stressing in a statement earlier in the evening that the legislation won't have any direct effects on the lives of Hong Kong people.
"It only targets an extremely small minority of offenders while the life and property as well as various legitimate basic rights and freedoms enjoyed by the overwhelming majority of citizens will be protected", she said.
She also said she was "encouraged by the overwhelming support of the public" – without citing a specific poll – and said she’s confident that “the social unrest which has troubled Hong Kong people for nearly a year will be eased and stability will be restored, thereby enabling Hong Kong to start anew, focus on economic development and improve people's livelihood.”
Earlier, in a video message to the Human Rights Council in Geneva, Lam had said the new legislation would fill a “gaping hole” in national security here, and would not undermine Hong Kong’s high degree of autonomy.
But pan-democratic lawmakers strongly criticised the hurried implementation of the new law, saying barely anyone would have the chance to read it before it came into force.
Last updated: 2020-07-01 HKT 01:03
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