New Hong Kong law is ‘final nail in the coffin’, critics say

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Hong Kong’s pro-Beijing parliament passed the law unanimously after a marathon session on Tuesday.

Western leaders, the UN and human rights groups have joined a chorus of criticism of Hong Kong’s new security law, saying it further erodes freedoms.

Article 23, as it is known locally, was passed unanimously by the city’s pro-Beijing parliament, targeting a range of crimes considered treason.

Officials say the law is essential for stability, but opponents called it “a nail in the city’s coffin.”

China has long pushed for the law to be passed and said critics’ “smears” would fail.

The new law allows for closed-door trials, gives police the right to detain suspects for up to 16 days without charge and penalties that include life in prison, among other things.

“The new national security legislation will redouble the crackdown on freedoms in Hong Kong with extended heinous sentences and a broader definition of national security,” said Frances Hui, an activist now based in the United States, who described the legislation as ” a final nail in a closed coffin.”

A group of 81 lawmakers and public figures from around the world, including the United Kingdom, the United States, Canada and South Korea, issued a joint statement on Tuesday expressing “serious concerns” about the legislation, which expands the National Security Law imposed by Beijing in 2020 and criminalizes secession, subversion, terrorism and collusion with foreign forces.

“The legislation undermines due process and the right to a fair trial and violates Hong Kong’s obligations under international human rights law, jeopardizing Hong Kong’s role as an open international city,” the statement said, calling it another “devastating blow” to freedom.

The United States said it was “alarmed” by the “broad and…vaguely defined” provisions of the legislation, a concern echoed by the EU, which said the law could affect the city’s status as a center of business.

Lord Cameron’s comments sparked a strong response from the Chinese embassy in the UK, which dismissed his comments as “a serious distortion of the facts”.

China’s government also responded to criticism of Article 23, saying it is “unswervingly determined to safeguard national sovereignty, security and development interests, implement the ‘one country, two systems’ policy and oppose any external interference.” in Hong Kong affairs.

“All attacks and smears will never succeed and are doomed to fail,” Foreign Ministry spokesman Lin Jian said at a regular news conference in Beijing.

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More than 260 people arrested since large protests against the 2020 national security law

Hong Kong leader John Lee had also previously defended the law, which was fast-tracked into its final phase on Tuesday, saying the legislation would help the city “effectively prevent, suppress and punish espionage, conspiracy and cheating activities.” of foreign intelligence agencies, and infiltration and sabotage by hostile forces.

“From now on, the people of Hong Kong will no longer experience these harms and sorrows,” he added.

But those who led pro-democracy protests against China’s growing influence in the city see the new law as another lost battle.

This brings Hong Kong “one step closer to the mainland Chinese system”, former Hong Kong lawmaker Nathan Law, currently exiled in the UK, told the BBC’s Newsday programme.

“The chilling effect… and the resulting collapse of civil society is affecting the majority of Hong Kongers.”

Hui said he is also concerned that the law could be used to target Hong Kongers abroad or their family and friends at home. the city has previously offered rewards for information about activists who fled abroad and arrested four people in Hong Kong for supporting people abroad who “endanger national security.”

Hui left Hong Kong in 2020 after Beijing imposed the NSL, which has since seen more than 260 people arrested. He was introduced in response to the massive pro-democracy protests that swept the city in 2019.

He said civil liberties in Hong Kong were “long gone” four years after the NSL came into force.

Chris Patten, the last British governor of Hong Kong, described the legislation as “another big nail in the coffin of human rights and the rule of law in Hong Kong and a further shameful breach of the Joint Declaration.”

Hong Kong was returned by the United Kingdom to China in 1997 under the “one country, two systems” principle, which guaranteed the city a certain degree of autonomy. While Beijing and Hong Kong insist this remains the case, critics and international rights groups say China’s control over the city has only tightened over time.

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