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Politics

Hong Kong's sweeping national security law goes into effect

Violators can be extradited to mainland and face life imprisonment

People watch the sunset on the eve of the 23rd anniversary of Hong Kong's handover from Britain back to China on June 30 in Hong Kong.   © Getty Images

HONG KONG -- Hong Kong late Tuesday formally adopted new national security laws imposed by Beijing, hours after Chinese President Xi Jinping signed the legislation, which had passed unanimously by China's top lawmaking body.

According to the legislation, which was released at 11:00 p.m. and took effect immediately, violations of the laws can result in extradition to China for trial and a maximum sentence of life in prison. Both violent and non-violent activities are covered by the new laws.

The legislation provides criminal penalties for separatism, subversion, terrorism and collusion in support of foreign interference. It follows a year of unrest in Hong Kong, which sometimes descended into violent clashes between police and protesters. Beijing has long accused foreign forces of inciting the demonstrations.

People convicted of mild offenses could receive a maximum three-year sentence, while those with active participation could face imprisonment of three to 10 years. People with leading roles in the outlawed activities could face life imprisonment.

While most cases will be heard in Hong Kong courts, suspects can be extradited to mainland China for trial under situations that are out of the Hong Kong government's control. The laws also apply to non-Hong Kong residents and activities conducted outside of the territory.

Pro-democracy advocates, from left, Joshua Wong, Nathan Law and Agnes Chow on May 30 in Hong Kong. The three activists on Tuesday announced their withdrawal from their political party, Demosisto.   © AP

The legislation was incorporated in the annex of the Basic Law, Hong Kong's mini-constitution, and was promulgated without going through the city's legislature. Critics say the laws will curtail the city's civil liberties and autonomy, underpinned by the "one country, two systems" framework.

The laws will allow Beijing to overrule Hong Kong's legal system by giving the central government jurisdiction over cases under "certain circumstances." A security commission directly reporting to the central government will also be set up in the territory. Meanwhile, Hong Kong's chief executive will have the power to appoint judges handling related court cases locally.

Hong Kong Chief Executive Carrie Lam welcomed the passage of the laws by China's Standing Committee of the National People's Congress.

"The legislation is an important step to improve the 'one country, two systems' institutional system as well as restore stability in Hong Kong society as soon as possible," Lam said in a statement.

Shortly after news of the passage emerged on Tuesday morning, high-profile activists Joshua Wong, Nathan Law and Agnes Chow announced their withdrawals from Demosisto, the pro-democracy group they founded in 2016.

"If my voice will not be heard soon, I hope that the international community will continue to speak up for Hong Kong and step up concrete efforts to defend our last bit of freedom," Wong said on social media. "With sweeping powers and ill-defined law, the city will turn into a #secretpolicestate," he tweeted.

Hours after the trio announced their exit from Demosisto, the party said it would disband. "We will certainly meet again in the future," the group wrote on its Facebook page. "Hong Kong people, see you all in the streets."

The Hong Kong National Front, a small group pushing for the city's independence, announced on social media that it would disband its local operations and shift overseas.

Pro-democracy demonstrators at a shopping mall in Hong Kong observe a minute of silence during a protest on Tuesday after lawmakers in China passed a national security law for the city.   © Reuters

Meanwhile, C.Y. Leung, a former Hong Kong chief executive and current vice chairman of China's top advisory body, offered a bounty of up to 1 million Hong Kong dollars ($129,000) for tips leading to the arrest of fugitive violators of the new laws in a Facebook post. Leung did not say where the funds would come from.

The city's July 1 holiday, which this year observes the 23rd anniversary of the handover, has long been marked by a large protest march by opposition groups, under the umbrella of the Civil Human Rights Front, the organizer of last year's massive rallies.

A government board on Tuesday denied an appeal by the organization to overturn a police decision to ban this year's march due to coronavirus social-distancing rules. Still, there are calls on social media urging people to defy the ban and take to the streets on Wednesday.

Some governments in Asia criticized the new legislation by Beijing.

Japanese Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga called the passage of the security laws "regrettable" at a news conference, adding that it would "undermine the trust of the international community in the 'one country, two systems' principle," which he said is "extremely important" to Japan.

Taiwanese President Tsai Ing-wen said the passing of the national security laws "not only represents China's ignorance of public opinion in Hong Kong, but it goes against its promise and further proves that 'one country, two systems' is not operable."

On her Facebook page, Tsai expressed her wish that Hong Kong people keep up their struggle to maintain their freedoms and human rights, adding that her government will help by establishing a dedicated office starting on July 1 to expedite and streamline necessary assistance. She vowed to provide "solid support for the Hong Kong people."

Earlier on Tuesday, a spokesman for Taiwan's Executive Yuan warned Taiwanese travelers "to be careful of the risk that could emerge going to Hong Kong after the enactment of the national security laws."

Hours before the vote on the legislation, U.S. officials announced that Washington would end exports of defense equipment to Hong Kong and abolish the city's preferential access to technologies with potential military applications. Arguing that the security laws will diminish the city's autonomy, the Trump administration is moving to treat Hong Kong equally with mainland China for trading purposes.

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