Hong Kong police today made their first arrests under a landmark new security law giving Beijing draconian powers to punish dissent in the city.
A man with a ‘Hong Kong Independence’ flag was the first to be arrested hours after the law came into force, and 23 years to the day since Britain returned the former colony to China – with the city’s cherished freedoms now in doubt.
Another 30 people were later detained on various charges including illegal gatherings and obstructing police, while protesters were fired on with water cannon as authorities showed off their new powers today.
China rammed the law through its rubber-stamp parliament and kept the wording shrouded in secrecy, but finally revealed details last night – unveiling strict new measures which could see Hong Kong protesters repressed on the mainland.
Vandalism against government buildings or public transport can now be treated as subversion or terrorism with life sentences for those who break the rules.
China’s feared security agencies will openly set up shop in Hong Kong for the first time, and human rights groups say the law has ‘frightening loopholes’ which could allow Beijing to round up protesters and extradite them to the mainland.
Beijing has faced a chorus of anger over the law but insists it is only aimed at a ‘handful of criminals’ and told foreign critics it was ‘none of your business’.
The first victim of China’s new security law: A man with a ‘Hong Kong Independence’ flag was arrested in Causeway Bay hours after the law came into force
Riot police deploy pepper spray towards journalists as protesters gathered for a rally against the new national security law in Hong Kong
Police detain a protester after spraying pepper spray during a protest in Causeway Bay before the annual handover march
Riot police gesture during a rally against the new security law in Hong Kong today as the law’s passage coincided with the 23rd anniversary of the city’s return to Chinese rule
Activists say the bill will be ‘the end of Hong Kong as we know it’ while China insists it is necessary to restore order after months of violent clashes in the city (pictured, protesters march in Hong Kong today)
Hong Kong’s Beijing-backed leader Carrie Lam strongly endorsed the new law in her speech marking the 23rd anniversary of the handover today.
‘This decision was necessary and timely to maintain Hong Kong’s stability,’ Lam said following a flag-raising ceremony and the playing of China’s national anthem.
Speaking at the harbour-front venue where the last British governor Chris Patten handed Hong Kong back to Chinese rule, Lam described it as the most important development in the 23 years since then.
Luo Huining, the head of Beijing’s top representative office in Hong Kong, said at the ceremony that the law was a ‘common aspiration’ of Hong Kong citizens.
A pro-democracy party, The League of Social Democrats, organised a protest march during the flag-raising ceremony.
About a dozen participants chanted slogans echoing demands from protesters last year for political reform and an investigation into accusation of police abuse.
The law’s passage topples the legal firewall that has existed between the city’s judiciary and the mainland’s party-controlled courts.
Critics say the law effectively ends the ‘one country, two systems’ framework under which Hong Kong was promised a high degree of autonomy until at least 2047.
Article 55 of the law states that Beijing’s national security office in Hong Kong could exercise jurisdiction over ‘complex’ or ‘serious’ cases.
In Beijing, Zhang Xiaoming of the Hong Kong and Macau Affairs Office said suspects arrested by Beijing’s new security office could be tried on the mainland.
He said the mainland’s national security office abided by Chinese law and that Hong Kong”s legal system could not be expected to implement the laws of the mainland.
Local authorities are barred from interfering with central government bodies operating in Hong Kong while they are carrying out their duties, according to the text of the law.
Schools, social groups, media outlets, websites and others will be monitored while China’s central government will have authority over the activities of foreign non-governmental organizations and media outlets in Hong Kong.
Article 38 even suggests that people living outside Hong Kong could be prosecuted for crimes committed abroad.
Police have already begun enforcing the new law, holding up a purple banner warning protesters that they could be prosecuted under it.
Hong Kong’s Chief Executive Carrie Lam (central) stands with former chief executives as they attend a flag-raising ceremony to mark China’s National Day celebrations today
The Chinese and Hong Kong flags are unfurled during a flag-raising ceremony at the Golden Bauhinia Square in Hong Kong
More than two dozen countries – including Britain, France, Germany and Japan – urged Beijing to reconsider the law, saying in a statement to the UN Human Rights Council that it undermines the city’s freedoms.
The U.S. has already begun moves to end special trade terms given to the territory, saying military exports could fall into the hands of the Communist Party.
Congress has also moved to impose sanctions on people deemed connected to political repression in Hong Kong, including police officials.
Britain has said it could offer residency and possible citizenship to about three million of Hong Kong’s 7.5million people.
China has said it will impose visa restrictions on Americans it sees as interfering over Hong Kong.
U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo denounced the threat of a visa ban as a sign of ‘how Beijing refuses to take responsibility for its own choices’ and said the law’s adoption ‘destroys the territory’s autonomy and one of China’s greatest achievements.’
Beijing’s ‘paranoia and fear of its own people’s aspirations have led it to eviscerate the very foundation of the territory’s success,’ Pompeo said in a statement.
Canada, meanwhile, updated a travel advisory on Wednesday for citizens in Hong Kong warning that they faced an increased risk of arbitrary detention or even extradition to China.
In Taiwan, authorities there opened a new office to deal with Hong Kongers seeking refuge.
Helicopters fly the Hong Kong and China flags over Victoria Harbour as Hong Kong marks the 23rd anniversary of its handover to China
At her weekly press conference on Tuesday morning, Hong Kong leader Carrie Lam (pictured) – a pro-Beijing appointee – declined to comment on what the law contained
Pro-Beijing supporters wave Chinese and Hong Kong flags and drink champagne today as they celebrate a controversial new security law
Authorities in Beijing and Hong Kong have repeatedly said the legislation is aimed at a few ‘troublemakers’ and will not affect rights and freedoms.
Some pro-Beijing officials and political commentators say the law is aimed at sealing Hong Kong’s ‘second return’ to the motherland after the first failed to secure order.
They also say the measure will restore business confidence after a year of historic pro-democracy protests.
Millions took to the streets last year while a smaller hardcore of protesters frequently battled police in violent confrontations that saw more than 9,000 arrested.
Hong Kong banned protests in recent months, citing previous unrest and the coronavirus pandemic, although local transmissions have ended.
‘With the release of the full detail of the law, it should be clear to those in any doubt that this is not the Hong Kong they grew up in,’ said Hasnain Malik, head of equity research at Tellimer in Dubai.
‘I saw this morning there are celebrations for Hong Kong”s handover, but to me it is a funeral, a funeral for ‘one country two systems’,’ said lawmaker Kwok Ka-ki.
China yesterday boasted of holding ‘a sword over lawbreakers’ heads’ after Beijing passed the new security law.
President Xi Jinping signed the law into effect Tuesday after it was unanimously passed by Beijing’s rubber-stamp parliament, side-stepping a vote in Hong Kong.
A pro-China supporter takes a selfie at a rally in Hong Kong today as news filtered out that the new security law had been passed
Hong Kong police detain a pro-democracy protester during demonstrations in May
Pro-democracy campaigner Joshua Wong (pictured) said that ‘sweeping powers and ill-defined law’ would make Hong Kong into a ‘secret police state’
The ‘one country, two systems’ formed the bedrock of the city’s transformation into a world-class business hub, bolstered by a reliable judiciary.
Critics have long accused Beijing of chipping away at that status, but they describe the security law as the most brazen move yet.
Human rights groups have warned the law could target opposition politicians seen as insufficiently loyal to Beijing for arrest or disqualification.
Amnesty International said before the law was published in full that it appeared to contain ‘frightening loopholes that would enable mainland authorities to detain and try suspects’.
‘There are also questions over whether the law will allow national security detainees to be treated differently from other criminal suspects,’ Amnesty said.
‘This could include being held in special detention facilities or being detained for indefinite periods of time. It could even involve being extradited to the mainland – a threat that prompted, and was blunted by, the 2019 protest movement.’
On the mainland, national security laws are routinely used to jail critics, especially for the vague offence of ‘subversion’.
‘It marks the end of Hong Kong that the world knew before,’ said activist figurehead Joshua Wong, as he quit the pro-democracy Demosisto party he founded during the 2014 umbrella protest amid fears of reprisals.
‘With sweeping powers and ill-defined law, the city will turn into a secret police state. Hong Kong protesters now face high possibilities of being extradited to China’s courts for trials and life sentences,’ he added.