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Hong Kong Passes Tough National Security Law

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A special session of Hong Kong’s legislature has passed the Safeguarding National Security Bill that is widely expected to help the government suppress dissent and crush any opposition voices. Hong Kong’s Legislative Council, packed with China loyalists, took just about a week to pass the bill. It prescribes life imprisonment for threats to national security, that includes treason and insurrection.

Lesser offences including possession of seditious literature could also lead to several years in jail. Some provisions allow criminal prosecutions for acts committed anywhere in the world.

“The sooner the legislation is completed the sooner national security will be safeguarded,” Andrew Leung, president of the Legislative Council was quoted as saying in an AP report.

The new law mirrors a similar law imposed by Beijing four years ago, which has already largely silenced opposition voices in the financial hub. Hong Kong’s political scene has changed dramatically since the massive 2019 street protests that challenged China’s rule over the semi-autonomous territory, and the imposition of Beijing’s National Security Law.

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The AP report said many leading activists have been prosecuted, while others sought refuge abroad. Influential pro-democracy media such as Apple Daily and Stand News were shuttered. The crackdown prompted an exodus of disillusioned young professionals and middle-class families to the U.S., Britain, Canada, and Taiwan.

Hong Kong’s mini-constitution, the Basic Law, requires the city to enact a home-grown national security law. A previous attempt in 2003 sparked a massive street protest that drew half a million people, and forced the legislation to be shelved. Such protests against the current bill were absent largely due to the chilling effect of the existing security law.

Both Chinese and Hong Kong governments say the Beijing-imposed law restored stability after the 2019 protests. Officials insist the new security law balances security with safeguarding rights and freedoms. The city government said it’s needed to prevent a recurrence of the protests, and that it will only affect “an extremely small minority” of disloyal residents.