National Security Law Forces Hong Kong to Limit Free Expression, Political Dissent
06/04/2020 Washington, D.C. (International Christian Concern) – On May 28th, 2020, the National People’s Congress of China (NPC) endorsed a draft decision with regard the government of the Special Administrative Region of Hong Kong (HKSAR) following nearly a year of protests in the city-state. The legislation obligates the government of Hong Kong to produce and enforce laws which “prevent, stop, and punish” threats to national securing through criminalizing “secession, subversion, terrorism, and foreign interference in the city’s affairs.”
Since the passage of the draft decision last week, the government of Hong Kong has taken steps in to fulfill the obligations of the national security bill. These steps limit the free expression of the people of Hong Kong, restricting political dissent and pressuring them into ideological unity with mainland China and the Chinese Communist Party (CCP).
One of these steps towards repression is a controversial national anthem law, which Hong Kong’s lawmakers have continued to consider. The bill would prohibit the singing of mainland China’s national anthem in a “distorted or disrespectful manner” or “publicly or intentionally insulting it.” Any violation of this law would be a criminal offense, subject to a fine of $6,450 or three years’ imprisonment.
The proposal of this pending legislation sparked public outcry and protests by the people of Hong Kong. Of the 396 protesters that were arrested by the police of Hong Kong, over 100 of them were school children.
The government of Hong Kong also issued an order prohibiting the people of Hong Kong from attending a vigil for Tiananmen Square on June 4th. Hong Kong has never prohibited the vigil before, which has occurred every year since the Tiananmen Square massacre resulted in the deaths hundreds or even thousands of people on June 4, 1989.
The justification given by the government for prohibiting the vigil was the need for social distancing. Yet, before the event was outlawed, South Morning China Post authors Gary Cheung and Chris Lau noted that the candlelight vigil might be deemed “subversive,” under the incredible vagueness of Beijing’s national security policy.
The deeply symbolic nature of both the mainland China’s anthem and the Tiananmen Square Protests lends credence to the fears of many that the NPC’s national security law signals the beginning of the end for Hong Kong’s autonomous status. Though some thinkers, like Nury Vittachi from China Daily Global, have argued that this legislation does not destroy the “one country, two systems” paradigm, these actions by the HKSAR are representative of the subjugation of Hong Kong’s government to the favored policy of Beijing.
The end of Hong Kong’s autonomy is created by the national security policy’s vagueness—the national security bill did not offer a definition of “national security” or “secession, subversion, terrorism, or foreign interference.”
What exactly is to be outlawed? There are no clear limits on the extents of Beijing’s newfound power over Hong Kong. Who decides what agency will create or enforce the law? Should the HKSAR fail to implement the Chinese government’s bidding, the law authorizes the creation of agencies to be built within the city, run by Chinese officials, which will implement the CCP’s national security directives themselves. Who is to try cases under the national security laws Hong Kong will put in place? The bill does not say.
Having avoided any cooperation with the legislature of Hong Kong—other than the single representative from Hong Kong that was allowed to participate in the vote—Beijing has written itself a blank check of ultimate authority in the name of national security.
Given Hong Kong’s recent trend toward the limitation of free expression in favor of political unity with the CCP, and the rapid, unchecked expansion of Beijing’s control over HKSAR, the U.S. needs to be alert to the possible expansion of human rights abuses to include the religious persecution for which the government of China is notorious. China was designated by the 2019 United States Commission on International Religious Freedom as a “country of particular concern” for its egregious violations of religious freedom—a designation that it has earned for decades.
Researcher Maya Wang, like many other citizens of Hong Kong, accurately expressed her fear that “there is an unmistakable trend towards the end of Hong Kong as a place where people can speak without fear… a step towards greater and more comprehensive restrictions on freedom of expression that tracks with the trend overall in the rest of mainland China.”
The national security law, as one protestor noted, will “effectively criminalize anything deemed subversive.” Beijing has a track record of vigorously suppressing religious activity in mainland China that it deems too subversive, and it is highly likely that the national security law will extend this persecution to the vulnerable people of Hong Kong.