Article 23: Hong Kong legislature passes tough new national security law | Politics News

Rights groups, foreign governments fear fast-tracked law will erode civil liberties and may be used to silence critics.

Hong Kong’s Legislative Council unanimously passed a new national security law that expands the government’s power to crush dissent.

The Safeguarding National Security Law passed on Tuesday includes new measures on treason, espionage, external interference, state secrets and sedition.

“Today is a historic moment for Hong Kong,” said Hong Kong Chief Executive John Lee, who added that the law punishing five major crimes would go into effect on March 23.

It grants the government more power to quash dissent, widely seen as the latest step in a sweeping political crackdown triggered by pro-democracy protests in 2019. It comes on top of a similar law imposed by Beijing four years ago, which has already largely silenced opposition voices in the financial hub.

Critics say that the major piece of legislation, known as Article 23, further threatens the China-ruled city’s freedoms.

The 90-seat council stacked with pro-China loyalists was first presented with the bill on March 8, following a monthlong public consultation, with Hong Kong’s leader calling for it to be enacted at “full speed”.

Eighty-eight lawmakers and the legislative council president voted unanimously to enact the legislation.

The law threatens stringent penalties for a wide range of actions authorities call threats to national security, with the most severe – including treason and insurrection – punishable by life imprisonment. Lesser offenses, including the possession of seditious publications, could also lead to several years in jail. Some provisions allow criminal prosecutions for acts committed anywhere in the world.

Legislative Council President Andrew Leung said he believed all lawmakers were honoured to have taken part in this “historic mission.”

‘Crushing blow to human rights’

Some human rights organisations and foreign governments have criticised the vagueness of Article 23 and said it may be used to silence critics.

Critics also worry that the new law will further erode civil liberties that China promised to preserve for 50 years when the former British colony returned to Chinese rule in 1997.

Amnesty International’s China director Sarah Brooks said: “With this draconian legislation, the Hong Kong government has delivered another crushing blow to human rights in the city.”

“This is a devastating moment for the people of Hong Kong, hundreds of thousands of whom have previously marched through the streets to demonstrate against repressive laws, including an incarnation of this one in 2003. Today they lost another piece of their freedom – any act of peaceful protest is now more dangerous than ever.”

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