May 25, 2024

New bill includes lengthy prison terms for offences such as treason and longer sentences for acts deemed to be sedition.

The Hong Kong government has released the draft of a new national security law for the Chinese territory after Chief Executive John Lee said it should be passed at “full speed”.

The territory’s Legislative Council began debating the Safeguarding National Security Bill, as it is officially known, at 11am (03:00 GMT).

The draft bill, some 212 pages long (PDF), reveals new laws on treason, espionage, external interference, state secrets and sedition. Those found guilty of treason could face sentences of up to life imprisonment for treason, and 20 years for espionage.

Sentences for sedition, currently handled under a colonial-era law, have also been increased – to seven years from two – and will also cover inciting hatred against the Chinese Communist Party and the country’s socialist system of governance.

Police will also be allowed to detain suspects for two weeks before charging them, compared with 48 hours currently.

In a statement, Lee urged the passage of the bill at “full speed” to enable the territory to move forward.

Hong Kong “has to enact the Basic Law Article 23 legislation as soon as possible – the earlier the better. Completing the legislative work even one day earlier means we can more effectively safeguard national security one day earlier,” he said in a statement.

“The Hong Kong SAR [Special Administrative Region] can then focus its efforts on developing the economy, improving people’s livelihood and maintaining the long-term prosperity and stability of Hong Kong.”

The draft is being put before legislators just over a week after a month-long public consultation process on the bill came to an end.

The government said it received some 13,147 submissions and that 98.6 percent “indicated support for the legislation and made positive comments”.  It also held consultations with select groups involving about 3,000 people. Hong Kong has a population of more than seven million people.

The bill is unlikely to encounter significant opposition in the Legislative Council.

Pro-Beijing candidates swept the last polls in December 2021 after changes to electoral rules cut the number of directly-elected seats and ensured only those deemed loyal to China could contest. The house has no opposition members.

Beijing imposed a national security law on Hong Kong in 2020 after hundreds of thousands of people took to the streets the year before calling for more democracy in protests that sometimes turned violent.

The broadly-worded Beijing law bypassed the local legislature and made acts deemed to be secession, subversion, “terrorism” and collusion with foreign forces punishable with sentences as long as life in prison.

Human rights groups say the law has “decimated” the territory’s long-held freedoms, which Beijing had promised to respect for at least 50 years after regaining sovereignty over Hong Kong in 1997.

Thousands have been arrested, media and civil society groups have closed, and many pro-democracy politicians have gone into exile.

Media tycoon Jimmy Lai, who owned the Apple Daily tabloid, is currently on trial in one of the most high-profile national security cases. The Apple Daily was closed in 2021 after police raided its offices, Lai and other staff were arrested and its assets frozen.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *