HONG KONG (Reuters) - Beijing unveiled the national security law it is imposing on Hong Kong on Tuesday, punishing crimes of secession and sedition with up to life in prison and stoking concern it heralds a more authoritarian era for China’s most freewheeling city.
Particulars of the law are expected to ratchet up tensions with the United States, Britain and other Western governments amid fears it will crush freedoms in the global financial hub.
The much-anticipated law took effect from 1500 GMT on June 30, an hour before the 23rd anniversary of the handover of the former British colony to Chinese rule in 1997.
Also likely to unnerve pro-democracy activists and Western governments is a prison term of up to life for the crime of colluding with foreign forces.
China’s central government will exercise jurisdiction over the enforcement of the national security legislation and it will trump Hong Kong law in the event of a conflict, according to the law, confirming draft details released this month.
Beijing had kept full details of the law shrouded in secrecy and even Hong Kong’s Beijing-backed leader, Carrie Lam, said she was not privy to the draft despite her insisting most people had no reason to worry.
Critics of the law, which was not made public until after it was passed, have slammed the lack of transparency up to the moment it was unveiled and the speed at which it was pushed through.
China’s government says the law is necessary to tackle secession, subversion, terrorism and collusion with foreign forces following anti-government protests that escalated in June last year and plunged the city into its biggest crisis in decades.
Authorities in mainland China and Hong Kong have repeatedly blamed “foreign forces” for fomenting the unrest.
Some pro-Beijing officials have described the national security law as Hong Kong’s “second return” after authorities failed to tame the city politically after its handover from British rule on July 1, 1997.
Officials in Beijing and Hong Kong have tried to ease concerns about the law, saying it will not erode the city’s high degree of autonomy promised for 50 years under a “one country, two systems” formula that guarantees freedoms not seen on the mainland.
The law comes on the eve of the anniversary of Hong Kong’s handover, when protesters traditionally take to the streets to air grievances over everything from high property prices to mainland interference in the city. Authorities banned the annual rally this year, citing coronavirus.
Opposition politicians and critics say the legislation will crush the city’s freedoms and is the most significant move ever by Beijing in a sustained and concerted campaign to assert its authority over Hong Kong and bring it to heel.
Reporting By Meg Shen, James Pomfret, Greg Torode and Marius Zaharia; Writing by Anne Marie Roantree; Editing by Robert Birsel and Giles Elgood