China’s Security Law: A bane for Hong Kong?
The protests in Hong Kong began on the 15th of March, 2019 and are still going on. The Extradition Bill along with many other things such as the demands for reforms in terms of democracy, the cases of the Causeway Bay Book disappearances and the fear of losing the autonomic structure of governance has kept protestors on the streets, begging for change and the withdrawal of the Bill as it was the push that caused these protests to start despite so many other problems being prevalent at the time. The Bill allowed for criminal suspects to be extradited to mainland China when they had committed crimes such as murder or manslaughter, aiding or procuring suicide, offenses of a sexual nature including rape, kidnapping, false imprisonment, sexual assault, criminal intimidation, trafficking, offenses relating to counterfeiting, perjury and subordination of perjury, offenses relating to firearms or explosives, etc.
The changes to the existing law were that the Hong Kong government could consider requests from any country for the extradition of the criminal suspects, even countries with which it did not have an extradition treaty including mainland China, Macau, and Taiwan. Commercial offenses such as tax evasion were removed from the list of offenses for which the extradition could occur. The Hong Kong government tried to reassure the people by promising that only criminals with offenses carrying sentences of seven years at least would be handed over. The proposal for the change came in after a 19-year-old man, Chan Tong-Kai, murdered his pregnant girlfriend, Poon Hiu-wing in Taiwan and then fled to Hong Kong. He confessed to the murder but the police in Hong Kong were unable to press charges or arrest him or extradite him to Taiwan as there was no sort of agreement for this kind of extradition in place. So, the Fugitives Offenders amendment Bill was put into place. The protests are still going on and one of the highlights of it was the demonstration on the 9th of June, 2019 where protestors had gathered outside the Legislative Council Complex to stall the second reading of the bill which was to take place on the 12th of the same month. This had resulted in an intense standoff between the protestors and the police which had resulted in the use of tear gas and rubber bullets by the police. An even bigger protest had taken place on the 16th, four days after the 12th and one day after the bill had been suspended when the protesters had insisted on complete withdrawal of the bill and in retaliation to the use of violence by the police on the 12th during the protest.
This protest is the cause of a new draft law which was already submitted at the annual NPC which is the National People’s Congress which is largely only known for being a rubber stamp to the decisions taken by the Communist leadership of Beijing but it is still considered to be one of the most important political events of the year. The draft decision consisted of an introduction and seven articles but Article 4 may prove to be the most controversial for Hong Kong. The law is said to ban ‘’treason, secession and sedition’’. Article 4 says that Hong Kong must improve national security and also said that the Central People’s Government will be given the freedom to set up agencies in Hong Kong to fulfill the shortcomings which are not being met locally and to improve national security in accordance with the new law. The biggest fear of the people is the extremely wide interpretation that the words ‘’treason, sedition and subversion’’ allow. Hong Kong has always observed a ‘’one country, two systems’’ policy since Britain returned sovereignty in 1997 which has, in fact, given Hong Kong a different kind of freedom which the rest of China does not have. Pro-democracy activists are of the opinion that if China is successful in going through with the law then it could mean ‘’the end of Hong Kong’’ which means that it would mean the end of the autonomous freedom which Hong Kong enjoys. The security risks have become increasingly notable in Hong Kong which is a direct reference to the protests which took place there till the coronavirus outbreak at the end of the year and still may continue after things go back to normal. To avoid any international backlash, China has also sent many demarches to India as well as many other countries such as the United States which condemns the kind of authoritarian grip China is trying to have on Hong Kong, explaining the reason for a new draft with a reminder that the national security in the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region (HKSAR) is an internal matter and no foreign country will be allowed to interfere in any way.
This decision of Beijing, about the new security law, has reignited the street protests and raised a lot of questions about the rule of law in the territory. According to the Hong Kong constitution, the Basic Law, the territory is required to implement a national security law that it makes itself so that it can replace the colonial legislation that was revoked during the handover of Hong Kong to China by the UK. But Beijing said that it could not wait any longer for Hong Kong to introduce its own security law leading to the announcement of China’s new security law, but they did not have the authority to do so and it violates the Basic Law too. Legal scholars also say that Hong Kong was supposed to enact the anti-subversion laws on its own but China is doing it now with its own new law and that the whole process of passing the draft of the law would happen behind closed doors, by the time the people see it, the law would already have been adopted and put into practice.
By: Surabhi Kumar.