Article 23: Hong Kong passed the Second National Security Act

Hong Kong

of Hong Kong The Legislature unanimously passed the new powers on Tuesday Critics and analysts warned the financial center would align its national security laws more closely with those used in mainland China and deepen ongoing repression of dissent.

is long The national security bill — the first draft of which ran to 212 pages — was rushed through the city's opposition-free Legislature with unusual urgency at the request of City Mayor John Lee and 11 days of debate.

Coming into force on Saturday, the law introduces 39 new national security offences, in addition to the already powerful national security law, which was directly imposed by Beijing in Hong Kong in 2020.

The law has already forced Hong Kong authorities to jail dozens of political opponents, crack down on civil society groups and outspoken media, and has turned the once freewheeling city into one where patriotism is a priority.

Known locally as Article 23, the new National Security Act includes new offenses including treason, espionage, foreign interference and unlawful handling of state secrets, with the most serious offenses punishable by up to life in prison.

Hong Kong Chief Executive Lee described this as a historic moment for Hong Kong.

Chen Yongnuo/China News Service/VCG/Getty Images

Lawmakers attend a meeting on the Basic Law Article 23 Act at the Legislative Council on March 19, 2024 in Hong Kong, China.

Referring to China's Communist Party leadership in Beijing, he said, “We … completed a historic task, lived up to the nation's faith, and did not bring down the central government.

China and Hong Kong's leaders say new laws are needed to “seal the cracks” as part of a push to “restore stability” following mass protests in 2019. They argue that their law is similar to other national security laws around the world.

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Critics counter that what China's Communist Party considers national security offenses would be too broad and broad, with political criticism, dissent and even business activity not criminalized anywhere else.

The new law comes as Hong Kong's government mounts a high-profile campaign this year to revive the city's business credentials after a political crackdown — combined with nearly three years of strict coronavirus restrictions — spurred on. An exodus of local and international talent.

Legal scholars and business figures told CNN that the new law's broad definitions and tougher penalties could lead to further repression of civil society and threaten once-robust exchanges of information for businesses, including its vaunted financial sector.

“Continuing from the stringent security law, Hong Kong authorities are eager to further tighten information controls in the city,” said Eric Lai, a research fellow at the Georgetown Asian Law Center and an expert on Hong Kong's legal system.

Lai expects a “chilling effect” to deepen throughout society.

“The business community will be particularly vulnerable to the new 'state secrets' and 'espionage' crimes,” Lai added.

The new law outlawed “illegal acquisition,” “possession” and “disclosure of state secrets,” along with the crime of “espionage.” In the most serious circumstances, offenders can be sentenced to up to 20 years in prison.

Observers say the law's wording has a broad interpretation of what constitutes a state secret.

The definition ranges from the secrecy of China's “construction of national security” and “diplomatic or foreign affairs activities” to Beijing and Hong Kong's “major policy decision on affairs” and “economic or social development”.

Hung Ho-fung, a professor of sociology at Johns Hopkins University, said that while social and economic affairs are considered state secrets, “this is to say that it covers anything.”

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“With these draconian and ill-defined clauses, even apolitical businessmen can get into trouble and face the risk of having their offices raided and in many cases being detained, arrested or banned from leaving mainland China,” he said. .

“This will certainly increase the skepticism, anxiety and uncertainty of foreign businesses in Hong Kong.”

The US State Department said the new law “has the potential to accelerate the closure of Hong Kong's once-open society”, and it analyzed what the potential risk would be to US citizens and “other US interests”.

“We are alarmed by what we interpret as the vaguely-defined provisions set out in their Article 23 Act and the sweep,” State Department deputy spokesman Vedant Patel told a news conference.

Patel pointed out several problems with the law, including being “fast-tracked through a democratically elected legislative body after a truncated public comment period” and having “poorly defined and incredibly vague” wording.

The EU expressed concern about the law's impact on “the rights and freedoms of the people of Hong Kong”.

“The bill's detailed provisions and broad definitions, particularly in relation to foreign interference and state secrets, appear to be of particular concern,” it said in a statement. “The substantial amount of penalties provided for in the bill, its extraterritorial scope and its – at least – retroactive applicability are also deeply troubling.”

British Foreign Minister David Cameron said the new law was “rushed through the legislative process” and would have far-reaching implications for Hong Kong's rule of law, rights and freedoms.

In a response on Tuesday, the Chinese embassy in London called Cameron's comments “a serious distortion of the facts” and defended the legislative process as “rigorous and pragmatic”.

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“(The law) will contribute to a more stable and transparent business environment in Hong Kong, safeguarding the city's long-term stability and prosperity,” the statement said.

In mainland China, national security laws often ensnare local and foreign businesses in opaque investigations.

Chinese state security officials raided several offices of an international consulting firm Capvision Last year, it was part of a broader crackdown on the advisory sector as Beijing tightened controls on what it considers sensitive information related to national security.

The law refers to the involvement of “external forces” — a euphemism for foreign governments and organizations — as an aggravating factor that warrants harsher punishment.

Amnesty International's China Director Sarah Brooks Amendment said “Delivered another crushing blow to human rights in the city.”

“Officials have passed this law in the blink of an eye, and public outcry has destroyed any remaining hope that they can resist its most destructive elements,” Brooks said in a statement. “This is a devastating moment for the people of Hong Kong.”

Johannes Haag, head of the German Chamber of Commerce in Hong Kong, said that while many German businesses are committed to Hong Kong, Hong Kong wants to maintain its unique status, which includes free capital and a common law court system.

“[The law] “It's a bit difficult to make the case to our German partners that this is Hong Kong and it's different from mainland China,” he said.

Emily Lau, a former pro-democracy lawmaker, also worries that what made Hong Kong unique is fast disappearing.

“We want Hong Kong to prosper, we are part of China. I have never denied that,” he told CNN.

“But we are different from the rest of China. But the difference is diminishing, which is very sad.

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