HONG KONG (AP) — China on Tuesday approved a national security law for Hong Kong that takes direct aim at some of the actions of anti-government protesters last year, a move many see as Beijing’s boldest yet to erase the legal firewall between the semi-autonomous territory and the mainland’s authoritarian Communist Party system.
The new law specifies that those who destroy government facilities and utilities are considered subversive. Damaging public transportation facilities and arson constitute acts of terrorism. Any person taking part in secessionist activities, whether organizing or participating, is in violation of the law regardless of whether violence is used.
Those found guilty of the ambiguously worded offenses of separatism, subversion, terrorism or colluding with foreign forces could face life imprisonment if they are deemed masterminds of such activities.
“We hope the law will serve as a deterrent to prevent people from stirring up trouble,” said Tam Yiu-Chung, Hong Kong’s sole representative on the Standing Committee.
The legislation also states that Hong Kong’s government “shall take necessary measures to strengthen publicity, guidance, supervision and management” for schools, social groups, media, the internet and other matters related to national security.
Hong Kong will establish a committee responsible for maintaining national security in the city. It will be chaired by Hong Kong Chief Executive Carrie Lam and will be accountable to and supervised by the Chinese government.
Speaking in a video message to the U.N. Human Rights Council in Geneva, Lam said the law would “only target an extremely small minority” of lawbreakers, would not be retroactive, and that mainland legal bodies would only have jurisdiction in “rare, specified situations.”
The law took effect at 11 p.m. local time Tuesday, an hour before the July 1 23rd anniversary of the territory’s passing from Britain to China. Critics say it is the most significant erosion to date of Hong Kong’s British-style rule of law and the high degree of autonomy that Beijing promised Hong Kong would enjoy at least through 2047 under a “one country, two systems” framework.