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Hong Kong Seeks Legislation To Crush Dissent

By Helen Davidson | The Guardian

Thursday, 30 Sep 2021, 04.48 EDT

Article 23, shelved in 2003, may target foreign organisations and bans ‘subversion’ against Chinese government.

Hong Kong’s security secretary, Chris Tang, right, a former police chief, says the new legislation would ‘fill gaps’ around the Beijing-imposed security law, being used to jail pro-democracy figures. Photograph: China News Service/Getty Images

The Hong Kong government is pushing ahead with its own national security legislation to “fill gaps” around the Beijing-imposed law already being used to crush dissent and jail opposition figures.

On Wednesday, the city’s security secretary, the former police chief Chris Tang, said the government would consider targeting Taiwanese and other foreign political organisations when drafting the new legislation, known as Article 23.

It came amid a raft of developments in the campaign against Hong Kong’s pro-democracy groups and figures, including the denial of bail to student activists as young as 15.

According to the public broadcaster RTHK, Tang said the new law would be based on the initial draft proposed in 2003, which was shelved after mass protests, and also take into account the circumstances in Hong Kong since the 2019 pro-democracy protests.

“Since the national security law has been enacted, there may still be gaps that need to be filled with the Article 23 legislation,” Tang told the legislative council. He also flagged creating a new offence of “inciting hatred”, RTHK reported.

Article 23 of Hong Kong’s mini-constitution, the Basic Law, requires the city to enact national security laws to prohibit “treason, secession, sedition [and] subversion” against the Chinese government.

But the clause was never implemented because of deeply held public fears that it would curtail Hong Kong’s cherished rights, such as freedom of expression, and an attempt in 2003 drew 1 million people to the streets.

The failure to implement Article 23 had been cited as a key reason for Beijing’s decision to unilaterally impose its own national security law (NSL) on Hong Kong.

While the NSL broadly outlaws acts of secession, subversion, foreign collusion and terrorism, the new law would cover treason, theft of state secrets, and the political activities of foreign political bodies in Hong Kong, the South China Morning Post said.

Last week Tang told the SCMP the “time was ripe” for Article 23 as there was an immediate need to tackle “espionage”, claiming without evidence that the 2019 pro-democracy protests were orchestrated by “state-level organisations”.

As the government works on the new security laws, authorities are continuing their crackdown on the remaining elements of the pro-democracy movement, with a rush of developments this week.

On Thursday, a court denied bail to student activists, including a 15-year-old girl. Four of the seven members of Returning Valiant charged with conspiring to incite subversion are minors.

Also this week, 10 elected district councillors were removed from their seats after authorities found their mandatory oaths of allegiance to be invalid, but gave no further explanation.

RTHK issued new editorial guidelines to its staff, ruling the station must support the government in safeguarding national security and interests, or face disciplinary action. It is the latest in a series of moves to control the previously editorially independent broadcaster since a change of management.

On Wednesday, the legislative council criminalised doxing – the malicious spread of private information online – under penalty of HK$1m or five years in jail. The same day, the Legislative Council also passed a bill outlawing online insults of the Chinese flag, banning its display upside down or in any other way which “undermined its dignity”, and mandated weekly flag-raising ceremonies in schools.

Police also froze the assets of a long-running civil society group, the Hong Kong Alliance in Support of Patriotic Democratic Movements of China, a day after it announced its dissolution. Several members of the group have been arrested, charged, or jailed, and its museum commemorating the Tiananmen Square massacre was raided this month. Its online exhibition was this week blocked in Hong Kong, with access denied via local internet providers.

In the run-up to China’s National Day on 1 October, Hong Kong media have reported police are preparing to station about 8,000 officers, including from the “raptor” squad and counter-terrorism units, around the city.

*This article was amended on 1 October 2021 to correctly refer to the Hong Kong Alliance in Support of Patriotic Democratic Movements of China, rather than the Hong Kong Alliance in Support of Democratic Freedoms as an earlier version said.

© 2021 Guardian News & Media Limited or its affiliated companies.


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