Hong Kong under the National Security Law (NSL)

It’s been just over two years since China enacted the Hong Kong law National Security Act (NSL), a decision taken, while the United Nations Human Rights Committee explained, “without consultation with the Hong Kong public”. Since then, Hong Kong authorities have vigorously enforced what is officially the Law of the People’s Republic of China on Safeguarding National Security in the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region. In the words by British Foreign Secretary Liz Truss, the NSL has led to “a systematic erosion of freedom and democracy in Hong Kong”.

A review of the facts suggests that the Minister of Foreign Affairs is not exaggerating. The first person convicted under the NSL, Kit Tong Yingwas sent to prison for 6½ years for “inciting secession”, waving a flag with the slogan “Free Hong Kong, Revolution of Our Time” (光復香港,時代革命), one of the main cries of rallying hong kong The pro-democracy movement in Hong Kong.

Earlier this year, police warned a store called Not one coffee less “to store certain objects which they have qualified as sensitive, without explicitly indicating which slogans or phrases on the advertising materials were considered to be potentially illegal”. Based on information provided by the store owner, it appears that the police were referring to items with phrases “resist with you” and “without any fear”. It should be noted that the shop’s name is itself a reference to a popular pro-democracy slogan, “Five requirementsnot one less” (五大訴求,缺一不可).

The UN Human Rights Committee has asked repeal the NSL because it is inconsistent with Hong Kong’s obligations under the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR). This is an ironic twist, given that Article 4 of the NSL explicitly requires that the ICCPR be protected. The UN Human Rights Committee “highlighted the shortcomings of the NSL, including the lack of clarity of ‘national security’ and the possibility of transferring cases from Hong Kong to mainland China, which does not is not a State party to the Covenant, for investigation, prosecution, trial and execution of sentences”.

In addition to the NSL itself, Hong Kong authorities are also dusting off sedition offences, not invoked since the 1960s, to prosecute pro-democracy activists. On July 5, 2022, five speech therapists were indicted for “seditious” writing Children’s books, which depicts Hong Kongers as sheep threatened by mainland Chinese wolves. Sedition charges have also been brought against six people who applauded in legal proceedings against a lawyer Chow Hang-tungimprisoned herself for holding unauthorized vigils for victims of the 1989 Tiananmen Square crackdown.

Looking at the actual impact the NSL has had on Hong Kong, it’s hard to think of more consequential Chinese legislation in the recent past. Of course, the NSL was not solely responsible for Hong Kong’s dramatic transformation; it merely reflected changes in the Chinese central government’s vision for Hong Kong and provided a new legal framework for implementing that vision. Additionally, as noted above, other legal tools have been used by Hong Kong authorities to respond to Beijing’s bids, including some left in place by the British. Yet the NSL neatly encapsulates Hong Kong’s new reality, one in which longstanding legal protections have been swept away and deeper integration with the homeland looms.

In its design and use of the national security law, Beijing has been quite transparent about what it wants Hong Kong to be. The question for foreign companies is whether they are ready to accept the new Hong Kong.

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