Chinese President Xi Jinping has signed a new national security law for Hong Kong that will punish crimes of secession, subversion, terrorism and collusion with foreign forces with up to life in prison.
The passage of the legislation gives Beijing unprecedented powers and sets the stage for the most radical changes to Hong Kong since the former British colony returned to Chinese rule 23 years ago.
Under the radical new law, Beijing will set up a national security office in Hong Kong, aimed at cracking down on dissent in the city.
Anti-government protests that rocked Hong Kong for several months arose from the fear that Beijing will end freedoms and erode the high degree of autonomy the city has enjoyed since handover in 1997.
Hong Kong’s 7.5 million people were given no time to digest the complex legislation before it came into force at 11pm local time.
The timing was seen as a symbolic humiliation for Britain, coming just an hour before the 23rd anniversary of when Hong Kong’s last colonial governor Chris Patten, a staunch critic of the law, tearfully handed back the former colony to the Chinese.
Prominent activist Joshua Wong’s Demosisto and other pro-democracy groups said they would dissolve.
Mr Wong, who rallied support for Hong Kong’s pro-democracy movement overseas, in particular in the US, said he expected to be targeted under the law.
“If my voice will not be heard soon, I hope that the international community will continue to speak up for Hong Kong and step up concrete efforts to defend our last bit of freedom,” Mr Wong said on his Twitter feed, announcing he was stepping down from Demosisto.
Britain and about two dozen Western countries urged China to reconsider the law, saying Beijing must preserve the right to assembly and free press.
The US condemned the legislation as a violation of Beijing’s international commitments and vowed to go on acting “against those who smothered Hong Kong’s freedom and autonomy”.
Hong Kong leader Carrie Lam, in a video message to the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva, urged the international community to “respect our country’s right to safeguard national security”.
She said the law would not undermine the city’s autonomy or its independent judiciary.
In their most severe form, crimes will be punishable with life in prison.
The security legislation will supersede existing Hong Kong laws where there is a conflict and mainland Chinese authorities could exercise jurisdiction over some major cases.
State-backed Global Times editor-in-chief Hu Xijin urged outsiders not to “misjudge the HK situation”.
After National Security Law for Hong Kong was passed, several HK extreme secessionist groups announced to disband, and patriots gathered to celebrate. Don't misjudge the HK situation. China will stick to one country, two systems and maintain HK's high degree of autonomy. pic.twitter.com/WM59srp0V4
— Hu Xijin 胡锡进 (@HuXijin_GT) June 30, 2020
A short while after Mr Wong stepped down, Demosisto members Nathan Law and Agnes Chow said they would follow.
“The struggle of Hong Kong people will not stop, it will only continue with a more determined attitude,” Mr Law said in a Facebook post.
Demosisto then said on its Facebook page it was disbanding.
Independence advocacy group the Hong Kong National Front said on its Facebook page it had shut its Hong Kong office and that its units in Taiwan and Britain would continue to promote independence for the Chinese-ruled city.
Hong Kong pro-independence activist Wayne Chan said in a Facebook post on Sunday he had skipped bail and fled the city amid fears he would be detained.
EU Council president Charles Michel said “we deplore the decision”.
“This law risks seriously undermining the high degree of autonomy of Hong Kong and having a detrimental effect on the independence of the judiciary and the rule of law,” Mr Michel said.
The EU has warned of serious consequences for the security law, which democracy activists, diplomats and some businesses say will jeopardise Hong Kong’s semi-autonomous status and its role as a global financial hub.
I hereby declare resigning from @HKHIIAD and will continue the journey of fighting for Hong Kong in personal capacity.
I shall bear all the consequences of lobbying for attention to Hong Kong & sanctions on China over the year by myself.
We shall never surrender. pic.twitter.com/JWWoq74Wxn
— Joey Siu 邵嵐 (@JooeySiiu) June 30, 2020