The Hong Kong national security law is the wake up call for civil rights campaigners

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Since the anti-extradition protests began on May 2019, civil rights movement campaigners tried to achieve its means by 3 pillars: Within the legislation assembly, demonstrations, and social media (including overseas campaigns).

Throughout the protest movements, they achieved some successes: The government was forced to withdraw the extradition bill amendment, Hong Kong was the focus of the mass media, and the USA took a number of actions in order to prevent China suppressing the protests by violent means.

However, everything changed for the worse on 21st May 2020.

The Chinese government announced then that they will submit a resolution to the National People’s Congress, which will instruct the Hong Kong government to pass a ‘National Security Law’. It will be included in Annex 3 of the Basic Law, which implied the Chinese National Security Law will be applied in the territory through local legislation or promulgation by the Chief Executive. That means the law can bypass the scrutiny of the legislative assembly in Hong Kong and further erode the legislative and judiciary autonomy of the territory.

The new law will make any of the following activities illegal:

  • secession – breaking away from the country
  • subversion – undermining the power or authority of the central government
  • terrorism – using violence or intimidation against people
  • activities by foreign forces that interfere in Hong Kong

To make the matter worse, the Chinese government can set up institutions in Hong Kong that are responsible for defending national security, in the other words: a secret police force.

This is very worrisome because the violence committed by the Hong Kong police force had escalated since the anti-extradition protest began on May 2019. Even without the involvement of Chinese police, numerous excessive violent acts were committed such as torturing protesters after they were arrested (including medical staff). Pepper spray, armour vehicles, and sonic cannon were used; particularly during the siege of Hong Kong Polytechnic University in November 2019.

The 3 pillars of the civil rights campaigners existed only because freedom of speech and assembly were still protected by the Hong Kong legal system. After the new National Security Law passed, campaigners will be at risk of being arrested and deported to China for criticising the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region (HKSAR) government (and will be charged with subversion or treason). – That means civil rights protests such as public demonstration can no longer carry on. Campaigns via street stalls will be taken away, and even publishing opinion articles in newspapers will be controlled by China. Pro-democracy civil rights movements such as The Yellow Economy Zone will need to go underground, and there is no platform for civil rights organisations to discuss or develop their discourse or alternative policies, which is the key to developing an economy and society.

Once again for Hong Kong civil rights campaigners it is the scene akin to the ending of the movie Cast Away. A crossroads laid in front of us. Should we turn right, which will lead us to a new wave of demonstrations in the city, or turn left which will lead us to campaign overseas? Or go ahead on the road which will lead us to alternative tactics being unused?

We should find an alternative way to carry on our campaign. Maybe for now, something or somewhere which can provide a safe haven to express our views and spread our messages will be the utmost priority.

* Larry Ngan is Data Officer for Brent Liberal Democrats, a member of Friends of Hong Kong and a campaigner on Hong Kong affairs.

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