Hong Kong’s chief executive John Lee vowed on Wednesday to press ahead with more “effective” security laws that could draw on security forces in mainland China to implement them.
“The National Security Law for Hong Kong currently deals with the most pressing risks to national security,” Lee said of a law that has criminalized public criticism of the authorities anywhere in the world.
But further laws will be need “to deal with any conceivable serious security risk … and the timing needs to be as soon as possible,” he told the city’s Legislative Council (LegCo).
“The cities in the Greater Bay Area [of the Pearl River delta] are like brothers and sisters to us … so what kind of help will they provide, if we need it?” Lee said. “That’s what we need to figure out.”
Lee’s comments to LegCo came after he reiterated his commitment to enacting further security laws under Article 23 of the city’s Basic Law, a move that prompted mass protests in 2003.
“We will legislate as soon as possible, but … we must also consider whether the laws we make can really deal with the most serious national security risks we can imagine,” Lee said.
Current affairs commentator Johnny Lau said the new laws are part of a package of four requirements given to Lee by ruling Chinese Communist Party (CCP) leader Xi Jinping when he visited the city last week to mark the 25th anniversary of its handover to Chinese rule.
“Xi Jinping came to Hong Kong to put forward four requirements, the first of which was to improve governance,” Lau said. “I don’t think it will be long [before they act on Article 23].”
“They want this legislation to cover anything and be infinitely expandable,” Lau said. “It will definitely be stricter than the initial draft [that was shelved] back in 2003.”
Singapore as model?
Current affairs commentator Sang Pu said Lee may be considering far tighter controls on the internet, looking to Singapore as a model.
“Singapore passed a law last year that allows the government to order social media sites and Internet providers to disclose users’ personal data or block content they deem hostile or risky, which you could call [the power to] shut down the internet, and enhanced use of AI,” Sang told RFA. “It’s like 24/7 monitoring.”
“As long as the government thinks there is hostile intent, and it has the absolute right to decide this, it can block something,” he said.
Lee’s comments came as five speech therapists stood trial for “conspiracy to print, publish, distribute, display or reproduce seditious publications” in connection with a series of children’s books about a village of sheep defending itself against wolves.
The defendants — all of whom are members of the Hong Kong Speech Therapists General Union — were arrested in connection with three children’s picture books titled “The Guardians of Sheep Village,” “The Garbage Collectors of Sheep Village” and “The 12 Heroes of Sheep Village.”
Police said the sheep were intended to represent protesters who fought back against riot police in 2019, and depicted the authorities as wolves, “beautifying bad behavior” and “poisoning” children’s impressionable minds.
One book characterizes the wolves as dirty and the sheep as clean, while another lauds the actions of heroic sheep who use their horns to fight back despite being naturally peaceful, police said at the time of the therapists’ arrests.
The indictment alleges that the books were intended to “provoke hatred or contempt for, betrayal of, or to incite violence against the government … and judiciary.”
The defense said its arguments would seek to disprove any violent or disruptive intent, and draw on the constitutional right to freedom of expression in the Basic Law.
Back to pre-reform era
Dozens of former members of the pro-democracy camp in LegCo have been arrested in recent months, either for public order offenses linked to peaceful protests during the 2019 anti-extradition and pro-democracy movement, or under the national security law.
Observers have told RFA that changes to Hong Kong’s election system imposed on the city by the CCP since the law took effect have set the city’s political life back by decades, to the pre-reform colonial era in the mid-20th century.
The rule changes mean that opposition candidates are highly unlikely to be allowed to run, but even when candidates make it into the race, they will now be chosen by a tiny number of voters compared with the previous system.
Under the “one country, two systems” terms of the 1997 handover agreement, Hong Kong was promised the continuation of its traditional freedoms of speech, association, and expression, as well as progress towards fully democratic elections and a separate legal jurisdiction.
But plans to allow extradition to mainland China sparked a city-wide mass movement in 2019 that broadened to demand fully democratic elections and an independent inquiry into police violence.
Rights groups and foreign governments have hit out at the rapid deterioration of human rights protections since the national security law was imposed.
Chinese and Hong Kong officials say the law was needed to deal with an attempt by foreign powers to foment a “color revolution” in Hong Kong.
Its sweeping provisions allowed China’s feared state security police to set up a headquarters in Hong Kong, granted sweeping powers to police to search private property and require the deletion of public content, and criminalized criticism of the city government and the authorities in Beijing.
Translated and edited by Luisetta Mudie.