Hong Kong’s renewed attempt at National Security Legislation

Hong Kong’s renewed attempt to pass home-grown national security legislation ignited controversy, retaining some colonial-era crimes, considered “rather wide” and potential violations of civil rights conventions, from over 20 years ago.

Hong Kong’s renewed attempt to pass home-grown national security legislation has stirred controversy as it retains some colonial-era crimes, considered “rather wide” and potentially in violation of civil rights conventions, from more than 20 years ago. The proposed legislation, outlined in the consultation document on Article 23 of the Basic Law, the city’s mini-constitution, has ignited concerns about the potential erosion of civil liberties.

Released on Tuesday, the document also revealed plans to introduce a new offence aimed at preventing a recurrence of the social unrest that unfolded in 2019. The move is seen as part of the efforts made by the government to strengthen national security and maintain stability in the semi-autonomous region.

One notable aspect of the proposed legislation is the inclusion of colonial-era crimes that have been criticized for their wide scope and possible impact on civil liberties. Critics argued that retaining such offences may infringe on the rights protected by international conventions, raising questions about the compatibility of the proposed legislation with global human rights standards.

Moreover, the consultation document signalled the intention of the government to apply extraterritorial jurisdiction, although it did not specify which offences would fall under this provision. This notes a departure from the 2003 legislation, which detailed the specific offences covered by extraterritorial jurisdiction. The lack of clarity led to rising concerns about the possible extension of legal reach beyond Hong Kong’s borders, posing uncertainties about the implications for individuals both within and outside the region.

The new consultation paper omitted penalties for the proposed offences, a contrast to the 2003 legislation that included suggested penalties for each offence, a comparison by the Post found. The government further made it clear that penalties would appear in the bill that has been submitted to the legislature. The renewed push for national security legislation comes after the withdrawal of a similar attempt due to widespread public protests. The Liberal Party’s withdrawal of its support in the legislature after over half a million people took to the streets in a protest over the provisions, the first attempt of the city to pass a national security bill failed.

In the Beijing-imposed national security law, which came into force in the year 2020, offences that were in the old bill including secession and subversion have been mandated. A Law professor at the University of Hong Kong, Albert Chen Hung-yee noticed that the new proposal was more comprehensive and included some even stricter provisions. Albert Chen was a former member of the country’s Basic Law Committee and he stated, “Unlike in 2003, Hong Kong has indeed seen activities that endanger national security, and foreign forces have posed an increased threat to China’s national security.”

One of the major additions was the offence of insurrection. This offence is designed to punish those who committed violent acts in Hong Kong to endanger the sovereignty of the country, unity, territorial integrity, or public safety in the city. The new legislation also aims to retain the colonial-era crime of treasonable offence along with treason.

Striking a balance between national security imperatives and safeguarding civil liberties is crucial to preserving Hong Kong’s unique identity and autonomy. The developments surrounding the proposed legislation will undoubtedly fuel discussions on the delicate balance between security measures and protecting individual freedoms in the special administrative region.