Beijing Attempts to Use the National Security Law to Deny Democratic Freedoms Abroad

March 15, 2022 Updated: March 15, 2022

Commentary

While the world’s attention remains focused on the Russian invasion of Ukraine, Beijing has seemingly decided to showcase the extraterritorial powers of Hong Kong’s National Security Law (NSL) by targeting a UK-based NGO that acts as a watchdog for the deterioration of civil rights in Hong Kong.

In a letter to Hong Kong Watch (HKW) and its co-founder and chief executive officer, Benedict Rogers, the Hong Kong police stated that the organization is “Engaging in activities seriously interfering in the affairs of the HKSAR and jeopardizing national security of the People’s Republic of China.”

HKW disclosed the formal warning in a March 14 statement.

The letter accused the organization of violating Article 29 of the NSL, which criminalizes collusion with foreign forces to endanger national security. It also threatened Rogers with imprisonment unless he stops lawful and peaceful exercise of his democratic rights in his homeland of the United Kingdom.

The letter stated that HKW could face a fine of HK$100,000 or Rogers could face three years in jail for the offense.

That the law, imposed by Beijing rather than Hong Kong’s legislature, has these powers is nothing new, as acts that may endanger ill-defined “national security” of Hong Kong or mainland China. This applies even if such acts are based on the exercise of democratic rights in other countries, and may be persecuted via fines, imprisonment, and extradition.

Epoch Times Photo
Demonstrators take part in a protest against the new National Security Law in Hong Kong on July 1, 2020. (Anthony Kwan/Getty Images)

In short, that the law criminalizes freedom of speech by foreigners, in foreign lands, is not new. However, few had likely assumed that the Hong Kong police would expose this power so blatantly.

Aside from the preposterous idea that a foreign citizen, running a foreign NGO, should be accused of “foreign collusion,” the situation nonetheless illustrates just how sensitive Beijing and Hong Kong have become to the idea of political opposition to their ever more brutal rule. That the targeted activities are related to HKW’s work to bring about sanctions against Hong Kong officials may be a matter of coincidence, but considering the unprecedented sanctions being levied against Russia the last few weeks, it speaks volumes. Seeing the West, for once, acting in unison and with the strength of conviction, and using sanctions to severely damage the Russian state, must have riled up Hong Kong (and Beijing) officials to no small degree.

The letter admits to using the NSL to censor and block HKW’s website, stating clearly that, pursuant to Article 43, “the Commissioner of Police has reasonable grounds for suspecting that the publication of the website [HKW] is likely to constitute or to cause the occurrence of the Collusion Offence which is an offense endangering national security.”

It is no coincidence that the website being targeted is the primary information portal on the use of the NSL, and the use of political persecution by Hong Kong police against former lawmakers, protesters, and dissidents.

The letter gives HKW and Rogers 72 hours to delete it. “Should you fail to do so, further action will be instituted against you and ‘Hong Kong Watch’ without further notice.”

It is surprising that Hong Kong should take this action now as international criticism of the NSL has declined, and due to the invasion of Ukraine, is unlikely to be in the spotlight for some time to come. For Hong Kong to target HKW and Rogers at this time makes little sense, but the situation will inadvertently help the outside world to understand just how dangerous the NSL is and how it is laying the groundwork for the Chinese regime’s future and expanded international policing of political thought, even in the UK, around Europe, and, of course, in the United States. This action clearly shows how the laws of autocratic China are being used to curtail democratic freedoms around the world.

As for the outcome, Hong Kong’s latest move is almost certain to have a “Streisand effect,” emboldening not only HKW (and other NGOs working on similar issues), but also rallying political support behind them.

Rogers himself is clear. In response to the letter, he said, “Irrespective of this attempt to intimidate our staff and censor our website in Hong Kong, we will continue to be a voice for the people of Hong Kong.”

He continued, “We will redouble our efforts to expand lifeboat schemes for those not covered by BNO [British National Overseas visa] and will continue to call for Hong Kong officials to face sanctions for their destruction of the city’s autonomy and freedom.”

Views expressed in this article are the opinions of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of The Epoch Times.

Peter Dahlin
Peter Dahlin is the founder of the NGO Safeguard Defenders and the co-founder of the Beijing-based Chinese NGO China Action (2007–2016). He is the author of “Trial By Media,” and contributor to “The People’s Republic of the Disappeared.” He lived in Beijing from 2007, until detained and placed in a secret jail in 2016, subsequently deported and banned. Prior to living in China, he worked for the Swedish government with gender equality issues, and now lives in Madrid, Spain.