The new national security law imposed on Hong Kong by Beijing crushes the city’s freedoms, its autonomy, and the independence of its judiciary, putting it on the pathway to becoming just another Chinese city, said human rights activist Benedict Rogers, founder of Hong Kong Watch, in an interview with The Epoch Times’ “American Thought Leaders” program.
It’s “an all-out assault on Hong Kong,” Rogers said.
The law, which was passed by China’s National People’s Congress in an unusually rapid and secretive process, criminalizes subversion of state power, secession, terrorism, and collusion with foreign forces, with sentences of up to life in prison. The problem is that the Chinese communist regime will likely adopt broad interpretations of these offenses, he said.
The regime’s definition of terrorism could include peaceful protesters. “The definition of subversion really includes any form of criticism or dissent from the regime,” he said.
And “collusion with foreign forces” could include communications with foreign journalists, activists, and government officials.
The law empowers Beijing to intervene in Hong Kong’s judicial process with the creation of a national security committee and a national security office that answer to Beijing. Some trials will be allowed to take place behind closed doors, and violators could potentially be extradited to the mainland for trial.
“This is the worst law I think I’ve ever seen in many years of human rights work. And it exceeds our worst fears,” Rogers said.
Since the law was passed, Hongkongers have told Rogers it’s now too dangerous for them to contact him. Many Hongkongers have rushed to delete social media accounts. Joshua Wong, the face of the Umbrella Movement in 2014, as well as pro-democracy activists Nathan Law and Agnes Chow, announced they were withdrawing from the pro-democracy Demosisto group that they co-founded.
Article 38 stipulates that the national security law applies to violations committed not just in Hong Kong, but also “outside the Region by a person who is not a permanent resident of the Region.” This means the law technically applies to even non-Hongkongers outside Hong Kong’s borders.
“What I do in London criticizing the regime, and what you do in Washington, and this very conversation we’re having now could in theory be a criminal offense under this law,” he said.
The law may also endanger religious believers in Hong Kong, Rogers said, considering the large-scale persecutions of people of faith in China, including Tibetans, Uyghurs, house Christians, and Falun Gong practitioners. There have been many cases of arrested religious believers being charged with “subversion of state power,” which is also one of the offenses listed in the national security law.
Some religious leaders in Hong Kong, such as Cardinal Joseph Zen, have openly criticized the Chinese regime’s suppression of religious freedoms. “How long will it be before they end up in the same way that so many Catholic bishops and cardinals and clergy in mainland China have ended up—in prison, in house arrest, or even in danger of their lives?” Rogers asked.
Hong Kong has also been the only place in China where practitioners of the Falun Gong spiritual discipline have been able to freely practice their faith without fear of imprisonment, torture, or high-pressure brainwashing sessions.
“I would imagine Falun Gong practitioners in Hong Kong must be feeling very worried,” he said.
Holding Beijing Accountable
Rogers argued for a three-pronged approach for the rest of the world to stand up to the Chinese regime’s encroachments on Hong Kong. First, countries should impose sanctions “against individuals and entities that are part of the Chinese Communist Party regime in Beijing and its proxies in Hong Kong who are responsible for serious human rights violations and who are responsible for this law,” he said.
In the United States, Congress has passed bills imposing sanctions on Chinese officials who implemented the security law as well as the banks and firms that do business with them.
Rogers’s second proposal was for the United Nations to establish a special envoy or a special rapporteur for human rights in Hong Kong to monitor and report on the situation. Many have criticized the Chinese regime’s outsized influence on the U.N. and thus see it as ineffective in curbing human rights abuses in China. But Rogers argued it’s important for countries to continue engaging with the U.N. to “push China’s influence back and reshape the U.N. into what it should be.”
Third, “the international community together should come up with a lifeboat rescue package,” he said. Since the law was passed, Taiwan has opened a new office to help Hongkongers seeking asylum, and the British government has opened a pathway to citizenship to Hong Kong residents who hold British National (Overseas) status. An estimated 3 million Hongkongers, about 40 percent of the city’s population, are eligible.
In the United States, a bipartisan group of senators have introduced the Hong Kong Safe Harbor Act for Hongkongers at risk of persecution.
It remains to be seen how many Hongkongers will choose to flee. Some, like the prominent pro-democracy activist Nathan Law, have already left.
“I’ve always seen Hong Kong as the front line in the fight for freedom against authoritarianism,” Rogers said.
“If the regime is allowed to just get away with this with impunity, then it’s not going to stop with Hong Kong. Taiwan will be next.
“And actually our own societies will be further threatened as well.”