China Finalizes Draft of National Security Law for Hong Kong, Suggests It Could Apply Retroactively

June 29, 2020 Updated: June 29, 2020

Beijing’s national security law for Hong Kong inched closer to formal approval on the second day of a three-day meeting of China’s rubber-stamp legislature, the National People’s Congress (NPC).

Li Fei, head of the Constitution and Law Committee within the NPC Standing Committee, issued a version of the national security law that could be voted on, according to Chinese state-run media Xinhua, in an article published on June 29. The vote is a formality, as the NPC rubber-stamps decisions made by Chinese Communist Party leadership.

The Standing Committee oversees the NPC.

Li Zhanshu, chairman of the Standing Committee, then tabled the finalized bill, according to Xinhua.

The Xinhua news report didn’t provide more details about the national security law.

But in an article published late on June 28, state-run newspaper Global Times, citing unidentified legal experts, indicated that the national security law “could apply retroactively to those cases relevant to anti-extradition bill movement,” although there was no reference to any retroactive clauses in the initial draft adopted by NPC in May.

The ongoing mass movement in Hong Kong started in June last year, when millions protested against a since-scrapped extradition bill. At that time, many Hongkongers feared that they could be extradited to China and put on trial in Chinese courts which are notorious for failing to uphold the rule of law.

Beijing formally began the process of drafting a national security law for Hong Kong on May 28, after the NPC conducted a ceremonial vote. The law would criminalize those who engage in activities connected to “subversion, secession, terrorism, and foreign interference” against the Chinese regime.

Formal Procedure

After the Standing Committee formally votes, the bill will be added to the annex of Hong Kong’s mini-constitution, called the Basic Law. Afterward, it will be announced in a Hong Kong government gazette, for the law to be implemented.

The national security law “will be deliberated for a vote” by June 30, when the NPC meeting ends, according to Ip Kwok-him, a Hong Kong representative to the NPC and a cabinet member of the Hong Kong government, who was cited in the Global Times report.

On June 20, the NPC standing committee released more details about the draft proposal: Beijing would have jurisdiction over certain cases under exceptional circumstances; the regime would also establish a national security agency in the city; and the chief executive, a position currently held by pro-Beijing leader Carrie Lam, would appoint judges to hear national security-related cases.

Criticism

Since the end of May, many Hongkongers and government officials around the world have criticized the proposal, saying that it would spell the end of the city’s autonomy, which was guaranteed when the territory reverted to Chinese rule from British administration in 1997.

Under the handover agreement, the Sino–British Joint Declaration, signed in 1984, Hong Kong’s Basic Law was drafted, which aims to guarantee the city a high degree of autonomy for at least 50 years after 1997 under the “one country, two systems” model.

Recently joining the chorus of international critics was Reinhard Bütikofer, a member of the European Parliament.

“Why are we still talking about a ‘national security law’? That’s not what it is. It is a ‘CCP takes complete control’ law,” Bütikofer stated on Twitter on June 29.

Alan Leong, chairman of Hong Kong’s pro-democracy Civic Party, wrote that he agreed with Bütikofer’s statement.

With the national security law, “#CCP is taking back #HK for a second time since 1997, only that this time round #CCP is no longer bound by the Sino-British Joint Declaration or burdened with promises enshrined in the #BasicLaw,” Leong stated in a tweet.

On June 28, Hong Kong police arrested 53 people for “unlawful assembly” in Mong Kok after hundreds took part in a “silent protest” against the national security law.

On June 29, local district councilor Ben Lam, who was among those arrested, said the police abused their power to arrest him when he was simply live-streaming in Mong Kok. Via his Facebook page, he said he refused to post bail and was eventually released unconditionally that morning at around 4 a.m. local time.

Lam recounted on Facebook that prior to his release, he overheard a conversation between police officers inside the Hung Hom District police station, where he was detained. A police officer said that people would stop showing up at protest sites if police made the move to arrest groups of protesters.

He said that was evidence the Hong Kong government has resorted to the tactic of “making indiscriminate arrests” in an attempt to slow ongoing protests in the city. 

Follow Frank on Twitter: @HwaiDer