On July 1, the 23rd anniversary of the transfer of Hong Kong’s sovereignty from British to Chinese rule, Beijing’s national security law formally came into effect. The law punishes crimes of secession, subversion, terrorism, and collusion with foreign forces with up to life in prison. Furthermore, the new law will allow mainland security agencies to operate in Hong Kong for the first time.
The law sent chills throughout Hong Kong, immediately changing everyday life for the territory’s seven million residents.
On June 30, Hong Kong Chief Executive Carrie Lam addressed the United Nations Human Rights Council: “The legislation will not undermine ‘one country, two systems’ and Hong Kong’s high degree of autonomy. Hong Kong is a free, diversified society. We respect differences in opinion and thrive on reaching consensus.”
But the past week has proven otherwise. The law’s effect on Hong Kong’s once-prized environment of free speech was immediate. The Hong Kong government has adapted swiftly to the national security law’s provisions.
Here’s what has happened in Hong Kong in the first week that it took effect:
Key Pro-Democracy Groups Disband
Pro-democracy group Demosisto disbanded within 24 hours after the national security law’s enactment. Its founders—youth protest leaders Joshua Wong, Agnes Chow, Nathan Law, and Jeffrey Ngo—declared on social media their official disaffiliation with the group.
“I hereby declare withdrawing from Demosisto, and continue the fight for democracy and freedom for Hong Kong with my personal capacity. Stay strong, my friends,” Nathan Law tweeted on June 30.
Demosisto was officially dissolved.
The group wrote on Facebook: “In addition, after deliberation, the Hong Kong public believes that the current operation of the Association will be difficult to continue, and deeply feels that it needs to be reduced to zero. Everyone should continue to fight in a more flexible manner. It is now announced that it will dissolve and stop all meetings from now on.”
Demosisto was part of a new generation of Hong Kong political parties borne from the 2014 Umbrella Movement, as student-led groups fought for universal suffrage in Hong Kong’s elections.
370 Arrested, 10 Under National Security Law
July 1 is the anniversary of the 1997 handover of Hong Kong to China. Residents rally annually in a protest organized by the pro-democracy group Civil Rights Human Front. But this year, police banned the gathering on the grounds that it would violate social distancing restrictions as a result of the current COVID-19 pandemic.
This year’s July 1 event marked the first day of Hong Kong under the new national security law.
Hongkongers protested nonetheless, as riot police revealed a new purple flag warning that people could be in violation of the new law.
The @hkpoliceforce press office has confirmed these new national security warning flags are genuine.
Increasingly clear speech crimes are included in Beijing's new natsec law — "displaying flags or banners/chanting slogans… with intent such as secession or subversion" pic.twitter.com/BtDLLxi5wS
— Jerome Taylor (@JeromeTaylor) July 1, 2020
The flag reads: “You are displaying flags or banners/chanting slogans/or conducting yourselves with an intent such as secession or subversion, which may constitute offences under the national security law.”
Over 300 people were arrested, 10 under the new national security law.
A 15 year-old-girl was one of three females who were arrested for waving a flag advocating for Hong Kong independence. According to the Hong Kong police, the other women were arrested for carrying these stickers:
Three females were arrested respectively for showing materials with #HKIndependence slogans in #CausewayBay, violating #NSL. Anyone who organises, plans, commits or participates in committing secession or undermining national unification shall be guilty of an offence. pic.twitter.com/SB3vYQyiha
— Hong Kong Police Force (@hkpoliceforce) July 1, 2020
One man was arrested after police found a Hong Kong independence flag in his backpack.
Yellow Protest Economy Goes Into Hiding
Amid the protest movement, a “yellow economic circle” emerged as a way for Hong Kong protesters to support pro-democracy businesses. These businesses could be found using developed mobile apps or online listings. They can also be identified by protest emblems hanging on the wall or storefront. Many protesters supported these businesses, such as bubble tea stands, restaurants, and shops.
But when the Hong Kong police declared that protest slogans were illegal under the security law, those businesses went took down posters, stickers, sticky notes, and flyers that expressed support for the movement, fearing punishment under the new law.
The police also visited “yellow economy” restaurants to warn them about their pro-democracy signage.
Some establishments have replaced walls of sticky notes filled with protest slogans with blank sticky notes to continue to voice their support with blank symbols.
Speaking in Code: Protest Slogans Declared Illegal
On July 2, the Hong Kong government declared the protest phrase, “Liberate Hong Kong, Revolution of Our Times,” (光復香港, 時代革命) illegal, saying it connoted ideas of secession and violated the national security law. Since then, Hongkongers began coming up with creative ways to communicate the phrase in “legal” ways.
For example: the phrase below says, “bacon and sausage, vegetables and stir-fried noodles.” Its pronunciation in Cantonese rhymes with the now illegal phrase, “Liberate Hong Kong, Revolution of Our Times.”
Others created the protest slogan in a pictorial code as protesters searched for ways to keep their chants alive.
Public Libraries Remove Pro-Democracy Books
Books written by prominent Hong Kong pro-democracy figures have become unavailable in the Chinese-ruled city’s public libraries as they are being reviewed to see whether they violate the new security law, a government department said.
Hong Kong public libraries “will review whether certain books violate the stipulations of the national security law,” the Leisure and Cultural Services Department, which runs the libraries, said in a statement.
“While legal advice will be sought in the process of the review, the books will not be available for borrowing and reference in libraries.”
A search for books by activist Joshua Wong or pro-democracy politician Tanya Chan on the public libraries website showed that the titles were either unavailable or under review.