At the crossroads between the East and West, the international hub of Hong Kong has long prospered on its dynamic public discourse, vibrant press, and bustling commercial trade.
Now, a growing number of Hongkongers are considering fleeing the city, as they fear that the cherished freedoms that distinguished the territory from mainland China will vanish under Beijings latest encroachment.
On July 1, the 23rd anniversary of the transfer of sovereignty from British to Chinese rule, an expansive national security law went into effect. Offenses such as secession, subversion, and “collusion with foreign forces” would carry a maximum penalty of life imprisonment,
The law triggered fears that Hong Kong, once a place where people could be outspoken critics of the regime, would turn into another mainland Chinese city under the authoritarian grip of the Chinese Communist Party.
“This is a global tragedy,” Fred McMahon, the Dr. Michael A. Walker Chair of Economic Freedom research at the Fraser Institute, told The Epoch Times. The Canada-based institute on July 3 released a letter denouncing the law while calling for a “global response” to address the deteriorating situation in Hong Kong. As of July 3, it has been signed by a coalition of think tanks from 39 countries.
Clampdown on Speech
Hong Kong police have acted swiftly, arresting 10 in suspicion of violating the law when thousands of protesters gathered in Causeway Bay on July 1 to oppose it. In some cases, they were arrested for possessing flags, banners, and flyers with slogans that advocated for Hong Kong independence.
A restaurant in Shau Kei Wan, one of thousands of shops that openly support Hong Kongs pro-democracy movement, meanwhile, was forced to take down protest messages and posters from its walls on July 2 after it received a warning from police.
Four armed police officers had appeared at the shop in the morning and photographed the shops interior, the restaurant owner told The Epoch Times. Citing the new national security law, the police threatened arrest if the owner continues to display stickers that express support for the movement.
Later that evening, the Hong Kong government announced that the popular protest slogan “Liberate Hong Kong, the revolution of our times,” would be banned, declaring that it was a violation of the new law because it “connotes” a pro-independent, separatist, and subversive message.
“Is Hong Kong still Hong Kong? How is todays Hong Kong different from other Chinese cities like Guangzhou and Shanghai?” Gordon Lam, the restaurant owner, said in an interview. Forced to comply with the police order, the store shut down temporarily to clean up the stickers. The government, he said, is using the law to shatter their economic freedom and freedom of speech. “This national security law is thoroughly destroying Hong Kongs core values,” he told The Epoch Times.
Multiple shops have begun removing pro-democracy messages in anticipation of a crackdown. Libraries also pulled pro-democracy books from their shelves. On July 4, police took away a U.S. flag from a protester during a local march celebrating the United States Independence Day, citing breach of the law.
Prominent activist Nathan Law, who testified at a U.S. congressional hearing on July 1, fled Hong Kong to an unidentified location, saying that if he stayed, his “speech and appearance would put my own safety in serious jeopardy given the circumstances.”
Chinese officials claimed the law would target a small segment of society, but the offenses broad and vague definitions—as well as an article that stipulates that non-Hong Kong residents could also be subject to prosecution—have led legal experts and human rights observers to fear that residents and foreigners alike who draw the regimes ire could be at its mercy once they set foot on Hong Kong soil.
Such laws “should never be used to criminalize conduct and expression that is protected under international human rights law,” the United Nations human rights office said in a July 3 statement, expressing alarm at the potential “discriminatory or arbitrary interpretation and enforcement.”
The national security law also mandates that a new security bureau be established in the city.
On July 3, Beijing appointed ZheRead More – Source