China released some details of the legislation late Saturday, heightening fears that the central government is tightening its grip on Hong Kong after months of anti-government protests last year.
China's top lawmaking body has announced a three-day session for the end of this month, a move that raises the possibility of the enactment of a national security law for Hong Kong that has stirred debate and fears in the semi-autonomous territory.
The official Xinhua News Agency said on Sunday that the Standing Committee of the National People’s Congress would meet from June 28-30 in Beijing.
The brief report did not mention the Hong Kong security law among several possible discussion items, but it could still be on the agenda or added at the meeting.
China released some details of the legislation late Saturday, heightening fears that the central government is tightening its grip on Hong Kong after months of anti-Beijing protests last year.
Under the draft, the central government would set up a national security office in Hong Kong that would collect and analyse intelligence and deal with criminal cases related to national security.
Hong Kong police and courts would maintain jurisdiction over criminal cases under the law, but it would allow Chinese authorities to exercise jurisdiction over “a tiny number of criminal cases ... under specific circumstances," according to a Xinhua report.
It did not provide any details on what the circumstances might be.
The timing of the upcoming legislative session is unusual, coming just one week after a three-day meeting that ended Saturday, and suggests that China may be aiming to pass the law ahead of a July 1 holiday that marks the day Britain returned Hong Kong to China in 1997. The Standing Committee of the congress typically meets every two months.
The planned law has alarmed foreign governments as well as activists in Hong Kong, who were already concerned that Beijing was tightening its grip over the semi-autonomous city.
Anti-Beijing labour unions and a student group in Hong Kong failed to garner enough support to hold strikes against looming national security legislation, in a blow for the Chinese-ruled city's protest movement.
Months of protests
After a year of often-violent unrest, anti-Beijing demonstrations have lost momentum due to higher risk of arrest, with recent rallies failing to receive police approval due to coronavirus restrictions on large crowds.
Anti-Beijing protesters smashed their way into the locked Hong Kong legislative complex on the anniversary last year, spray painting slogans on the walls and damaging the electronic voting system. Months of protests last year, in which Chinese flags were trampled on and the Chinese emblem on its Hong Kong office defaced, prompted the central government's decision to enact the law.
Officials in Beijing and Hong Kong have sought to reassure investors that the law will not erode the city's high degree autonomy, insisting it will target only a minority of "troublemakers" who pose a threat to national security.
Key features of the law:
- The draft law aims to tackle separatism, subversion, terrorism and collusion with foreign forces. It is unclear yet what activities would constitute such crimes and what the punishments would be.
- Power of interpretation for the security law belongs to the Chinese parliament's top decision-making body, the National People's Congress Standing Committee. This means Beijing will have the final say over how the law should be interpreted.
- Provisions in the security law would supersede existing Hong Kong legislation should the two conflict.
- The central government in Beijing will set up a national security office in Hong Kong to "supervise, guide and support" the local government in maintaining national security. The office will collect intelligence and handle crimes.
- While Hong Kong authorities would be responsible for most criminal cases related to national security, the office and other mainland Chinese state-security agencies would be able to exercise jurisdiction over "a very small number" of cases. No guidelines have been published for determining which cases are handled by Beijing.
- Hong Kong will establish a local national security council to enforce the legislation, headed by the city's leader, Carrie Lam, and supervised and guided by a new central government commission created by Beijing. A mainland adviser will also sit on the new Hong Kong body.
- New local police and prosecution units will be set up to investigate and to enforce the law, backed by mainland security and intelligence officers deployed to Beijing's new commission.
- Hong Kong's chief executive will have the power to appoint judges to hear cases related to national security. Currently senior judges allocate judicial rosters up through Hong Kong's independent judicial system.
- Hong Kong residents running for election or working for the government must swear allegiance to the basic law, the city's mini-constitution, and to Hong Kong.
In unveiling a summary of the draft, official state news agency Xinhua said national security activities would protect human rights and freedom of speech and assembly, without providing details.