Pro-democracy activists in Hong Kong on Thursday marched in protest calling for the immediate repeal of a draconian national security law, as the city’s leader warned that the law will increasingly affect journalism, the arts, internet, and education.
Chanting “We have no democracy or human rights!” “Human rights over state power!” and “There is no national security!” the protesters marched from Wanchai MTR station to the Convention and Exhibition Centre where chief executive Carrie Lam was addressing an event to mark National Security Law Education Day on Thursday.
Protester Chow Hang-tung, vice chairwoman of the Hong Kong Alliance in Support of Patriotic Democratic Movements of China, said the national security law had done nothing to make people feel safer.
“Are the people of Hong Kong safer since the national security law took was enacted?” Chow said.
“We have been left with more and more fear, with our human rights increasingly trampled on, and more and more people going to prison,” she said. “What sort of security is that?”
“The national security law is basically a law that deprives us of security,” she said.
Inside the venue, Carrie Lam warned that the law — imposed on the city by the ruling Chinese Communist Party (CCP) from July 1, 2020 — will soon have an impact on every aspect of life in the city.
“We will take forward the work of safeguarding national security … and ensure that the related work is fully understood and implemented at full steam and in a holistic manner,” Lam said in a speech marking
She said the implementation of the law would be fully felt in every area of the city’s life, “including [in] the domains of politics, society, economy, culture, technology, the internet, finance, and public health.”
The government has already launched a campaign promoting the law in schools, many of which have set up “national security committees” to educate students about “safeguarding” Hong Kong.
The National Security Law for Hong Kong threatens anyone criticizing the Chinese or Hong Kong authorities anywhere in the world with possible life imprisonment.
It has created specialized secret security agencies, denied fair trial rights, provided sweeping new powers to police, increased restraints on civil society and the media, and weakened judicial oversight.
The law also affects the right to education and freedom of information, opinion, and expression in schools, as political statements and discussions are banned from the city’s classrooms and university campuses.
Since the city was handed back to China in 1997, Hong Kong’s seven million residents had continued to enjoy unfettered internet access free from the Great Firewall that limits what users in mainland China can see or do online.
But in January, the HKChronicles website dedicated to publishing first-hand accounts of the protest movement was blocked for the first time, prompting concerns that internet service providers in the city are increasingly facing pressure to censor content according to the new law.
In response to media inquiries about the block, the Hong Kong police cited Article 43 of the national security law, which states that the police may require service providers to block access to online content message deemed “likely to constitute a crime against national security or result in a crime against national security.”
The police said at the time that they would “take action in accordance with the law” depending on the circumstances.
China’s feared state security police have also set up a headquarters in the city to oversee the law’s implementation and to deal with “serious cases,” while the government has warned that slogans linked to last year’s protest movement, including “Free Hong Kong, Revolution Now!”, will fall within the law’s remit.
Lam said on Thursday that the process of implementing the law was still under way.
“We will engage the whole community in our efforts to raise Hong Kong people’s awareness of national security and the obligation to abide by the law, so as to make it everybody’s responsibility to safeguard national security,” she said.
“National security and political security are inseparable,” Lam said. “To achieve genuine national security, governance must be firmly held in the hands of patriots.”
As she spoke, the Hong Kong Police Force gave its first public demonstration of the goose-stepping marching style of China’s People’s Liberation Army (PLA) at a public open day to mark the law.
Lam said the “message of national security” was being brought into schools and communities, with pupils leaving messages of support for the law in an apparent imitation of the “Lennon walls” of post-it notes used during the 2014 and 2019 protest movements.
“[We will] strengthen communication, guidance, supervision and regulation over matters concerning national security handled by schools, social organizations, the media and the internet,” Lam said.
She said the law had already given rise to a new political and law enforcement infrastructure, including the National Security Department of the Hong Kong Police Force, the National Security Prosecutions Division of the Department of Justice, and the Secretariat of the National Security Committee.
Words and deeds
The CCP’s envoy to Hong Kong Luo Huining said Beijing is concerned with “both words and deeds.”
“We will deal with all those who arbitrarily interfere in Hong Kong affairs and try to use [its people] as pawns,” Luo said.
“Foreign countries and external forces should … learn a lesson from our resolute countermeasures [to economic sanctions linked to the suppression of dissent and the protest movement],” he said.
“Anything that undermines national security through hard confrontation will be counterattacked in accordance with the law,” he said, in an apparent reference to the protest movement, and to protesters who fought back against riot police through 2019.
“Soft confrontations will be dealt with through law and regulation,” he said.
Zheng Yanxiong, director of the Office for Safeguarding National Security of the Central People’s Government in the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region, who has been sanctioned by the U.S. government, said recent sweeping changes to Hong Kong political system went hand-in-hand with the national security crackdown.
Earlier this month, Beijing unveiled comprehensive plans to ensure that anyone standing for election to Hong Kong’s legislature is a staunch supporter of the ruling Chinese Communist Party (CCP), with all candidates to be vetted by the national security police before being allowed to stand.
The new system will force election hopefuls to run a multi-layered gauntlet of pro-CCP committees before they can appear on any ballot paper. However, the decisions of all of those committees will hinge on approval by the national security branch of the Hong Kong Police Force, according to details published by the National People’s Congress (NPC) standing committee.
Zheng said the system was set up to “end all chaos that challenges the constitutional order” in Hong Kong.
Foreign ministry official Yang Yirui said foreign powers had posed a risk to national security in Hong Kong in recent years, in an apparent reference to Beijing’s claim that recent pro-democracy movements were instigated by foreign governments.
Their purpose was to “turn Hong Kong into an independent or semi-independent political entity, into an enclave of secessionism, a bridgehead of subversion, infiltration, and destruction,” Yang told dignitaries at the same event addressed by Lam.
‘Like the Cultural Revolution’
Current affairs commentator Johnny Lau said the law is part of a process known as “mainlandization” that is deliberately intended to erase the differences between Hong Kong and other Chinese cities.
“Actually, the atmosphere in Hong Kong right now is very similar to the way it was in the early days of the Cultural Revolution [1966-1976],” Lau said.
“They use written denunciations as the starting point to attack a person’s politics, and this is increasingly happening in Hong Kong,” he said. “Beijing wants to turn political tension into political pressure.”
Last month, organizers canceled a public screening of a documentary about a Hong Kong university that was besieged by riot police as students fired petrol bombs and other projectiles from behind makeshift barricades in November 2019, following a denunciation in a pro-CCP Hong Kong newspaper.
The Hong Kong Film Critics Society canceled the screening of “Inside the Red Brick Wall,” following a number of articles in the Beijing-backed Wen Wei Po criticized the plan as being in breach of the national security law.
In the same month, the brand new M+ Museum announced it had shelved plans to show Ai Weiwei’s Study of Perspective: Tiananmen Square (1997), after it opens later this year.
The work is a photograph of the artist raising his middle finger in Tiananmen Square.
Reported by Fong Tak Ho, Lau Siu Fung and Lu Xi for RFA’s Cantonese and Mandarin Services. Translated and edited by Luisetta Mudie.