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Police arrest protesters in Hong Kong amid growing fears over new law

Protests in Hong Kong on Oct. 1, 2019. (Studio Incendo/Flickr)
June 27, 2020

This article was originally published by Radio Free Asia and is reprinted with permission.

Police in Hong Kong on Thursday arrested 14 people after a protest in a shopping mall in the city, where China is getting ready to impose a draconian new subversion law.

Riot police raided the YOHO mall in Yuen Long after a crowd gathered there chanting slogans of the protest movement that has shaken the city since June 2019.

Chanting “Free Hong Kong, revolution now!” and “Disband the police,” the protesters gathered at the mall as the city marks one year since protests erupted against plans by chief executive Carrie Lam to allow extradition to mainland China.

Police said they arrested nine males and five females aged from 14 to 55 at the mall.

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The arrests came amid continuing concerns over provisions in the new law that will allow Lam to appoint judges to preside in trials under the national security law, which will see China’s feared state security police given free rein to operate in Hong Kong.

The Hong Kong Bar Association (HKBA) said edited details of the draft law released by state news agency Xinhua at the weekend were “worrying.”

“Any such arrangement, if implemented, would be unprecedented and would undermine judicial independence in [Hong Kong],” the HKBA said in a statement this week.

Currently, judges are appointed on the basis of their professional qualifications and experience by an independent commission of local judges, legal professionals, and public figures from other sectors, while executive involvement is kept to a minimum, it said.

Neither Lam nor any other executive officer has the power to decide which judge should be appointed to hear a specific case, and the new law will change that by giving her additional powers in cases brought under the forthcoming national security law, the HKBA said.

“Under the proposed national security law … what is proposed … confers a power upon the chief executive… which is currently exercised by the judiciary,” it said, adding that the executive will already be prosecuting such cases, and shouldn’t also be involved in picking judges to try them.

Vote likely this week

China looks set to forge ahead with draconian new legislation targeting acts of “secession, sedition and subversion” in Hong Kong, with a vote likely in its National People’s Congress (NPC) standing committee this week, a top adviser to Beijing has said.

State news agency Xinhua confirmed in a long article on the law on Saturday that it would target acts of secession, subversion, terrorism, and collusion with foreign or external forces that endanger national security.

The law requires the setting up of a national security office under the direct control of the ruling Chinese Communist Party in Beijing to oversee the implementation of the law, the report said.

A national security committee of cabinet officials, chaired by chief executive Carrie Lam, will also ensure the law is implemented in the city, it said.

According to Xinhua, the city’s police force has already set up a separate national security department to bring cases under the law, and the justice bureau will follow suit.

It added that some “special cases” would be handled directly from Beijing, but gave no indication of what might constitute a “special case.”

A former deputy director of the pro-Beijing Basic Law Committee of advisers, Elsie Leung, said Beijing had deliberately not published the full text of the national security law for fear of sparking social unrest.

She said Beijing had carried out “enough” consultation with people in Hong Kong to go ahead with the plan, which requires the city’s executive, legislative, and judicial arms to prevent, suppress, and punish acts that “endanger national security,” while election hopefuls will need to pledge to uphold the law before being registered as candidates, Xinhua said.

Beijing will appoint a national security adviser for Hong Kong, which the city will take “necessary measures to strengthen the supervision and control of schools, social organizations, etc., in matters relating to national security,” it said.

But the agency was silent on whether the new law would be applied retroactively to actions that took place before it became law.

New law widely condemned

In a move widely condemned by foreign governments and rights groups as signaling the end of Hong Kong’s autonomy and status as a separate legal jurisdiction, the law will be imposed on the city by the standing committee of China’s National People’s Congress (NPC), bypassing Hong Kong’s Legislative Council (LegCo).

The move has been criticized by foreign governments, legal experts and rights activists as being in breach of China’s obligations under the 1984 treaty governing the 1997 handover of Hong Kong, and as paving the way for further political prosecutions of peaceful critics of the government, democracy campaigners, and rights activists.

Jimmy Pang, president of Sub-Culture Limited, which publishes books considered politically sensitive to Beijing, said his company still plans to bring sensitive titles to this year’s fair, including existing books about last year’s anti-government protests, the Tiananmen Square crackdown, and critiques of China and its leaders.

He said some bookstores are worried that some publications will be regarded as “inciting” readers to subversion and secession as they deal with themes of protest, the pro-democracy movement, and independence.

Democratic Party lawmaker Ted Hui said Beijing is hoping that a protest backlash will come after the law is implemented, so that its opponents can be prosecuted under its provisions.

“They know there’s going to be a backlash,” Hui said. “So they would rather … it came when the law is already in effect, so that if you go out to protest you can be imprisoned under the much harsher terms of this law.”

In its annual Country Reports on Terrorism 2019, issued on Wednesday, the U.S. State Department said that last year “authorities in Hong Kong falsely characterized the acts of pro-democracy and human rights protesters as terrorism.

“The PRC spokesman in Hong Kong also falsely described the actions of protesters as showing ‘signs of terrorism,’” the report added.