Hong Kong’s National Security Law

February 5, 2021

Photo: Tong Ying-Kit | Charged for inciting secession under NSL for Raising a banner

Why it matters: The law opens a hole in Hong Kong’s once independent judiciary for the CCP to suppress political opposition, facing up to life imprisonment. America’s allies have created safe haven policies for Hongkongers, the US should swiftly establish lifeboat policies for Hongkongers, setting a shining example for the world’s common values in defending democracy and freedom.

The National Security Law (NSL) was enacted by the Beijing government and imposed on Hong Kong on June 30th, 2020, by passing the city’s legislature. It has brought to the city an heightened sense of anxiety for its already shrunken space for political freedoms. NSL also dangerously threatens the already fragile rule of law in the former British colony. Members of the international community have condemned Beijing for its draconian imposition of the law. Many, including the UK, consider it a “clear and serious breach” of the 1984 Sino-British Joint Declaration. The US Department of State criticised Beijing for taking its international obligations as “empty words”.

As of January 25th, 4 out of the 97 arrests made under the NSL have been formally charged. The most notable is pro-democracy media tycoon Jimmy Lai, who was recently denied bail arguing his “crimes against the states are egregious”. The importance of the denial of Jimmy Lai’s bail is that the Court of Final Appeal confirmed that the NSL is not subject to constitutional review on any alleged incompatibility as between the NSL and the Basic Law or the ICCPR; Worse, many other NSL offenders have been arrested for acts that defy reasonable interpretation of “national security”.

Photo: Tony Chung Hon Lam | 19-year-old student charged under NSL

Tong Ying-kit was accused of “inciting secession” for raising a protest banner, and of “terrorist activity” for riding a motorcycle into a group of policemen during escape [1]. Tony Chung Hon-lam, a 19-year-old student was amongst the first activists to be arrested under NSL. In an attempt to flee the city, Tony was apprehended by the police on his way to seek political asylum from the US Consulate. He is now charged with "inciting secession". But the most outrageous set of arrests took place on January 5th, when 53 opposition politicians and activists were rounded up for being part of the city’s first territory-wide, pan-democratic primary election, in which over 600,000 Hong Kongers cast ballots.

Under NSL, acts of secession, subversion, terrorism or collusion with foreign forces are punishable up to life imprisonment. Although Hong Kong’s mini-constitution guarantees the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, which protects the right to express political opinion against the government [endnote 2], it is clear that the authority’s true intent is not “national security” but to stamp out opposition completely.

Since the commencement of the 2019 Hong Kong Democracy protests, 10,225 people have been arrested--one in every 700 in Hong Kong--and 2,300 charged. The use of the criminal code and NSL to suppress opposition has created a crisis for all Hongkongers. In response, America’s allies have created safe haven policies: the UK government now provides pathways to residency and citizenship to those Hongkongers who had obtained a special British nationality before 1997; Canada and Australia are offering special visas that would lead to permanent residency for attracting the city’s educated youth. These countries are acting out of the belief in common values, as well as for the opportunity to absorb a talented workforce and the assets that they may bring. Bank of America estimates that Hong Kong emigrants to Britain could take with them US$36 billion in 2021 alone; a figure that could grow to $75.8 billion over five years.

Hongkongers are facing the most powerful and the most ruthless totalitarian regime the world has seen. But the US can help. The 116th Congress has initiated the first steps with bipartisan efforts in the introductions of H.R. 8428 Hong Kong People's Freedom and Choice Act of 2020 and H.R. 7415 Hong Kong Safe Harbor Act. In the present Congress, Rep. Curtis recently introduced H.R.461 to designate Hongkongers as Priority 2 refugees. The clock is ticking. We appeal to Congress to urgently enact lifeboat policies for Hongkongers and set a shining example for the world again.

Click here for a NSL factsheet