CHINA today passed controversial new security laws for Hong Kong which campaigners say will turn the city into a “secret police state.”
The hardline legislation will spark the most radical changes to the former British colony since it was returned to China 23 years ago tomorrow.
The hardline laws – which reportedly could see dissidents jailed for life – were passed unanimously by the Chinese parliament.
They follow increasing unrest on the island amid the emergence of a blossoming pro-democracy movement.
The UK, EU and UN have already said they fear the move will be used to stifle any public criticism of Beijing.
Though the exact wording of the law has been kept under wraps it is thought to criminalise any act of subversion, terrorism or collusion with foreign forces.
And it’s been reported the state-run crackdown could come into force in the next 24 hours.
The heaviest penalty that can be imposed is life in jail, the editor in chief of the Global Times newspaper claimed after citing those who have seen the draft of the law.
Hu Xijin said on Twitter that official information on the new legislation will be released at some point later today.
He gave no further details, such as what crimes could lead to a life sentence under the law.
The Global Times is published by the People’s Daily, the official newspaper of China’s ruling Communist Party.
The move will also allow China’s feared security agencies to start working in Hong Kong for the first time.
“It marks the end of Hong Kong that the world knew before,” said high-profile campaigner Joshua Wong, as he announced he was quitting the pro-democracy Demosisto party he founded amid fears of reprisals.
“With sweeping powers and ill-defined law, the city will turn into a secret police state,” Wong said.
“Hong Kong protesters now face high possibilities of being extradited to China’s courts for trials and life sentences.”
Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab revealed the UK is also worried by this morning’s news.
He said: “We are deeply concerned by unconfirmed reports that Beijing has passed the national security law. This would be a grave step.
“Once we have seen the full legislation, we will make a further statement.”
The UK already offered to allow almost three million of Hong Kong’s inhabitants the opportunity to come to Britain if Beijing imposed the national security law.
Boris Johnson said he would effectively upgrade the status of British National (Overseas) passports, which 350,000 people in Hong Kong hold and 3m are eligible to apply for, to grant immigration rights beyond the current six-month limit.
He has said any new national security law in Hong Kong would “dramatically erode its autonomy” and breach the terms of its treaty with the UK.
Critics believe the law erodes the “one country, two systems” framework which promised Hong Kong freedoms not found in mainland China for 50 years.
The European Union also expressed anger at the move by Beijing.
“We deplore the decision,” EU Council President Charles Michel told reporters following a video summit with South Korea’s president.
The head of the European Commission, Ursula von der Leyen, said the bloc is now discussing with “international partners” on any possible measures in response.
However,Hong Kong leader Carrie Lam insisted the national security legislation would fill a “gaping hole” and would not undermine its autonomy.
Lam said Hong Kong had been “traumatised by escalating violence fanned by external forces”, adding: “No central government could turn a blind eye to such threats to sovereignty and national security.”
“The legislation aims to prevent, curb and punish acts of cessation, subversion of state power, terrorist activities … These crimes will be clearly defined in the law,” she said.
“We will only target an extremely small minority of people who have (broken) the law.”
Human rights campaigners have called the new laws “the greatest threat to human rights in the city’s recent history.”.
Head of Amnesty’s China Team, Joshua Rosenzweig, said: “From now on, China will have the power to impose its own laws on any criminal suspect it chooses.
“The fact that the Chinese authorities have now passed this law without the people of Hong Kong being able to see it tells you a lot about their intentions.
“Their aim is to govern Hong Kong through fear from this point forward.”
The so-called crimes of separatism, subversion, terrorism and “collusion with foreign or overseas powers” to endanger national security will be banned under the law, claims Amnesty.
These broad, vaguely defined offences are similar to those that feature in China’s own National Security Law, which has been used to crack down on dissent.
In mainland China, such agencies systematically monitor and secretly detain human rights defenders and dissidents.
Any new office in Hong Kong would deal with national security cases, but would also have other powers such as overseeing education about national security in Hong Kong schools.
In addition, the city will have to establish its own national security commission to enforce the laws, with a Beijing-appointed adviser.
Hong Kong’s chief executive will have the power to appoint judges to hear national security cases, a move which has raised fears about judicial independence.
Importantly, Beijing will have power over how the law should be interpreted.
If the law conflicts with any Hong Kong law, the Beijing law will reportedly take priority.
Hong Kong and Chinese officials have claimed there is an urgent need for security laws to counter the threat of “terrorism” and violence in the city.
However, the protesters taking to the streets over the past year have been overwhelmingly peaceful.
The US Senate has already passed a bill that would sanction Chinese officials who undermine Hong Kong’s autonomy and the Secretary of State Mike Pompeo imposed visa restrictions on unnamed current and former party officials.
On Monday, the US began eliminating Hong Kong’s special status under US law, halting defence exports and restricting the territory’s access to high technology products.
Commenting on Washington’s actions, Ms Lam said: “No sort of sanctioning will ever scare us.”
In June, the European Parliament passed a resolution saying the European Union should take China to the International Court of Justice in The Hague if Beijing imposed the law.
Hong Kong was handed back to China from British control in 1997, but under a special agreement that guaranteed certain rights for 50 years.