China: Dangerous national security law plan is fundamental attack on human rights in Hong Kong

Responding to the Chinese government’s proposal to enact new national security legislation for Hong Kong, Amnesty International’s Deputy Regional Director for East and South East Asia, Joshua Rosenzweig, said:

“China routinely abuses its own national security framework as a pretext to target human rights activists and stamp out all forms of dissent. This dangerous proposed law sends the clearest message yet that it is eager to do the same in Hong Kong, and as soon as possible.

“The Hong Kong government has progressively embraced the mainland’s vague and all-encompassing definition of ‘national security’ to restrict freedom of association, expression and the right to peaceful assembly. This attempt to bulldoze through repressive security regulations poses a quasi-existential threat to the rule of law in Hong Kong and is an ominous moment for human rights in the city.

“Past national security-related legislation in China has almost always involved a serious reduction of fair trial rights, in some cases essentially circumventing normal criminal procedures entirely. Being charged with a national security crime can mean incommunicado and secret detention, without access to lawyers or families.

"Beijing claims this law is designed to bring ‘stability’ to Hong Kong, but the past year of protests have shown that repressive laws will not slow unrest, but fuel it. The people of Hong Kong must not have their rights and freedoms taken away in the name of exaggerated security concerns.”

Background

China’s National People’s Congress (NPC) is expected to endorse a decision regarding the “establishment and strengthening” of national security measures in Hong Kong during its annual plenary session, which started on Thursday.

The decision would authorize the NPC Standing Committee to adopt legislation targeting “separatism, subversion of state power, terrorism and foreign interference”. It would also allow central government agencies responsible for national security to operate in Hong Kong.

The decision calls upon the Hong Kong government to establish and strengthen national security mechanisms and institutions, including law enforcement. It would require Hong Kong’s Chief Executive to report periodically to the central government on the performance of the duties of “preserving national security and spreading national security education and lawfully prohibiting conduct endangering national security”.

The proposed decision requires the Hong Kong government to quickly finish enacting national security legislation as required under Article 23 of its mini-constitution, the Basic Law. An attempt to enact Article 23 legislation in 2003 was shelved after half a million people took to the streets in protest.

The legislation proposed by the decision would be listed under Annex III of the Basic Law after being promulgated by the NPC Standing Committee, meaning it could become law without scrutiny by Hong Kong’s Legislative Council – effectively bypassing local lawmakers.

In 2015, China passed a national security law that gave the authorities sweeping powers to crack down on and suppress human rights, covering areas including politics, culture, finance and the internet.

Amnesty International’s 2019 report, Beijing’s Red Line in Hong Kong, set out how the Chinese authorities have used their broad definition of “national security” to target journalists, activists and critics in the city.