Hong Kong to Add More National Security 'Crimes' With New Law

Security chief Chris Tang tells Beijing-backed media that new legislation will govern espionage, theft of state secrets, and groups with overseas ties.

Hong Kong Secretary for Security Chris Tang is shown in an Aug. 27, 2020 photo. AFP

Authorities in Hong Kong will table further national security legislation that creates a list of further "national security" offenses, to supplement those already listed in a law imposed on the city by the ruling Chinese Communist Party (CCP), ushering in a crackdown on political opposition and peaceful dissent.

Secretary for security and former police chief Chris Tang told the CCP-backed Ta Kung Pao newspaper that the new law would be tabled in the next Legislative Council (LegCo), which will be largely devoid of opposition thanks to a new vetting process for would-be election candidates.

“If any organization or group violates the law, including the national security law, it will be held  responsible," Tang said.

"We expect that [Legislation governing] espionage activities, the theft of state secrets, activities of foreign political institutions in Hong Kong, and political ties between Hong Kong institutions and foreign countries, among other things, will be completed during the next LegCo session," Tang said.

"The public will be consulted when the time comes."

The new security law will be directed by Article 23 of Hong Kong's mini-constitution, the Basic Law, which requires the city to enact its own national security legislation.

Draft Article 23 legislation was shelved in 2003 after an attempt to table it in LegCo sparked mass protests. Beijing then imposed its own national security law on Hong Kong from July 1, 2020, beginning a citywide crackdown on dissent in the wake of the 2019 protest movement that had been sparked by widespread fears over the ongoing erosion of the city's promised freedoms.

Meanwhile, Hong Kong treasury secretary Christopher Hui told LegCo on Tuesday that the government will move to strip charities of their tax-exempt status if they are found to be in breach of the national security law, which criminalizes contact with and funding from overseas politicians and foundations, public criticism of the Hong Kong and Chinese authorities, as well as opposition activism, which is deemed a bid to overthrow the existing political order.

Forty-seven former democratic lawmakers and activists are currently awaiting trial on "subversion" charges under the national security law after taking part in a democratic primary in 2020 that was designed to maximize the number of LegCo seats won by the opposition.

Charities under scrutiny

"We .. have to prevent people with ulterior motives from endangering national security in the name of charity," Hui said.

"If any organization is found to have participated or used its resources to support or promote activities contrary to the interest of national security, we will not hesitate to strip it of its charity status and withdraw its tax exemptions," he said.

The Tax Guide for Charitable Institutions and Trusts of a Public Character has been amended to include the national security requirement, and takes immediate effect, Hui said.

Hong Kong chief executive Carrie Lam said enforcement efforts must now look at preventing breaches of the national security law, as well as punishing people and organizations that run afoul of it.

"I believe that government departments will re-examine their work in future [in the light of the national security law], and then conduct publicity, guidance, and supervision work," Lam said.

No guidelines or consultations

A staff member at a Hong Kong charity, who gave only the nickname A Man, said charities already have to pass stringent criteria and an annual audit to gain tax-exempt status, and that charities are now at a loss over how to mitigate this new risk.

"There are no guidelines, no case studies, and no consultations," A Man told RFA. "There are only these unilateral amendments."

"It's not just environmental groups; religious and social welfare organizations will also be at a loss, and they won't know where the lines are being drawn," he said.

"If I disagree with the government, will that be seen as inciting hatred or dissatisfaction with the Hong Kong government, and could I be charged under the national security law?" he said. "Will organizations that gainsay the government be blacklisted?"

"There is also no appeal mechanism, which is very unfair to [charities]."

He said the law has already had a "chilling effect" on the charity sector, with some organizations adjusting the scope of their services and advocacy work.

"This will obviously mean restrictions [on services they offer] to service users."

Translated and edited by Luisetta Mudie.

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