Hong Kong's new security law sparks global protests, warnings

Demonstrators and governments alike warn of higher risk of detention under the Article 23 legislation.
By Cheryl Tung, Alice Yam and Sam Yuen for RFA Cantonese, Chen Zifei, Amelia Loi and Liu Fei for RFA Mandarin
2024.03.25
Hong Kong's new security law sparks global protests, warnings Protestors rally against Hong Kong’s “Article 23” security law at the Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office in London March 23, 2024.
RFA/Cheryl Tung.

Hong Kongers took to the streets of cities around the world over the weekend to protest a second national security law known as “Article 23” that critics say violates rights to freedom of expression and association, as governments updated travel advisories to warn citizens of an increased risk of detention.

In London, around 400 protesters holding banners that read "Free Hong Kong, Revolution Now!" -- a slogan of the 2019 pro-democracy movement that has been banned in the city -- rallied outside the British government's Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office to protest the Safeguarding National Security Law, which took effect on Saturday.

They chanted, "Say no to dictatorship!" and "Hong Kong independence is the only solution!" as they marched through Chinatown en route to the rally, where some trampled the official flag of Hong Kong Special Administrative Region in protest.

Rallies also took place in Sydney, Vancouver, Taipei and elsewhere.

The law is the second national security law to be passed since 2020, and will plug "loopholes" left by the 2020 National Security Law imposed on Hong Kong by Beijing in the wake of 2019 protests, according to the government.

But critics say Article 23 will likely extend the existing use of "national security" charges to prosecute peaceful dissent and political opposition, striking a further blow at human rights protections in the city.

The British government on March 22 updated its travel advice for Hong Kong to warn citizens that they could be detained or removed to mainland China for some offenses or prosecuted for "supporting individuals who are considered to be breaking the national security laws," which includes statements critical of the authorities, including online.

Australia updated its advice on the same day to warn its citizens of an increased risk of detention if they travel to Hong Kong.

"Hong Kong has strict laws on national security that can be interpreted broadly," the advice now reads. "You could break the laws without intending to and be detained without charge and denied access to a lawyer. We continue to advise … a high degree of caution."

A Hong Kong government spokesman on Friday condemned the advice as “scaremongering,” saying such warnings were “tactics aimed at destabilizing Hong Kong.”

Avoiding political topics

Protests against the new law also took place in several Canadian cities including Vancouver, where around 300 protesters formed a human chain and sang the protest anthem "Glory to Hong Kong," which has been banned from public performance or dissemination in Hong Kong.

Others carried placards calling for independence for the city, which has seen a sharp deterioration in its promised rights and freedoms since the 1997 handover to Chinese rule.

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A protester holds up a sign protesting the “Article 23” national security legislation in London, March 23, 2024. RFA/Cheryl Tung.

Some wore masks, reflecting recent reprisals by authorities in Hong Kong against overseas activists and their families back home.

Two protesters who gave only the nicknames Amy and Candy told RFA that they came to Canada through the lifeboat visa scheme, but they are careful to avoid mentioning politics when speaking with their families back home.

"You have to think carefully before you say anything, because if someone hears you, they could report you and get you arrested," Candy said.

Amy added: "They want to find an excuse to target anyone they don't like."

A spokeswoman for protest organizers Vancouver Brothers who gave only the nickname Christine for fear of reprisals said the definitions of the "crimes" in Article 23 are very broad, and anyone could be targeted regardless of nationality.

She cited the arrests of Canadians Michael Kovrig and Michael Spavor in China on "espionage" charges as retaliation for the Vancouver arrest of Huawei Chief Financial Officer Meng Wanzhou in 2018. 

"We want to call on the international community to please help save Hong Kong, and to impose sanctions on Chinese Communist Party and Hong Kong officials because they have taken away freedom and democracy in Hong Kong," Christine told RFA.

‘Last nail’

In Sydney, dozens of protesters sang "Glory to Hong Kong" and watched performance artist Pamela Leung stage a work titled "The Last Nail," depicting the Article 23 legislation as the "last nail" in the coffin of Hong Kong's rights and freedoms. 

Protesters also carried placards pointing to more than 1,700 political prisoners since the first round of national security legislation was imposed on the city, and draped chains around the protest site.

"The chains are just a reference to political prisoners in Hong Kong -- they actually reach much further than that," a protester who gave only the name Ivan for fear of reprisals told RFA at the scene. "If governments don't move to prevent it, they will extend and trap the whole world."

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Protesters including one dressed up as Winnie-the-Pooh, prepared to represent Xi Jinping, perform during a protest against Hong Kong's new national security law recently approved by Hong Kong lawmakers, in Taipei, Taiwan, Saturday, March 23, 2024. (AP Photo/Chiang Ying-ying)

In democratic Taiwan, former political prisoner Lee Ming-cheh told a rally organized by the Hong Kong Outlanders campaign group that if Taiwan didn't pay close attention to China's handling of Hong Kong, then its 23 million people could be next.

"China has never followed the law, doesn't abide by its own commitments, and has ignored international law, so China will consider Taiwan, which it has never ruled, its territory," Lee said.

"Taiwanese should stand in solidarity with Hong Kong. If there is no way to curb China's destruction of the rule of law in Hong Kong ... the next victim will definitely be Taiwan," said Lee, who served a five-year sentence for "subversion" in a Chinese jail.

Harder for journalists

Former CNN China correspondent Mike Chinoy said the National Security Law and the Article 23 legislation will make it harder for foreign journalists to work in the city.

"The National Security Law and Article 23 are going to make people reluctant to talk to journalists," Chinoy said, adding that the 2019 protest movement had likely "terrified" Chinese President Xi Jinping.

"There was always a lot of suspicion about Hong Kong because it was so Westernized and it was so separate,” Chinoy said in a recent interview with RFA.

“My sense is that they saw in Hong Kong a rebellious peripheral area heavily influenced by foreigners that was challenging the central government, and I think that must have absolutely terrified them."

In a March 19 statement, former colonial governor Chris Patten said the law was "another large nail in the coffin of human rights and the rule of law in Hong Kong."

"Governments and parliaments around the world will take note and so will international investors," he said.

Chris Smith, chairman of the US Congressional-Executive Commission on China warned on March 22 that the new law could target employees of U.S. companies in Hong Kong and called on the business community to carefully assess the risks posed by the legislation.

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Hong Kong Watch CEO Benedict Rogers addresses a protest rally against the “Article 23” national security legislation in London, March 23, 2024. RFA/Cheryl Tung.

Meanwhile, 88 parliamentarians from the United Kingdom, United States, Canada, EU and other countries said the law was a "flagrant breach" of China's obligations under the 1984 Sino-British Joint Declaration, a U.N.-registered treaty governing the handover of Hong Kong to China.

Benedict Rogers, CEO of the London-based rights group Hong Kong Watch, said the Article 23 legislation was a "death knell" for Hong Kong's remaining freedoms.

"We urge the international community to address the new threats posed by Article 23 legislation by imposing targeted sanctions, broadening lifeboat schemes for Hong Kongers, ensuring that the law is not applicable overseas and used for transnational repression," Rogers said, calling for a review of Hong Kong's special status, including the city’s separate Trade and Economic Offices in foreign countries.

Translated by Luisetta Mudie. Edited by Malcolm Foster.

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