China looks set to forge ahead with draconian new legislation targeting acts of "secession, sedition and subversion" in Hong Kong, with a vote likely in its National People's Congress (NPC) standing committee this week, a top adviser to Beijing has said.
Lau Siu-kai, vice-president of the Chinese Association of Hong Kong and Macau Studies, said Beijing is planning to implement the law, which will be promulgated in Hong Kong without going through the city's legislature, very soon.
Lau said the NPC standing committee is "highly likely" to approve the law during a three-day meeting this week, government broadcaster RTHK reported.
State news agency Xinhua confirmed in a long article on the law on Saturday that it would target acts of secession, subversion, terrorism,and collusion with foreign or external forces that endanger national security.
The law requires the setting up of a national security office under the direct control of the ruling Chinese Communist Party in Beijing to oversee the implementation of the law, the report said.
A national security committee of cabinet officials, chaired by chief executive Carrie Lam, will also ensure the law is implemented in the city, it said.
According to Xinhua, the city's police force has already set up a separate national security department to bring cases under the law, and the justice bureau will follow suit.
It added that some "special cases" would be handled directly from Beijing, but gave no indication of what might constitute a "special case."
The structure set out for Hong Kong in the Xinhua article appeared to mirror the domestic state security regime that is already in place in mainland China.
The law requires the city's executive, legislative, and judicial arms to prevent, suppress, and punish acts that "endanger national security," while election hopefuls will need to pledge to uphold the law before being registered as candidates, Xinhua said.
Beijing would also appoint a national security adviser for Hong Kong, it said.
The city government would also take "necessary measures to strengthen the supervision and control of schools, social organizations, etc., in matters relating to national security," Xinhua said.
But the agency was silent on whether the new law would be applied retroactively to actions that took place before it became law.
Instead, the law nods to human rights concerns, promising to safeguard the rights of defendants to a fair trial, according to Xinhua.
Details kept secret
According to Lau, the NPC standing committee is keeping specific details secret to avoid political opposition to the new law becoming too widespread.
Democratic Party lawmaker James To said the new national security office will have ample power to choose which rights and laws to respect.
He said the national security adviser would be more likely to dictate than to advise on the conduct of cases.
"National security will be decided according to the mainland concept," To told RTHK. "And who is the best to decide? According to them, it must be the mainland-appointed adviser to the committee."
Hong Kong Bar Association chairman Philip Dykes meanwhile took issue with the provision in the law for the Hong Kong chief executive to appoint judges in national security cases, saying it cut to the heart of the city's promised judicial independence.
"This is the biggest shift since the handover," Dykes told Reuters. "You can't be slightly independent any more than you can be slightly pregnant. You're either independent or you're not."
With chief executive Carrie Lam in charge of appointments, "you're picking a judge for a contest in which you have an interest," he said.
Legal experts expressed concern that national security considerations will allow the authorities to override Hong Kong laws, with final interpretation power resting with the NPC standing committee in Beijing.
University of Hong Kong law professor Johannes Chan said the legislation is tantamount to imposing China's legal system on Hong Kong.
"Given that the specifics of [special cases] are unknown, this is effectively going to bring the Chinese criminal system to Hong Kong," Chan said. "It makes it possible to suddenly enter a separate, national security system, and to lose all of the protections offered by [the Hong Kong] courts."
"This is worrying."
Reported by Tseng Yat-yiu for RFA's Mandarin and Cantonese Services. Translated and edited by Luisetta Mudie.