Furious protests took place in Hong Kong on Wednesday, the day after a new security law came into effect. The draconian law hands China sweeping new powers to clamp down on political opposition.
Thousands of demonstrators took to the streets in the Causeway Bay shopping district. They defied the new law and a police ban on protests by chanting pro-independence slogans and waving independence flags.
Chanting, “Fight for freedom—stand with Hong Kong,” some scattered joss paper, which is usually burned at funerals, along the streets.
One Hong Kong councillor Fergus Leung said, “The government is not only attempting to control people’s actions but also people’s minds. Hong Kongers will not back down in the face of oppression.”
Riot police attacked with water cannon, pepper spray, tear gas and rubber bullets. Around 400 people were arrested during the day of protests, and at least seven cops injured, with one stabbed in the arm.
Cops wasted no time in using the new security law against protesters. A statement made during the protests said, “Police warn lawbreakers to stop their disruptive acts that destroy public peace and safety.”
Full details of the law were kept secret until it came into effect on Wednesday. It is more draconian than many had feared.
People found guilty of four new offences—secession, subversion, terrorism and collusion with foreign powers—could be jailed for life.
Anyone deemed to be damaging public transport or public services “to pursue a political agenda” can be treated as a terrorist. This could include blockades of transport and other services by pro-democracy protesters and workers’ strikes.
Terrorism also covers “other dangerous activities which seriously jeopardise public health, safety or security”. And anyone providing support or assistance for such acts will be hit by the law too.
China will have its own law enforcement organisation in Hong Kong—the Office for Safeguarding National Security. A new committee will also be set up, and its activities kept secret. Its decisions “shall not be amenable to judicial review”.
National security cases that involve state secrets can be tried without a jury. And China can take over prosecution of cases—applying Chinese laws and possibly hearing cases in China.
China has repeatedly blamed pro-democracy protests in Hong Kong on “foreign interference”. The new law makes it an offence for anyone to call on a foreign country or group to impose sanctions or blockades on Hong Kong.
A new national security unit in the Hong Kong Police Force will have the power to search homes, intercept information and carry out undercover surveillance. It can recruit from China.
The law instructs Hong Kong to “promote national security education in schools and universities”. When Hong Kong tried to impose a similar move in 2012, it provoked mass protests.
The national security law also overrides any local laws that conflict with it.
Since Britain handed Hong Kong to China in 1997, Hong Kong has operated under a “one country, two systems” principle. This meant people in Hong Kong had more freedoms than those in mainland China, including the right to assembly and a separate judiciary.
Protesters say the new security law ends this system. Some activists have already disbanded opposition groups in response.
Many Western leaders, including in Britain and the US, have posed as defenders of freedom and claim to be on the side of ordinary people in Hong Kong.
US secretary of state Mike Pompeo said Wednesday was a “sad day for freedom-loving people”. Boris Johnson has said that Britain will welcome people from Hong Kong who want to leave the country.
The idea that the US, facing huge protests over repeated police murders of black people, stands up for freedom is ridiculous. And Britain is hardly known for providing a “safe haven” for people suffering repression.
Western rulers are using the crisis in Hong Kong to pile pressure on China for their own ends. They will not flinch from using repression when it suits them and are no allies of ordinary people in Hong Kong or anywhere else.
Wednesday marked the 23rd anniversary of the handover of Hong Kong from British to Chinese rule. Under Britain, Hong Kong was not a democracy. Most protest was illegal and ordinary people lived in poverty.
Looking to Western rulers to protect ordinary people in Hong Kong is a dead end. The actions of ordinary people will be key to resisting the clampdown.