Hong Kong officers marked the 23rd anniversary of the territory’s return to China on Wednesday hours after Beijing’s imposition of a brand new nationwide safety regulation drew worldwide condemnation.
Chief Government Carrie Lam joined her predecessors and different officers on the harbour’s edge for a flag-raising ceremony, because the territory’s annual pro-democracy march was banned for the primary time.
In her speech, Lam praised the brand new regulation as “a very powerful growth” within the relationship between Beijing and Hong Kong for the reason that 1997 handover, saying it’s “vital and well timed” transfer to revive stability.
She additionally defended the regulation as “constitutional, lawful, wise and affordable”.
The nationwide safety laws got here into pressure in a single day after being rushed via China’s rubber-stamp parliament in report time.
Amid threats of attainable arrest, protesters gathered close to the venue of the ceremony carrying banners and shouting slogans expressing opposition to the brand new regulation, which seeks to punish crimes of secession, subversion, terrorism and collusion with international forces with as much as life in jail.
Authorities barred civil society’s annual demonstration, citing a ban on gatherings of greater than 50 individuals due to the coronavirus, however many activists pledged to defy the order and march later within the afternoon.
The annual rally is historically held to air grievances about all the pieces from sky-high house costs to what many see as Beijing’s growing encroachment on town’s freedoms.
“We march yearly, each July 1, each October 1 and we’ll carry on marching,” mentioned pro-democracy activist Leung Kwok-hung.
On July 1 final yr, lots of of protesters stormed town’s legislature to protest in opposition to a now-scrapped invoice that might have allowed extraditions to mainland China, and ransacked the constructing. The protests continued all year long with rally-goers demanding common suffrage as promised within the territory’s Primary Legislation or mini-constitution.
Beijing mentioned the safety regulation is critical to cope with separatism and international interference, however critics concern the laws, which was solely made public after it was handed, will outlaw dissent and destroy the autonomy promised when Hong Kong was returned from the UK to China in 1997.
Al Jazeera’s Katrina Yu, reporting from Beijing, mentioned that the velocity at which the brand new regulation was crafted and handed proved China’s “willpower to stamp out” Hong Kong’s pro-democracy motion, which it sees “as an excessive amount of of a risk” to the central authorities’s energy.
She mentioned that China could have misplaced endurance over the past yr, following a sequence of main protests within the semi-autonomous metropolis.
The laws radically restructures the connection between Beijing and Hong Kong envisaged underneath the so-called “one nation, two methods” framework, obliterating the authorized firewall between town’s impartial judiciary and the mainland’s party-controlled courts.
It empowers China to arrange a nationwide safety company within the metropolis, staffed by officers who are usually not sure by native legal guidelines when finishing up duties.
It outlaws 4 forms of nationwide safety crimes: subversion, secession, terrorism and colluding with international forces to hazard nationwide safety.
The total textual content of the regulation gave three eventualities when China may take over a prosecution: sophisticated international interference circumstances, “very critical” circumstances and when nationwide safety faces “critical and real looking threats”.
“Each the nationwide safety company and Hong Kong can request to go the case to mainland China and the prosecution will likely be achieved by the Supreme Individuals’s Procuratorate and the trial will likely be within the Supreme Courtroom,” the regulation acknowledged.
“Irrespective of whether or not violence has been used, or the specter of violence used, leaders or critical offenders will likely be sentenced for all times imprisonment or a minimal of 10 years in jail,” it mentioned.
“The Hong Kong authorities has no jurisdiction over the nationwide safety company in Hong Kong and its workers when they’re discharging duties offered on this regulation,” it added.
The textual content additionally specified that those that destroy authorities services and utilities could be thought-about subversive. Damaging public transportation services and arson would represent acts of “terrorism”. Any individual collaborating in secessionist actions, whether or not organising or taking part, will violate the regulation no matter whether or not violence is used.
The regulation additionally mentioned sure nationwide safety circumstances could possibly be held behind closed doorways with out juries in Hong Kong in the event that they contained state secrets and techniques, though the decision and eventual judgements could be made public.
The laws has drawn worldwide condemnation with US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo accusing China of “paranoia” and saying the regulation “destroys the territory’s autonomy and one in every of China’s biggest achievements”.
The introduction of the regulation additionally demonstrated that China’s dedication to worldwide treaties, such because the Sino-British Joint Declaration, had been “empty phrases”, Pompeo added.
Al Jazeera’s Adrian Brown, reporting from Hong Kong, mentioned that residents of town are waking up on Wednesday to a brand new regulation, and he mentioned that it’s seemingly that they want really feel that the brand new regulation “is much more far-reaching than they imagined.”
“This regulation was enacted a couple of minutes earlier than midnight,” he famous, including that many are “nonetheless attempting to determine the way it will influence their lives.”
“Make no mistake. It is a regulation that can going to have an effect on everybody in Hong Kong.”