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PoliticsHong Kong

Hong Kong moves to tighten national security laws

January 30, 2024

The Hong Kong government wants to pass new laws this year, building on the national security law imposed by Beijing, which came into effect in 2020.

Hong Kong Chief Executive John Lee speaks during a press conference.
Lee said the legislation would be completed as soon as possibleImage: Peter Parks/AFP

Hong Kong officials confirmed Tuesday the government has started a process to pass new, tighter security laws this year.

These will build on the national security law imposed by Beijing in 2020.

What's the new law's aim?

"I must stress that the Basic Law Article 23 legislation must be done... as soon as possible," Hong Kong Chief Executive John Lee said.

"This is a constitutional responsibility of (Hong Kong)... that has not been fulfilled 26 years after Hong Kong's handover," Lee said.

"The threats to national security are real, we have experienced them and suffered from them badly... we don't want to go through that painful experience again," he said, adding that some "foreign agents" might still be active in Hong Kong.

"While we society as a whole looks calm and very safe, we still have to watch out for potential sabotage and undercurrents that try to create troubles, particularly some of the independent Hong Kong ideas that are still embedded in some people's mind," he said. 

Lee added that the consultation process would be "open," and a document with new legislation would be shared soon during the day.

Beijing's national security law

The financial hub saw massive pro-democracy protests in 2019. At the time, Beijing introduced the national security law to punish four major crimes: secession, subversion, terrorism and collusion with foreign forces. These carry a range of sentences up to life imprisonment.

The new proposed law is mandated under Article 23 of the city's constitution and will add five offenses of treason, insurrection, espionage, destructive activities endangering national security, and external interference.

Academics, business people and activists have said the prospect of new laws targeting espionage, state secrets and foreign influence, known as Article 23, could have a deep impact on Hong Kong.

Tougher penalties against sedition are also expected in the package.

Since Beijing's law was enacted in 2020, almost 300 people have been arrested on national security grounds. More than 30 have been convicted under the existing law. 

Lee said freedoms would be safeguarded and the laws would meet international standards.

Hong Kong's mini constitution guides its relationship with its Chinese sovereign, and Article 23 stipulates that the city "shall enact laws on its own to prohibit acts and activities that endanger national security."

A previous government attempt to pass Article 23 laws was shelved after an estimated 500,000 people staged a peaceful protest in 2003.

Press freedom: Hong Kong journalist vows not to give up

tg/jsi (AFP, Reuters)