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Hong Kong issues new national security law bill with tougher jail terms

WorldHong Kong issues new national security law bill with tougher jail terms

Hong Kong National Assembly during a session. — Xinhua/File
Hong Kong National Assembly during a session. — Xinhua/File

HONG KONG: Hong Kong on Friday published its draft of a new national security law, a document some lawyers said broadened what could be considered sedition and state secrets, with tougher penalties for anyone convicted of those crimes and several others.

The draft, which includes new laws encompassing treason, espionage and external interference, is being closely watched by foreign diplomats and businesses who fear it could further dent freedoms in the financial hub, which has already been subjected to a China-led crackdown on dissent that has sent many pro-democracy politicians and activists into jail or exile.

The Legislative Council started debating the bill on Friday amid tight security, and several members of the largely pro-Beijing body said they expected it to be passed into law before mid-April.

Hong Kong leader John Lee had earlier urged lawmakers to pass the bill “at full speed”.

“The geopolitics have become increasingly complex, and national security risks remain imminent,” a government statement said.

Some lawyers analysing the draft said that at first glance, elements of the revised sentences for some listed offences are similar to Western ones but some provisions, such as those for sedition and state secrets, are broader and potentially tougher.

The bill includes sentences of up to life imprisonment for treason, insurrection and sabotage, 20 years for espionage and 10 years for crimes linked to state secrets and sedition.

The European Union, in a statement to Reuters, said it had made clear in a diplomatic note its “grave concerns” over the far-reaching provisions in the bill on “external interference” and the law’s extra-territorial reach.

A spokesperson for the U.S. State Department said the United States is closely monitoring the development of the so-called Article 23 legislation, “and its implications for U.S. citizens and companies operating in Hong Kong.”

“We have serious concerns that if authorities rush forward with enacting proposed Article 23 legislation without adequate public consultation or incorporating checks and balances, the law will be used to continue suppressing dissent and erode the human rights and fundamental freedoms for people in Hong Kong,” the official said.

The draft bill noted some rights provisions.

“Human rights are to be respected and protected, the rights and freedoms, including the freedoms of speech, of the press and of publication, the freedoms of association … are to be protected,” the bill read. Some investors said the desire to fast-track the bill was concerning.

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