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Hong Kong lawmakers near passing national security law

The government of the semi-autonomous city is set to have greater power to crush dissent, after Hong Kong leader John Lee called for the bill to be pushed through “at full speed.”

Hong Kong’s lawmakers met in a special session on Tuesday to resume debate on a proposed national security law.

The controversial proposal would come on top of a similar law imposed by Beijing four years ago that has already largely silenced opposition voices.

Special session

The special session was held one day before the regular Wednesday meeting of the Legislative Council. It’s a sign of the government’s desire to pass the law as quickly as possible.

The bill was unveiled on March 8. The legislature, which is packed with Beijing loyalists, accelerated debate after Hong Kong leader John Lee called for the law proposal to be pushed through “at full speed.”

During Tuesday’s meeting, lawmakers expressed strong support for the bill. Legislative Council President Andrew Leung said he believed all lawmakers were honored to be part of this “historic mission.”

“I fully agree with what the Chief Executive said: the sooner the legislation is completed, the sooner national security will be safeguarded,” he said.

What is the new law about?

The new legislation paves the way for the government to gain more power to crush dissent in the semi-autonomous southern Chinese city. The law is widely seen as the latest step in a sweeping political crackdown that followed pro-democracy protests in 2019.

The proposed law threatens harsh penalties for a wide range of actions that the authorities call threats to national security, with the most serious, including treason and insurrection, punishable by life imprisonment.

Lesser offenses, including possession of seditious publications, could result in several years in prison. Some provisions allow prosecution for acts committed anywhere in the world.

Critics fear the new law will further erode civil liberties that Beijing promised to preserve for 50 years when the former British colony was returned to Chinese rule in 1997.

Pro-democracy protesters push barricades toward police during a stand-off outside the Legislative Council in 2019

Crackdown on dissent

Since the massive street protests in 2019 that challenged China’s rule over the semi-autonomous territory and led to the imposition of Beijing’s national security law, Hong Kong’s political scene has changed dramatically.

Many leading activists have been prosecuted. Others have fled abroad. Influential pro-democracy media outlets such as Apple Daily and Stand News have been shut down. The crackdown has caused disillusioned young professionals and middle-class families to flee to the United States, Britain, Canada and Taiwan.

Hong Kong is required by its mini-constitution, the Basic Law, to enact a homegrown national security law. A previous attempt in 2003 sparked massive street protests that drew half a million people. The legislation was forced to be shelved.

There have been no such protests against the current bill, largely because of the chilling effect of the existing security law.

Source: Dw

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