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 Executive 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 “the most important development” within the relationship between Beijing and Hong Kong for the reason that 1997 handover, saying it’s “necessary and timely” move to revive stability.
She additionally defended the regulation as “constitutional, lawful, sensible and reasonable”.
The nationwide safety laws got here into pressure in a single day after being rushed by means of China’s rubber-stamp parliament in report time.
Amid threats of doable arrest, protesters gathered near 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 overseas 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 home costs to what many see as Beijing’s rising encroachment on town’s freedoms.
“We march every year, every July 1, every October 1 and we will keep on marching,” mentioned pro-democracy activist Leung Kwok-hung.
On July 1 final yr, a whole bunch 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 Basic Law or mini-constitution.
Beijing mentioned the safety regulation is important to cope with separatism and overseas interference, however critics fear 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 United Kingdom 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 “determination to stamp out” Hong Kong’s pro-democracy motion, which it sees “as too much of a threat” to the central authorities’s energy.
She mentioned that China might have misplaced endurance during the last yr, following a sequence of main protests within the semi-autonomous metropolis.
The laws radically restructures the connection between Beijing and Hong Kong envisaged beneath the so-called “one country, two systems” framework, obliterating the authorized firewall between town’s unbiased 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 certain by native legal guidelines when finishing up duties.
It outlaws 4 varieties of nationwide safety crimes: subversion, secession, terrorism and colluding with overseas forces to hazard nationwide safety.
The full textual content of the regulation gave three eventualities when China would possibly take over a prosecution: sophisticated overseas interference circumstances, “very serious” circumstances and when nationwide safety faces “serious and realistic threats”.
“Both the national security agency and Hong Kong can request to pass the case to mainland China and the prosecution will be done by the Supreme People’s Procuratorate and the trial will be in the Supreme Court,” the regulation acknowledged.
“No matter whether violence has been used, or the threat of violence used, leaders or serious offenders will be sentenced for life imprisonment or a minimum of 10 years in jail,” it mentioned.
“The Hong Kong government has no jurisdiction over the national security agency in Hong Kong and its staff when they are discharging duties provided in this law,” it added.
The textual content additionally specified that those that destroy authorities services and utilities can be thought-about subversive. Damaging public transportation services and arson would represent acts of “terrorism”. Any individual participating 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 can 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 of China’s greatest 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 words”, 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 a lot more far-reaching than they imagined.”
“This law was enacted a few minutes before midnight,” he famous, including that many are “still trying to figure out how it will impact their lives.”
“Make no mistake. This is a law that will going to affect everyone in Hong Kong.”