HONG KONG (Reuters) – Hong Kong’s national security law does not indicate “fate and sadness,” its leader said on Tuesday as she tried to calm the discomfort with the legislation which, according to critics, could void the freedoms that supported the city’s success as a financial hub.
In an illustration of legal concerns, the TikTok video app said it was preparing to leave the Hong Kong market, and other tech companies said they had suspended processing of Hong Kong government requests Kong for user data.
Radical legislation imposed by Beijing on the former British colony punishes what China defines as secession, subversion, terrorism and collusion with foreign forces, with a sentence of up to life in prison.
It entered into force at the same time as it was made public, just before midnight last Tuesday, the police having arrested more than 300 people during demonstrations the next day – about 10 of them, including a 15-year-old boy, alleged violations of it. .
“Surely this is not a disaster for Hong Kong,” said Beijing-backed city leader Carrie Lam at a weekly press conference.
“I am sure that over time, confidence will grow in” one country, two systems “and in the future of Hong Kong.”
The legislation has been criticized by democracy activists and Western governments for violating the freedoms guaranteed by a “one country, two systems” formula agreed to when Hong Kong returned to Chinese rule in 1997.
Hong Kong and Chinese authorities have said the law, which gives continental security agencies a coercive presence in the city for the first time, is vital in filling the gaps in national security defenses, revealed by the fact that the city has not itself adopted such legislation, as required by its mini-constitution, the Basic Law.
Lam said cases involving the continent’s new agents would be “rare”, but nonetheless, national security was a “red line” not to be crossed.
The legislation is not harsh compared to that of other countries, she said.
“It is a rather sweet law. Its scope is not as broad as in other countries and even in China, ”she said.
Critics say the goal of the law is to eliminate a pro-democracy movement that brought months of protests, sometimes violent, to the city last year.
Late Monday, Hong Kong released details of how the law would be implemented, outlining police powers on the Internet, including the ability to ask publishers to delete information that is considered a threat to national security.
Internet companies and their staff face fines and up to a year in prison if they fail to comply and the police can seize their equipment. Businesses should also provide identification documents and decryption assistance.
But Lam said she hadn’t noticed widespread fears and that the law would restore the city’s status as one of the safest in the world after last year’s violent pro-democracy protests.
“TIMES AND FACTS”
Despite his assurances, the law had a deterrent effect.
“If the Hong Kong police and government do not receive information from Facebook, they may have other means,” said 45-year-old playwright Yan Pat-To.
“Fear has spread to freedom of expression.”
Shortly after the law came into effect, pro-democracy activists such as Joshua Wong dissolved their organizations while others left.
Many stores have removed products and decorations related to demonstrations and public libraries have removed certain books considered favorable to the democracy movement. Canada has suspended an extradition treaty with Hong Kong.
TikTok, a video app owned by Chinese company ByteDance, said it would leave the Hong Kong market in a few days.
US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said Monday evening that the United States is certainly considering banning Chinese social media applications, including TikTok, when it feared it would not be able to turn down government requests Chinese.
TikTok, which sought to emphasize its independence from China, has been banned in India.
Facebook Inc, which also owns WhatsApp and Instagram, Google Inc and Twitter Inc, has suspended the processing of government requests for user data in Hong Kong.
The final power to interpret the law belongs to the authorities in mainland China, where human rights groups have reported arbitrary detentions and disappearances. China has suppressed dissent and tightened censorship.
The Chinese Procuratorate’s Official Gazette said that the authorities had launched a special task force to strengthen the political police to maintain social stability.
The news came the day Xu Zhangrun, a Beijing law professor who openly criticized the ruling Communist Party and President Xi Jinping, was taken away by the authorities.
Lam, when asked about freedom of the media, said that if journalists could guarantee that they would not violate the new law, she could guarantee that they would be allowed to report freely.
“Ultimately, time and facts will say that this law will not affect human rights and freedoms,” she said.