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Article 23- New National Security Law Sparks Controversy in Hong Kong

Article 23, the Safeguarding National Security Ordinance, was passed in Hong Kong on March 23rd with the goal of tightening regulations on acts that the government deems are actively placing the region’s political stability at risk. The law addresses espionage, threats to national security, working with “external forces” to interfere with the work of local authorities, insurrections, and treason. Violating one of these laws can lead to significant penalties. Punishments can range from 7 to 10 years for sedition and from 20 years to life for threatening national security. The severity of the sentence can vary depending on whether the individual collaborated with an external force. Additionally, the law allows police officers to hold individuals in custody for 16 days before having to charge them, and it permits trials to take place in private. 

The 90-person chamber unanimously voted to pass the law after just two weeks after a month-long community consultation period ended, which is considered a short consideration time. This swift process indicates the government’s desire to fulfill a requirement established in their “mini-constitution.” The mini-constitution, known as the Basic Law, was created in 1997 when Hong Kong transitioned back to Chinese rule from British rule. Article 23 of the Basic Law stipulates that Hong Kong’s government should create a law prohibiting threats to national security. To adhere to this ordinance in the mini-constitution, the government tried to pass Article 23 in 2003. However, large-scale protests involving over 500,000 citizens took place and highlighted the public’s disapproval of such a bill. These protests were successful in temporarily delaying the passage of the law. 

Hong Kong’s failure to codify Article 23 eventually caused the Beijing government to act. In 2019, pro-democracy protests took place across the region and massed over one million protesters. The large scale of the protests were perceived as a threat to national security, causing the Beijing government to take action in 2020 and instituted a National Security Law in Hong Kong. Although the Beijing government created a National Security law, Hong Kong continued feeling that internal regulation was necessary, causing them to reintroduce Article 23 to legislatures. 

As indicated by the unanimous vote, local legislators widely supported the law. Many officials, including Chief Executive John Lee, frame it as a mechanism to defend the country and its citizens from external and internal threats to the region’s stability. While this was the general reaction of members of the Hong Kong government, citizens and external actors did not display the same enthusiasm. The government claims the public had a 98.6% approval rate of the law. However, the actions of individuals across the area oppose that view. 

While the law’s passing did not spark mass protests, it has caused great concern in the population. Fearing that this law is part of a movement to strip them of the rights and freedoms they were promised in 1997 when  transitioning back to Chinese rule, many are considering immigrating to nearby countries. In fact, at an annual immigration convention, not only did the inquiries about immigrating rise by 40% for the immigration consultant Ben Li, but over half of those asking confirmed that they were motivated by the codification of Article 23. Out of fear of punishment under the Beijing-imposed National Security law, many citizens feel they cannot express their disapproval of the new law through traditional forms of protest. However, residents are nonetheless showing signs of discontent with the government’s actions. 

International actors are displaying similar opposition to Article 23, as countless officials and groups have spoken out against the recent ruling. The European Union, for example, explained that Article 23 builds on the foundation of the 2020 law and “risks exacerbating the erosion of fundamental freedoms in Hong Kong.” Additionally, the UN Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights criticized decision-makers for rushing the process and suppressing the political will of the population. The Commissioner, Volker Türk, stressed that Article 23’s “broadly defined and vague provisions” will mitigate the ability of citizens to openly express their political views, as it could potentially lead to their prosecution under the law. The contrasting opinions of government officials, civilians, and external entities indicate that the policy is creating political tensions in the region that may soon need to be addressed. 

Emma Fulton is from Houston, TX, studying Public Policy

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