New offenses covered by the proposed laws will include treason, insurrection and espionage.
The Hong Kong government said it had started work on new national security laws and intended to pass them soon, four years after China imposed sweeping legislation following massive demonstrations in favor of democracy.
John Lee, chief executive of the semi-autonomous city, said On Tuesday, although Hong Kong “as a whole appears calm and very safe,” there was still reason to be wary of “potential sabotage and undercurrents that attempt to create unrest, particularly some of Hong Kong’s independent ideas that are still anchored in the minds of certain people. spirits.”
“We cannot afford to wait. We have been waiting for 26 years. We should not wait any longer,” Lee told a news conference, describing it as a constitutional responsibility of the city dating back to its 1997 handover to China from British colonial rule.
Authorities have announced a public consultation period on the new law which will begin on Tuesday and end on February 28.
The security law – imposed by Article 23 of the city’s mini-constitution – will cover five additional crimes: treason, insurrection, espionage, destructive activities endangering national security and external interference. Stricter control of foreign political organizations linked to the city is also recommended.
The mini-constitution, the Basic Law, calls on the city to enact a national security law. But that project was delayed for decades due to widespread public opposition, fearing it would erode civil liberties. In 2003, an attempt to pass a version of the law sparked street protests that attracted half a million people, and the legislation was abandoned.
In 2019, major demonstrations in favor of democracy shook the citybringing hundreds of thousands of people to the streets to demand more freedoms.
In response, Beijing imposed a national security law to punish four major crimes – secession, subversion, terrorism and collusion with foreign forces – with sentences of up to life in prison. More than 30 people have been convicted under the law, while dozens have been in pretrial detention for more than two years.
A 110-page consultation document to be submitted to the Legislative Council cites similar laws in Britain, the United States, Australia, Canada, New Zealand and Singapore.
The document says Hong Kong is increasingly threatened by foreign espionage and intelligence operations, and cites months of pro-democracy protests in 2019.
Lee said he expected to be “bashing” the new laws, but insisted that would dissipate soon. “When people see that this law will bring security and stability, they will love it,” he said.
Freedoms would be safeguarded and laws would conform to international standards, he said. “I must emphasize that the legislation relating to Article 23 of the Basic Law must be adopted… as soon as possible,” he added.
Al Jazeera’s Patrick Fok, reporting from Hong Kong, said it seemed “very unlikely” that there would be demonstrations similar to those of 2019 in opposition to the proposed new laws.
“Pro-democracy lawmakers in particular are now excluded from government. Many of them were exiled and arrested. It’s a very different political climate that we’re talking about here in 2024,” he said.
A previous attempt by the government to pass Article 23 laws was abandoned after around 500,000 people staged a peaceful protest in 2003, forcing the resignation of the security minister.