Dear Hong Kongers,
We showed the world how adaptable we are when we immediately started to wear mask every day and avoided crowds before Coronavirus officially became a pandemic. However, regardless of how adaptable we all are, there is one thing we must not get used to, and that is the loss of our freedom of speech, freedom of assembly and freedom of thought.
It is extremely upsetting to witness how fast Hong Kong has gone downhill in the past month. First, the Hong Kong government conspired with the Pro-Establishment camp to adopt tactics used in the Cultural Revolution. They heavily denounced the Hong Kong Examinations and Assessment Authority for its History exam question, and then they targeted RTHK for its “Headliner” program in a further bid to restrict freedom of speech. The government also forbade Hong Kong Alliance in Support of Patriotic Democratic Movements of China from holding its annual June 4th vigil, thereby taking away Hong Kongers’ freedom of assembly. All of these incidents happened in a matter of 2 weeks.
Hong Kong’s human rights and freedoms have been gradually declining in the past years, dropping to a level not far ahead from Mainland cities. Yet, the Chinese government is still not satisfied, they recently announced they would introduce a new national security law that would bypass Hong Kong’s legislature. Hong Kongers have no say at all regarding the kinds of behaviours that would be count as crimes, the law enforcement methods, the penalties etc. There will not even be a consultation because the Communist Party has the final say.
As the only common law jurisdiction within China, the Legislative Council is vested with the power to enact, amend and repeal laws, and judicial decisions are made by independent courts. The Chinese government’s move to bypass local legislature, ignore public consultation practices, and directly impose national security law in Hong Kong has left many to wonder whether Beijing is in fact pressurizing Hong Kongers not to say no to the Communist Party. This would also mean our judiciary will be obliged to handle many more unjust political prosecution cases. In addition, due to the fact that this law will not be considered by the Legislative Council, the judge will have no means and no power to explain the law when delivering the judgements.
When Mainland passed its national security law in 2015, then Secretary for Justice Rimsky Yuen reassured Hong Kongers that the national security bill would “not apply to Hong Kong”, and that it would “not be incorporated into Annex III of the Basic Law”. He also said such move was made “out of respect towards ‘One Country, Two Systems’” because we have Article 23, which clearly stipulates that Hong Kong “shall enact laws on its own to prohibit any act of treason, secession, sedition, subversion against the Central People’s Government”.
Who could have envisioned that the government would go back on their word in just 5 year’s time? Current Secretary for Justice Teresa Cheng even had the audacity to conclude that the National People’s Congress Standing Committee’s addition of national security law to Annex III of the Basic Law “is in compliance with Article 18(3) and is not in any way in conflict with Article 23 of the Basic Law”.
When the government can easily backtrack on their words made 5 years ago, how can they give Hong Kongers the confidence that they will not break the promises they made today? The government said that the national security law will only “target a handful of lawbreakers”, and that “the rights and freedoms enjoyed by the people will continue to be there”, but given the government’s track record, it is totally possible that the government will take back their promise in less than 5 year’s time, those of us who have fought for democracy and freedoms could all be jailed by then.
(The stock market plunged the day Beijing announced its plan to impose the national security law. The Hang Seng index recorded its worst one-day performance in nearly 5 years; immigration consultants also reportedly received a sharp increase in enquiries.) Many Hong Kongers cannot help but wonder: what will happen to Hong Kong in the future when the national security law is enacted? Will democrats be considered as “soliciting foreign interference” and thereby breaking the law if they speak about Hong Kong’s human rights at the United Nations? Will Hong Kongers who signed a petition calling for the United States’ attention to Hong Kong’s freedoms be considered as lawbreakers? Will the Hong Kong Alliance in Support of Patriotic Democratic Movements of China be immediately disbanded, and participating June 4th candlelight vigil be considered as “subversion against the Central People’s Government”? Will calls for Carrie Lam to step down be interpreted as a threat to the Hong Kong government, thereby considered as “subversion” as well?
Law enforcement is another matter of concern. In the past year, we have witnessed the lengths police would go to maintain the status quo during the Anti-Extradition movement. The way they repeatedly used excessive force to beat up protesters is comparable to the level of brutality of China’s state security agents. If the police are tasked with enforcing the national security law in the future, I can only foresee them further abusing their power and becoming even more violent.
Furthermore, the national security law will also allow Beijing to establish “enforcement mechanisms” in Hong Kong to safeguard national security. This is paving the way for cross-border law enforcement, which will no doubt create an opening in our “One Country, Two Systems”. The Liaison Office is already notorious for constantly interfering with Hong Kong’s internal affairs, including Legislative Council elections, another office in Hong Kong in the form of an enforcement mechanism will only enjoy even more power. If cross-border law enforcement is allowed under the law, they will bring in Mainland’s twisted understanding of rule of law and their infamous law enforcement ways to Hong Kong. This will pose a serious threat to Hong Kong’s rights and freedoms.
Nevertheless, I take comfort knowing that huge numbers of Hong Kongers with conscience fearlessly stood up against the authoritarian regime in the past year. I know the road ahead will only be even more challenging, but I urge you all not to give up in the face of adversity. The harder the regime tries to stop us from speaking up, the louder we must be to make sure our voices are heard. We must not give up our next generation’s freedom, not now, not ever.