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Hong Kong (CNN)Forty days after the Chinese government said it would pass a national security law for Hong Kong, that legislation is now in force, with potentially massive ramifications for the city's political freedoms.

It was drafted almost entirely in secret, via closed-door meetings in Beijing that even Hong Kong's leader, Carrie Lam, was not a part of.
Even hours after its reported passage by China's National People's Congress Tuesday, all but a tiny handful of Hong Kongers still had no idea what the law contained. Promulgated in Hong Kong late Tuesday night, bypassing the local legislature, the law criminalizes "acts of secession, subversion of state power, terrorist activities, and collusion with foreign or external forces to endanger national security."
    While officials had earlier suggested penalties under the law would be softer than they are in China, the maximum sentence given for each of those four main crimes -- secession, subversion, terrorism, and collusion with foreign forces -- is life imprisonment. Right to a trial by jury can be suspended in certain circumstances, cases can be heard in secret, and foreign residents in Hong Kong can be expelled if suspected of violating the law, regardless of conviction. The national security law trumps any existing Hong Kong laws, should there be a conflict. Read MoreThe law also extends Beijing's direct control over the city, establishing a new committee for national security that will include a Beijing-appointed adviser, and an "Office for Safeguarding National Security," directly under the Beijing government, which has broad powers to prosecute Hong Kongers deemed to have committed particularly egregious offenses. Hong Kong and Beijing officials have argued the law is necessary and overdue, and promised it will only affect a tiny minority of Hong Kongers, while returning "stability and prosperity" to the city. "The national security law is a crucial step to ending chaos and violence that has occurred over the past few months," Lam, the city's chief executive, said Wednesday. "It's a law that has been introduced to keep Hong Kong safe. The legislation is lawful, constitutional and reasonable." Hong Kong's Chief Executive Carrie Lam (C) speaks to guests following a flag-raising ceremony to mark China's National Day celebrations early morning in Hong Kong on July 1, 2020.Chilling effectBefore it was even in force, the law had begun to have a chilling effect, with multiple political parties disbanding, shops removing anti-government paraphenalia, and people deleting social media accounts and old posts. That will likely accelerate, as the offenses under the law are broad and far-reaching, with no certainty of just what actions will be deemed illegal until prosecutions are brought. For instance, the offense of inciting, assisting or abetting secession could cover most statements related to Hong Kong independence. At recent rallies, protesters could regularly be heard chanting this was "the only way out," and waving flags promoting separatism. The minimum punishment for such crimes is five-years in prison.Subversion and terrorism are also defined particularly widely, with the latter including "dangerous activities which seriously jeopardize public health, safety or security" for the purpose of "intimidating the public in order to pursue political agenda." If applied broadly, this could reclassify anti-government protests like the city saw last year -- which often turned violent, with clashes between protesters and police, and vandalism of public property -- as terrorism, exactly how the protests were often described in Chinese state media. The maximum punishment for serious terrorist offenses is life in prison, with a minimum sentence of 10 years. Those found guilty of related, less serious offenses can face a minimum of five years in prison.Foreigners threatenedWhile the greatest impact of the law will be on Hong Kongers, it also includes multiple provisions that could affect how foreign entities, in particular media and NGOs, operate in the city. The law states that anyone who "directly or indirectly receives instructions, control, funding or other kinds of support from a foreign country or an institution, organization or individual" could be guilty of an offense if they are pursuing certain actions deemed hostile to national security. Those include lobbying for sanctions against Hong Kong or Chinese officials -- such as those recently imposed by Washington over this very legislation -- "undermining" elections in Hong Kong, "seriously disrupting the formulation and implementation of laws or policies" in the city, or "provoking by unlawful means hatred among Hong Kong residents towards the Central People's Government." In China, people have been prosecuted for leaking "state secrets" to overseas media, governments and organizations, something the new Hong Kong law also criminalizes, potentially making it far harder for foreign journalists and NGOs to operate in the city. One of the duties of the Office for Safeguarding National Security, which reports directly to Beijing, will also be the "management of (the) organs of foreign countries and international organizations in (Hong Kong), as well as non-governmental organisations and news agencies of foreign countries." At present, Hong Kong has a generous visa policy for journalists, who are classed as regular foreign workers and not subject to the more strict regulation seen in China. It is also easy for NGOs to operate in Hong Kong, with human rights organizations, labor groups, and press freedom groups that struggle to operate in China using the city as a base. Non-permanent residents in Hong Kong can be expelled from the city, regardless of whether they are convicted, if suspected of contravening the law. The Chinese (front) and Hong Kong flags are released during a flag-raising ceremony to mark China's National Day celebrations early morning in Hong Kong on July 1, 2020.Judicial changes One of the biggest controversies leading up to the passage of the law was the creation of a new panel of judges dedicated to national security cases, who will be appointed by the Chief Executive directly. Legal analysts have warned that this could undermine judicial independence, as it enables the government to pick judges that are potentially sympathetic to particular issues. "A person shall not be designated as a judge to adjudicate a case concerning offense endangering national security if he or she has made any statement or behaved in any manner endangering national security," the law states.It adds that jury trials can be suspended when deemed necessary, with cases instead heard by a panel of judges. Beyond this, certain cases can also be handed directly over to the Chinese authorities for prosecution, with the Office for Safeguarding National Security taking the lead, applying Chinese law and legal standards. The office "shall initiate investigation into the case, the Supreme People's Procuratorate shall designate a prosecuting body to prosecute it, and the Supreme People's Court shall designate a court to adjudicate it," the law states. When exercising this power, members of the Office "shall not be subject to the jurisdiction of the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region," and police in the city are obliged to assist in their duties and prevent anyone obstructing them. It is unclear whether such cases will be transferred to the mainland, or if they will be processed in Hong Kong by Chinese prosecutors. The suggestion of extradition to China is what kicked off last year's massive anti-government protests.China has a notoriously high conviction rate, especially in national security cases, and is regularly criticized for politicized prosecutions in which defendants are denied access to lawyers. What comes next?For weeks now, Hong Kong officials and the central government in Beijing have been reassuring members of the public that the law will be applied selectively, and only affect a tiny number of people. Following its passage Tuesday, a Hong Kong government spokesman reiterated that the law "targets an extremely small minority of offenders while the life and property as well as various legitimate basic rights and freedoms enjoyed by the overwhelming majority of citizens will be protected." "There is nothing for Hong Kong citizens to worry about in exercising these legitimate rights," he added.
      Whether this is true remains to be seen, and may not be known for months, until the first prosecutions under the law are brought. But the chilling effect already seen this week suggests the repercussions of the law will ripple out well beyond individual cases. Hong Kong has long been known as a "city of protest," with a vibrant opposition movement, unshackled media and dynamic public discourse. The national security law would appear to take aim at all of this, and could reshape the city forever.

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      Chinese Diplomat Derides UK's Move to Offer HK Citizenship

      By DANICA KIRKA and KELVIN CHAN, Associated Press

      LONDON (AP) — The Chinese ambassador to Britain accused Prime Minister Boris Johnson on Monday of meddling in China's affairs by offering citizenship to 3 million people from Hong Kong following the imposition of a national security law.

      Ambassador Liu Xiaoming defended his country’s new national security law against accusations it's aimed at eroding Hong Kong's considerable autonomy and curbing dissent. Liu pointed out that the U.K. handed control of the city that was a British colony for more than a century back to Beijing in 1997.

      “This move constitutes a gross interference in China’s internal affairs and openly tramples on the basic norms governing international relations,’’ the ambassador said of the British citizenship offer, adding that the Chinese side has expressed “its great concern and strong opposition.’’

      Johnson introduced the new visa and citizenship route for certain Hong Kong residents last week after deciding China had committed a “clear and serious breach” of the Sino-British Joint Declaration that set out the transition when Hong Kong was returned to China.

      Johnson's Downing Street office also urged China not to interfere if Hong Kong residents who are eligible to reside and seek citizenship in the U.K. want to come and said the government was “also reviewing extradition arrangements with Hong Kong.''

      The conflict over Britain’s response to developments in Hong Kong has soured relations with China, the world’s second-largest economy, at a time when Johnson’s government wants new trading relationships following the U.K.'s exit from the European Union.

      The national security law China imposed last week makes secessionist, subversive, or terrorist activities illegal, as well as foreign intervention in the city’s internal affairs. Activities such as shouting slogans or holding up banners and flags calling for the city’s independence are violations of the law regardless of whether violence is used.

      China argues the measure was needed to quell lawlessness and rioting. But there are signs the law is chilling free speech in Hong Kong after the city’s public libraries pulled books written by pro-democracy figures from shelves. Authorities said the books were being reviewed in light of the new legislation.

      When a reporter asked China's envoy to Britain during a news conference Monday about books being removed, Liu replied that it “depends on what the book is about.″

      If a book aims to incite secession or subversion, “you know that will be tantamount to a kind of crime,″ he said.

      During his news conference, Liu also needled British officials about reconsidering their decision to grant Chinese tech giant Huawei a limited role supplying new high-speed network equipment to wireless carriers. Britain is reportedly poised to backtrack on the initial approval following U.S. government warnings that it would sever an intelligence-sharing arrangement if the U.K. did not ban Huawei.

      Liu said that “Britain can only be great’’ when it has an independent foreign policy and that it sets a bad precedent to “make your policy in the morning and change it in evening.’’ He said that while he believed Huawei would simply do business elsewhere, other Chinese companies might think twice about investment into the U.K.

      “It also sends out a very bad message to the China business community,’’ he said. “They are all watching how you handle Huawei.’’

      Adding to Sino-British tensions, British regulators are weighing a punishment for China’s state broadcaster. CGTN, after upholding a complaint that it broke broadcasting rules by airing a forced confession from Peter Humphrey, a British corporate investigator imprisoned for two years in China.

      The U.K.'s broadcasting watchdog, Ofcom, said Monday that CGTN committed a “serious” breach of broadcasting rules when it aired two programs with the footage and is putting the channel “on notice” that it plans to impose sanctions, which could include a big fine or revoking its broadcast license.

      The tension comes four years after President Xi Jinping visited the U.K. to cement deals that would give Britain a vast new pool of investment and China greater access to European markets. Xi was welcomed as an honored guest at Buckingham Palace and Parliament even as critics warned that Britain was taking a risk by courting Beijing so aggressively.

      Liu said that the “golden era'' of U.K.-China relations was proposed by the British side and that China agreed because to the description as it was in the interest of both countries. But he said that a country cannot want a golden era and then “treat China as an enemy.''

      “We want to be your friend. We want to be your partner,'' he said. “But if you want to make China a hostile country, you have to bear the consequences.''

      Copyright 2020 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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