Article 23 of Hong Kong's Basic Law

  Articoli (Articles)
  Flora Stanziola
  26 March 2024
  5 minutes, 9 seconds

After the failure of the protests in 2019, Hong Kong was never the same again: what was considered one of the freest cities in Asia fell under very heavy authoritarianism, the protests resulted in violent crackdowns followed by the introduction in May 2020 of the resolution empowering the National People's Congress of China to draft a National Security Law for Hong Kong. This law aims to 'prevent, stop and punish any act that endangers national security such as separatism, subversion of state power, terrorism or activities of foreign forces interfering in the affairs of Hong Kong' by restricting freedoms and turning Hong Kong into an authoritarian city.
On 19 March 2024, this law was expanded by the Hong Kong legislature, which unanimously passed the 'Safeguarding National Security' measure known as Article 23 because it was adopted on the basis of this article of Hong Kong's constitutional charter (the Basic Law).
The measure was passed and debated in just 11 days at the behest of the city's leader John Lee, resulting in a further alignment with policies used in Mainland China.
Despite its colonial past, Hong Kong has always enjoyed considerable economic prosperity. As the People's Republic of China experienced the economic policies of the Communist regime, Hong Kong became one of the most prosperous trading cities in the world, under British leadership, thousands fled China in search of greater fortune in Hong Kong.

One country, two systems

In 1997, a new phase began for Hong Kong Island, by virtue of the agreements resulting from the Opium Wars and following the protocol signed by the British government in 1984, Hong Kong was to return to the hands of Beijing, at the end of 99 years from the cession of the New Territories.
The agreement was that China would retain Hong Kong's freedoms for at least 50 years and grant universal suffrage to its citizens. This compromise was and is recognised by the Basic Law, the constitution introduced in 1997 that granted the region a high degree of autonomy through the 'one country, two systems' model. This would have guaranteed the region to keep its political and economic system separate from Beijing's until 2047.

Residents were granted freedoms and civil rights that were denied to the Chinese on the mainland and over the years Hong Kong continued to be a prosperous and relatively free city with freedom of expression, press, protest, and judicial independence.
However, beginning in 2013 with the rise of Xi Jinping in China, freedoms in Hong Kong began to diminish and policies to assimilate to the so-called Chinese model through increased authoritarianism and nationalism were initiated, particularly with the rise of pro-democracy protests and the partly violent occupation by a group of radical protesters of the local parliament on 1 July 2019, the Chinese regime began to view protesters as a serious threat. In 2020, Beijing deemed it necessary to impose its own rules on internal security legislation, thus assuming new powers over Hong Kong by bypassing the local legislature.

Challenges to democracy

The COVID-19 pandemic allowed the Beijing government to push for the imposition of new control measures and the Hong Kong government began consultation on the constitutional revision of Article 23 by passing the new bill on 19 March this year.

The new National Security Preservation Act that officially came into effect on 23 March was proposed after months of protests against the Beijing government and China's increasing involvement in Hong Kong's internal affairs. Hong Kong leader John Lee, in his first year in office, received a great deal of support from Beijing saying that this is a historic moment for the region as the new law aims to address the growing political instability in Hong Kong by prosecuting in addition to the four offences imposed by Chinese law in 2020 the additional seven established by the revised Article 23.

The new national security legislation covers a range of new crimes including treason, espionage, foreign interference and illegal handling of state secrets, with the most serious crimes punishable up to life imprisonment.
The passing of this law deeply shocked the international community and triggered protests around the world, also affecting the economic future of the region.
The new legislation was also strongly criticised by the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights as well as the British Foreign Secretary. The law has several ambiguities in terms of the definitions of crimes, which could allow arbitrary interpretation and excessive use of powers by the authorities. For instance, the concept of 'subversion', 'separatism' or 'terrorism' could be interpreted very broadly, allowing the authorities to prosecute even legitimate activities. Furthermore, the introduction of sentences of up to life imprisonment for crimes such as treason and insurrection, together with heavy penalties for espionage and sabotage, raises concerns about the proportionality of punishments and the limitation of legal rights and procedural guarantees. Even owning a book that is critical of the Chinese government may violate national security.However, leader John Lee believes that such provisions are necessary to protect against potential sabotage by currents for an independent Hong Kong.

The law's vague provisions could lead to the criminalisation of conduct protected by international human rights treaties, further restricting civil liberties: freedom of expression, the press, association, and peaceful demonstration as highlighted by the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights.
A further threat to democracy is the impact this law has on Hong Kong's judicial independence and political and administrative autonomy. Indeed, the law provides for the creation of a national security bureau that would allow Beijing to intervene in national security cases, compromising the independence and impartiality of judicial decisions.
The bill could represent a further curtailment of Hong Kong's autonomy guaranteed until 2047, undermining the 'one country, two systems' principle agreed upon when Hong Kong returned to China in 1997.

Mondo Internazionale APS - Reproduction Reserved ® 2024

Translated by Flora Stanziola

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Flora Stanziola

Autrice da giugno 2022 per Mondo Internazionale Post. Originaria dell'Isola d'Ischia e appassionata di lingue e culture straniere ha conseguito nel 2018 il titolo di Dott.ssa in Discipline per la Mediazione linguistica e culturale. Dopo alcune esperienze all'estero e nel settore turistico, nel 2020 ha intrapreso la strada delle relazioni internazionali iscrivendosi al corso di laurea magistrale in Politiche per la Cooperazione Internazionale allo Sviluppo, appassionandosi alle tematiche relative alla tutela dei diritti umani. Recentemente ha concluso il suo percorso di studi con la tesi dal titolo: "L'Uganda contemporaneo: dalle violenze ai processi di sviluppo".


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