Lam: HK security law does not spell doom and gloom

Issuing rear view glasses for everyone so they can see who is about to grab them up for breaking up society…

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HONG KONG • Hong Kong’s national security law does not spell “doom and gloom”, its leader Carrie Lam said yesterday, as she tried to calm unease over legislation that critics say could quash freedoms that have underpinned the city’s success as a financial hub.

The sweeping legislation that Beijing imposed on the former British colony punishes what China defines as secession, subversion, terrorism and collusion with foreign forces, with up to life in prison.

It came into force at the same time it was made public, just before midnight on June 30, with police arresting more than 300 people in protests the next day – about 10 of them, including a 15-year-old, for suspected violations of it.

“Surely, this is not doom and gloom for Hong Kong,” Mrs Lam, the city’s Beijing-backed Chief Executive, told a weekly news conference. “I’m sure, with the passage of time… confidence will grow in ‘one country, two systems’ and in Hong Kong’s future.”

The legislation has been criticised by democracy activists and Western governments for undermining freedoms guaranteed under the “one country, two systems” formula agreed when Hong Kong returned to Chinese rule in 1997.

Hong Kong and Chinese officials say the law, which gives mainland security agencies an enforcement presence in the city for the first time, is vital to plug holes in national security defences, exposed by the city’s failure to pass such legislation as required under the Basic Law, its mini-Constitution.

Mrs Lam said cases involving the new mainland agents would be “rare”, but nevertheless, national security was a “red line” that should not be crossed.

The law was not harsh when compared with that of other countries, she said. “It is a rather mild law. Its scope is not as broad as that in other countries and even China.”

Critics say the aim of the legislation is to stamp out a pro-democracy movement that brought months of protests, at times violent, to the city last year.

Late on Monday, Hong Kong released details of how the law would be implemented, outlining police powers over the Internet, including the ability to ask publishers to remove information deemed a threat to national security.

Internet firms and their staff face fines and up to one year in jail, if they do not comply and police can seize their equipment. The companies are also expected to provide identification records and decryption assistance.

But Mrs Lam said she had not noticed widespread fears and the law would restore the city’s status as one of the safest in the world after last year’s violent pro-democracy protests. Despite her assurances, the law has had a chilling effect.

“If Hong Kong police and the government do not get information from Facebook, they may have other means,” said 45-year-old playwright Yan Pat-To.

“The fear has spread over freedom of expression.”

Shortly after the law came into force, pro-democracy activists disbanded their organisations.

Many shops have removed protest-related products and decorations, and public libraries have removed some books seen as supportive of the democracy movement.

Protesters have quickly learnt that actions that were not worthy of police attention a little more than a week ago could now warrant an arrest, a DNA sample and search of their home.

Ms Janet Pang, a lawyer for several protesters arrested for acts of inciting or abetting subversion or secession, said she believes it is the first time genetic data has been taken from protesters arrested for minor offences.

“It is unnecessary, intrusive and disproportionate,” she said. “I don’t know why they had to take DNA samples. We don’t know what kind of database they’re trying to build which might be sent back to the central government in Beijing.”

Police said the samples were to prove – or disprove – that those held had committed the offences.

The final power of interpretation of the law lies with the authorities in mainland China, where human rights groups have reported arbitrary detentions and disappearances. China has been clamping down on dissent and tightening censorship.

Mrs Lam, asked about media freedom, said if reporters could guarantee they would not breach the new law, she could guarantee they would be allowed to report freely.

“Ultimately, time and facts will tell that this law will not undermine human rights and freedoms,” she said.

REUTERS, BLOOMBERG

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