Home / World / Hong Kong was once a home for Beijing critics. Now they may not even be safe at the airport

Hong Kong was once a home for Beijing critics. Now they may not even be safe at the airport

Now he says he would not even move through Hong Kong airport for fear of being arrested under the city’s new national security legislation.

That’s because the legislation, which went into effect late Tuesday, not only squeeze the liberties at home. It also puts foreign nationals who criticize the Chinese government anywhere in the world at risk of imprisonment if they even take their foot in the city – even if they only pass through the airport.

“It is truly disturbing and frightening, not only for Hong Kong residents but anyone who cares about human rights in Hong Kong and human rights in China in general,” Badiucao said from her home in Melbourne, Australia.

For decades ̵

1; first under British colonial rule and then after surrendering to China – Hong Kong has offered legal protection from the mainland Communist Party. Chinese dissents, Western academics and global NGOs used Hong Kong as a safe space to meet, organize and criticize Beijing, mostly without consequence.

Whether it can continue to serve that function is now in doubt.

“There are crimes covered by this law that are just about numbers and therefore there is a chance that your speech outside the country will put you at risk if you enter jurisdictions,” said Jeremy Daum, senior at Yale Law Paul Tsai Center.

“Hong Kong used to be a safe space. It is no longer a safe space.”

§ 38

On Wednesday, Hong Kong’s top official, CEO Carrie Lam, defended the new law, describing it as a “crucial step to stop the chaos and violence that has occurred in recent months” in the city.

The legislation was introduced by the central Chinese government in response to demonstrations in democracy that rocked Hong Kong last year. Beijing saw the protests as a direct challenge to the ruling Communist Party and blamed them on “foreign forces.”

The law introduces four new crimes: privacy, subversion, terrorist activity and cooperation with a foreign country, which provides maximum punishment for life in prison.

It mainly focuses on stopping local dissent. Yet section 38 has caught the eye of legal experts globally.

“This Act shall apply to offenses under this Act committed against the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region outside the Region by a person who is not a permanent resident of the Region,” is the unofficial translation of Section 38 of the state news agency Xinhua.

The protest leader in Hong Kong flees when the government warns to

In short, even non-Chinese citizens living outside Hong Kong may fall under the new legislation.

China has a similar law, section 8 of the Criminal Code, but it can only be applied if the crime is punishable in both China and the foreign country – which means that speaking out against the Communist Party would probably not be covered.

But section 38 of the Hong Kong National Security Act has no such exception. The act committed abroad must only be considered a crime in Hong Kong.

The law is not retroactive, which means that everything that is said or done before 1 July 2020 will not be taken into account. But for artists like Badiucao, who do not intend to stop criticizing governments in their work or showing past political art, the law could apply as soon as he set foot in Hong Kong – even though he is now an Australian citizen.

Nor are dissidents the only ones worried because Western academics may be thinking about their trip to Hong Kong. Maggie Lewis, an expert on modern Chinese law at Seton Hall University, said she would now consider the risk differently each time she traveled in the city.

“If you don’t think through what you did outside of Hong Kong before coming to Hong Kong, I don’t think you’re going through the necessary thought process to be careful,” she said.

Marco Rubio, an American Republican senator and frequent critic of China, went one step further on Wednesday, warning American citizens of traveling to the city. “All Americans who now travel to #HongKong for business or pleasure,” he wrote on Twitter.

cooling Effect

Hong Kong has long been home to events that could never be held in mainland China, including the annual Tiananmen Square 1989 massacre.

But even before the new legislation, critics of the Chinese government had found it difficult to cast their votes in the city. In October 2018, a Financial Times journalist’s work visa was controversially denied after he helped organize a conversation with the leader of a pro-independent group.
A month later, dissident Chinese author Ma Jian had abruptly canceled an incident in a private space in Hong Kong without explanation. Badiucao’s art exhibition in the city was interrupted by “security problems.”

Now, according to the new Security Act, experts fear that such moves may increase – especially if strong critics of the Communist Party feel they cannot return.

Zhou Fengsuo, a survivor of the mass in Tiananmen Square and President of Humanitarian China, previously attended Hong Kong’s June 4 memorial. He also participated in the umbrella revolution in 2014, when pro-democracy protesters took over the streets for months.

Now he feels that it is probably no longer safe to return, despite being an American citizen – and he is worried that Tiananmen Square will no longer be viable in the future.

Yales Daum said section 38 of the law was specifically designed to target academics, NGOs and international dissidents who had previously used Hong Kong as a way into China.

“You can see throughout the law that the concern is that Hong Kong is being used as a beachhead to pose a security risk to the mainland,” he said.

Zhou agreed: “I think most dissidents and artists, academics will be reluctant to go to Hong Kong, our motivated fear of the National Security Act.”

Blurred red line

Many law experts and dissidents agree that it is still unclear how worried critics traveling through Hong Kong should be, or exactly how the Chinese government intends to use the law.

As with many of Beijing’s national security legislation, Hong Kong law is written broad enough to be used as required by the Communist Party leadership.

Lewis from Seton Hall said that the Chinese government can quickly use it to seize some big names, scare smaller players into submission or quietly keep it in reserve.

“It’s another arrow in Beijing’s foxes to arrest people that Beijing has decided to break the law and that the law is interpreted broadly,” Lewis said.

Badiucao said the vague wording of the law was a deliberate move by the Chinese government.

“When you don’t know where the red line is … they can extend their power the way they want,” he said.

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