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Hong Kong Grapples With Security Law   07/07 06:16

   

   HONG KONG (AP) -- Hong Kong's leader Carrie Lam offered scant reassurance 
Tuesday over a new national security law that critics say undermines liberties 
and legal protections promised when China took control of the former British 
colony.

   A year ago, Hong Kong residents felt secure enough in their freedoms under 
the territory's "one-country, two-systems" regime to bring their children to 
mass protests. Now, after the June 30 implementation of the security law, some 
are worrying they might be punished for what they post on Facebook Twitter or 
even TikTok.

   Short-form video app TikTok, which has sought to distance itself from its 
Chinese roots -- it is owned by Chinese internet giant ByteDance -- said 
Tuesday it will stop operations in the city "in light of recent events."

   Hong Kong was promised 50 years of semi-autonomy after the July 1, 1997, 
handover. That allowed the city's 7 million residents to keep a free press and 
other freedoms forbidden in the communist-ruled mainland.

   Many of Hong Kong's older generations fled political upheaval on the Chinese 
mainland. Younger Hong Kongers grew up expecting to achieve more democracy in 
their lifetimes. All are struggling to understand the implications of the new 
law, which prohibits what Beijing views as secessionist, subversive or 
terrorist activities or as foreign intervention in the city's internal affairs.

   "I didn't have a strong view against formalizing a national security law but 
the way it was implemented is intrusive and disrespectful," said Jen Au, who 
works in the banking industry. "It's basically just bullying. Hong Kong has 
come a long way in the last 20 years to warm up to China and this really just 
backfired."

   Lam, the city's Beijing-backed chief executive, said Tuesday the work of the 
Committee for Safeguarding National Security she chairs, which oversees 
enforcement of the law, will not be made public. So implementation rules giving 
police sweeping powers to enforce the law won't be subject to judicial review.

   Asked if she could guarantee that media can still report freely in Hong Kong 
without facing censorship, Lam said, "If the Foreign Correspondents Club or all 
reporters in Hong Kong can give me a 100% guarantee that they will not commit 
any offences under this national legislation, then I can do the same."

   Hong Kong was convulsed with massive, sometimes violent anti-government 
demonstrations for much of last year.

   Initially, the protests were against extradition legislation, since 
withdrawn, that might have led to some suspects facing trial in mainland 
Chinese courts. But the protests expanded to encompass calls for greater 
democracy and more police accountability.

   Critics see the security law as Beijing's boldest move yet to erase the 
divide between Hong Kong's Western-style system and the mainland's 
authoritarian way of governing.

   The new law criminalizes some pro-democracy slogans like the widely used 
"Liberate Hong Kong, revolution of our time," which the Hong Kong government 
says has separatist connotations.

   Under the new law police can order social media platforms, publishers and 
internet service providers to remove any electronic message published that is 
"likely to constitute an offence endangering national security or is likely to 
cause the occurrence of an offence endangering national security."

   Service providers failing to comply could face fines of up to 100,000 Hong 
Kong dollars ($12,903) and jail terms of up to six months.

   Individuals who post such messages may also be asked to remove the message, 
or face similar fines and a jail term of one year.

   Carine Lo said such rules scare her.

   "From now on, whatever public events you take part in, or whatever you say 
online, you could end up doing something against this law," the 21-year-old 
said. "So for us, I feel scared. Probably I'll have to be more careful about 
what I say online, and I will watch out if people around me may snitch on me."

   Under the new law, the Hong Kong chief executive can authorize police to 
intercept communications and conduct surveillance to "prevent and detect 
offences endangering national security."

   Police can conduct searches for evidence without a warrant in "exceptional 
circumstances" and seek warrants requiring people suspected of violating the 
national security law to surrender their travel documents, preventing them from 
leaving Hong Kong.

   Such vague provisions are worrisome, said Alex Tsui, a woman in her 20s.

   "They should tell us Hong Kong citizens exactly in what kind of situations, 
they have what kind of rights or powers," Tsui said. "They can't just choose 
any time to say, you look suspicious, or accuse you of anything, and then come 
in to search for evidence, I think it's completely unfair. It definitely is not 
going to help uphold justice."

   U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo described as "Orwellian" changes such as 
the removal of books critical of the Chinese Communist Party from library 
shelves, a ban on political slogans deemed to be subversive and a requirement 
that schools enforce censorship.

   "Until now, Hong Kong flourished because it allowed free thinking and free 
speech, under an independent rule of law. No more," Pompeo said in a statement.

   Hong Kong authorities moved quickly to implement the law after it took 
effect on June 30, with police arresting about 370 people.

   Social media platforms, shut out of the mainland by China's "Great 
Firewall," have yet to be blocked in Hong Kong. But users have begun scrubbing 
their accounts and deleting pro-democracy posts out of fear of retribution. 
Many shops and stores that publicly stood in solidarity with protesters have 
removed the pro-democracy sticky notes and artwork that had adorned their walls.

   Many experts say they doubt the new law will have a big effect on companies 
that already operate in both Hong Kong and the mainland.

   But big social media companies have announced they are assessing the law. 
Apart from TikTok, Facebook and its messaging app WhatsApp, Google and Twitter 
announced they are freezing reviews of government requests for user data in 
Hong Kong.

   Telegram, whose platform has been used widely to spread pro-democracy 
messages and information about the protests, said it has not shared data with 
the Hong Kong authorities.

 
 
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