New Hong Kong security law 'to target small minority'

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Leader Carrie Lam says it won't undermine autonomy as activist Joshua Wong's Demosisto group says it will dissolve

GENEVA: Hong Kong leader Carrie Lam told the main United Nations human rights forum yesterday that China's national security legislation for Hong Kong would fill a "gaping hole" and would not undermine its autonomy.

President Xi Jinping signed the law after China's Parliament passed it, state media reported yesterday. Mrs Lam said the law was scheduled to come into effect late yesterday.

The law sets the stage for the most radical changes to the former British colony's way of life since it returned to Chinese rule 23 years ago.

Mrs Lam, in a video to the Human Rights Council in Geneva, said that legislation to safeguard national security was "urgently needed" for the sake of 7.5 million Hong Kong residents, but also the 1.4 billion people on the mainland.

Hong Kong had been "traumatised by escalating violence fanned by external forces", she said, adding: "No central government could turn a blind eye to such threats to sovereignty and national security as well as risks of subversion of state power."

These acts had crossed the "one country red line and called for resolute action", Ms Lam said, adding that the new legislation would be applied "in accordance with the Basic Law", Hong Kong's mini-Constitution.

She noted that the Basic Law - which enshrines the principle of "one country, two systems" to govern Hong Kong - protects freedoms of speech, assembly and the press.

"In short, the legislation will not undermine 'one country, two systems' and Hong Kong's high degree of autonomy," Mrs Lam said.

She said that except for "rare specified situations", Hong Kong would exercise jurisdiction over offences under the law which would not affect Hong Kong's "renowned judicial independence".

"We will only target an extremely small minority of people who have breached the law, while the life and property, basic rights and freedoms of the overwhelming majority of Hong Kong residents will be protected," she said.

Amid fears the legislation will crush the global financial hub's freedoms, and reports that the heaviest penalty under it would be life imprisonment, pro-democracy activist Joshua Wong's Demosisto group said it would dissolve.

"It marks the end of Hong Kong that the world knew before," Mr Wong said on Twitter.

The US began eliminating Hong Kong's special status under US law on Monday, halting defence exports and restricting technology access.

China said it would retaliate.

Britain, the European Union, Japan, Taiwan and others have also criticised the legislation.

China has hit back, denouncing "interference" in its internal affairs.

The legislation may get an early test with activists and pro-democracy politicians saying they would defy a police ban, amid coronavirus restrictions, on a rally on the anniversary of the July 1 handover today.

"We will never accept the passing of the law, even though it is so overpowering," said Democratic Party chairman Wu Chi-wai.

It is unclear if attending the unauthorised rally would constitute a national security crime if the law came into force by then. Most people oppose the legislation, a Reuters poll showed, but support for the protests has fallen to a slim majority. - REUTERS