Hong Kong police made the first arrests under the new security law on Wednesday just 24 hours after it was enacted by Beijing., at a time when the city was celebrating the 23rd anniversary of its retrocession to China.
The commemorations come a day after Chinese President Xi Jinping imposed a new security law on the former British colony, a landmark move denounced by many Western governments as an unprecedented assault on the liberties and autonomy of the city.
Riot police used pepper spray and water cannons, and made arrests, at a rally Wednesday afternoon in the center of the financial metropolis where 180 people were detained, including seven under the new law.
Previously, a man with a flag for Hong Kong’s independence was the first detainee for violating the new legislation, police announced.
The Hong Kong opposition and many western countries have condemned the law and fear it will usher in a new era of political repression.
By virtue of a compromise reached by the United Kingdom with China for the return of Hong Kong in 1997, the region enjoyed civil liberties, as well as legislative and judicial autonomy until 2047, in what was called “one country, two systems”.
China “promised 50 years of freedom to the people of Hong Kong, and only gave 23,” said the head of US diplomacy, Mike Pompeo, while threatening further retaliation.
Beijing responded to foreign countries that the new law “is not their business“, and the Hong Kong leader Carrie Lam called the text the “most important fact” since the retrocession to China.
Activists called on the population to challenge the ban on protests with demonstrations. Concentrations of more than 50 people are prohibited as part of measures against the new coronavirus.
In addition, the authorities banned on this occasion for the first time in 17 years the traditional march for the anniversary of the retrocession for the first time in 17 years.
Many of the protesters who took to the streets anyway this Wednesday sang independent slogans. Police said an officer was stabbed in the shoulder while trying to arrest a person.
During the morning ceremonies of the 23rd anniversary of the return to China, helicopters flew over Victoria Harbor with a large Chinese flag and a smaller Hong Kong flag, while a ship sailed with a banner reading “Welcome the enactment of the National Security Law, ”in giant Chinese characters.
Small groups of Beijing supporters waved Chinese flags in various neighborhoods, without incident. The anniversary of July 1 has traditionally been a day of division in the city.
Beijing loyalists celebrate Hong Kong’s retrocession to China, after a century and a half of what they see as a humiliating British colonization.
Chinese jurisdiction and life sentence
The “one country, two systems” formula initially helped cement Hong Kong’s status as a global financial center, reinforced by an independent judiciary and political freedoms unknown in mainland China.
The opposition has accused Beijing of reducing this status and describes the new security law as the most blatant measure so far. It has been passed in just six weeks, bypassing the Hong Kong legislative council.
The law came into effect almost a year after the start of the massive pro-democracy demonstrations in the former British colony against the influence of the central government.
This law allows the repression of four types of crimes against state security: subversive activities, secession, terrorism and collusion with foreign forces, with sentences ranging up to life imprisonment.
It also breaks down the legal firewall that has existed between the city’s judiciary and the courts controlled by the mainland.
Mainland China can directly handle cases in three situations: if they are complex cases of foreign interference, if the cases are “very serious” and if there are “serious and real threats” against national security.
Another provision provides for universal jurisdiction for security crimes committed beyond Hong Kong or China.
More than two dozen countries, including the United Kingdom, France, Germany, and Japan, called on Beijing to reconsider the law., declaring in a statement to the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights that it undermines the liberties of the city.
Meanwhile, Canada warned its Hong Kong citizens on Wednesday that they face an increased risk of arbitrary arrest or even extradition to mainland China.
In Taiwan, the authorities opened a new office to receive Hong Kong people who want to settle on the island.
Beijing says the law restores stability after a year of protests and will not end Hong Kong’s freedoms.