Text of Hong Kong Law Says Dissidents Face Trials in China, Life Sentences

The Chinese government released full details of its controversial new national security law for Hong Kong on Tuesday, confirming fears that the draconian measures would subject Hong Kongers to harsh penalties for broadly-defined crimes against the Chinese Communist Party.

Full details of the law were not released until it had already gone into effect on Tuesday night. Still, its imminent adoption prompted activists to dissolve pro-democracy organizations on Tuesday ahead of the expected Chinese Communist Party crackdown on dissenters.

The ultimate power to interpret the national security law lies with the Standing Committee of the National People's Congress in Beijing. In the case of any inconsistencies between existing Hong Kong law and the national security law, the latter takes precedence.

Despite the danger, pro-democracy protesters still took the streets on Wednesday to march against the new law. At least 30 have so far been arrested—the first arrest was for flying a flag calling for the territory's independence—and may now be the first to face Beijing's harsh punishments.

The legislation criminalizes secession, subversion, terrorism and collusion with foreign forces in broad terms.

Anyone convicted of "serious" cases of the four offenses will face at least 10 years behind bars, and perhaps even life imprisonment. Regular cases of the offenses will be penalized with between three and 10 years in jail.

Damaging government buildings is now considered subversion worthy of life in prison, while sabotaging transport networks is considered terrorism worthy of the same punishment.

Sentences may be reduced for those who voluntarily cease or prevent offenses, surrender to police or give information on offenses committed by others. Any legislators, district councilors, civil servants, judges or other officials convicted of such offenses can be removed from their posts.

The most serious offenses can now be overseen over by Chinese judges rather than those in Hong Kong. Although there is no explicit reference to extradition in the new law, the legislation says that relevant trials will take place under Chinese criminal law, near-guaranteeing conviction and tough punishment.

The year of unrest began as a movement against a proposed law that would have allowed fugitives to be extradited from Hong Kong for trial in China. The national security law has now codified that reality.

Hong Kong courts have the power to prosecute offenders under the national security law, but there are three situations in which Chinese judges can take over—where Hong Kong has "realistic difficulties" due to the involvement of foreign forces, where it has no effective means to enforce the law due to the seriousness of the situation, and where China is faced with grave realistic threats.

Under these broad circumstances, China's Supreme People's Procuratorate can name "relevant procuratorates" to oversee prosecutions and the Supreme People's Court can name courts to hold trials in China.

Wherever the trials are held, the national security law will give the CCP tight control over proceedings. It will prohibit law enforcement, judges, lawyers and other personnel from disclosing loosely-defined "state secrets." Trials may also be closed to the public to prevent such disclosures and public disorder.

National security judges and magistrates will be selected by Hong Kong's pro-Beijing chief executive to serve one-year terms. Any who have "made statements or engaged in behavior endangering national security" cannot be picked.

A new National Security Office in Hong Kong will be established to process national security cases and collect and analyze national security intelligence. NSO agents will operate outside of Hong Kong jurisdiction and local government is expressly required to prevent any obstruction of NSO duties.

The national security legislation has a long reach, and allows authorities to prosecute even non-Hong Kong residents acting outside of the country. This has likely been designed to stop pro-democracy advocacy abroad—for example in Taiwan, the U.S. and Europe—and will mean that anyone involved would risk arrest and jail if they ever returned home.

China, Hong Kong, national security, law, text
Riot police detain a man as they clear protesters taking part in a rally against a new national security law in Hong Kong on July 1, 2020. DALE DE LA REY/AFP via Getty Images/Getty