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Monday, April 15, 2024

Rare Hong Kong protest sounds alarm on new security law

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Hong Kong, China—Hong Kong activists on Tuesday staged a rare public protest against government plans for a new national security law, saying it lacked democratic oversight and human rights safeguards.

Public demonstrations have all but vanished in the Chinese finance hub since Beijing quelled huge, sometimes violent pro-democracy protests in 2019 and imposed a sweeping national security law.

Hong Kong officials now say a further homegrown security law is needed to plug “loopholes,” with justice chief Paul Lam earlier saying he heard no objections during a month of public consultations that ends Wednesday.

But activist Yu Wai-pan, from the League of Social Democrats (LSD), told Agence France Presse (AFP) on Tuesday that “many Hongkongers are quite concerned.”

“I don’t understand why the secretary for justice said he heard no objection or worry,” said Yu.

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The LSD is one of the last remaining opposition groups in Hong Kong and its members have faced multiple prosecutions for their shows of dissent.

Yu and two other activists were surrounded by the press and more than a dozen police officers as they chanted slogans outside the Hong Kong government headquarters Tuesday.

“National security is important to the people, but it must be based on democracy, freedom and rule of law,” said activist Chan Po-ying.

The government referenced examples in the United States and Britain in defending the proposed legislation, but Chan said that comparison was misleading, as Hong Kong was not a democracy.

The month-long public consultation for the new security law, known as Basic Law Article 23, was largely limited to pro-Beijing voices, she added.

Xia Baolong, China’s top official overseeing Hong Kong, arrived in the former British colony last week in a tightly choreographed tour to meet with leaders in business and politics.

Xia discussed the security law proposal with two local lawyers’ groups in a closed-door meeting and engaged in “candid exchanges,” the head of the Hong Kong Bar Association earlier told reporters.

Separately on Tuesday, Hong Kong convicted Joseph John—also known as Wong Kin-chung—of “conspiracy to incite secession,” the first such case involving a dual national.

The Portuguese citizen, 41, pleaded guilty to the national security offence, admitting that he was chair of the UK-based Hong Kong Independence Party and an administrator of its six online platforms.

A diplomatic source told AFP that the Portuguese consulate has been unable to visit John since he was arrested and detained in November 2022.

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