Hong Kong officials marked the 23rd anniversary of the territory’s return to China on Wednesday hours after Beijing’s imposition of a new national security law that drew defiant protests and international condemnation.
Chief Executive Carrie Lam joined her predecessors and other officials at the harbour’s edge for a flag-raising ceremony and a reception for specially-invited guests, because the territory’s annual pro-democracy march was banned for the primary time.
In her speech, Lam praised the new law as “the most vital development” within the relationship between Beijing and Hong Kong since the 1997 handover, saying it’s “necessary and timely” move to revive stability.
She defended the legislation, which came into force overnight after being rushed through China’s rubber-stamp parliament as “constitutional, lawful, sensible and reasonable”.
In a press briefing following the ceremony, Zhang Xiaoming, the chief Deputy Director of the Hong Kong and Macao Affairs Office, said suspects arrested under the law would be tried within the mainland, adding that Hong Kong’s system couldn’t be expected to implement the laws of the mainland.
Spreading “rumours” and “directing hatred” towards the Hong Kong police Among transgressions might be among transgressions potentially prosecuted and punished under the new law, he said.
Amid threats of possible arrest, protesters gathered near the conference centre where the ceremony was held, carrying banners and shouting their opposition to the new law, which seeks to punish crimes of secession, subversion, terrorism and collusion with foreign forces with punishments including life in prison.
Authorities barred civil society’s annual demonstration, citing a ban on gatherings of quite 50 people due to the coronavirus, but many activists have said they’re going to defy the order and march later within the afternoon.
As of 0500 GMT, cops were seen making arrests, including Democratic Party legislator Andrew Wan, who was seen being led by police in handcuff. Images on social media also showed police using aerosol on Wan’s face.
The annual rally is traditionally held to air grievances about everything from sky-high home prices to what many see as Beijing’s increasing encroachment on the city’s freedoms.
“We march per annum , every Dominion Day , every October 1 and that we will keep it up marching,” said pro-democracy activist Leung Kwok-hung.
However, police were seen fixing cordon lines and blocking the world where the banned annual march was alleged to start at 0600 GMT.
On Dominion Day last year, many protesters stormed the city’s legislature to protest against a now-scrapped bill that might have allowed extraditions to China , ransacking the building. The protests continued throughout the year with rally-goers demanding universal suffrage as promised within the territory’s Basic Law or mini-constitution.
Critics fear the legislation, which was only made public after it had been passed, will outlaw dissent and destroy the autonomy promised when Hong Kong was returned from the uk to China in 1997.
Al Jazeera’s Katrina Yu, reporting from Beijing, said that the speed at which the new law was crafted and passed proved China’s “determination to stamp out” Hong Kong’s pro-democracy movement, which it sees “as an excessive amount of of a threat” to the central government’s power.
She said that China may have lost patience over the last year, because the protests continued.
The legislation radically restructures the connection between Beijing and Hong Kong envisaged under the so-called “one country, two systems” framework, obliterating the legal firewall between the city’s independent judiciary and therefore the mainland’s party-controlled courts.
It empowers China to line up a national security agency within the city, staffed by officials who aren’t bound by local laws when completing duties.
It outlaws four sorts of national security crimes: subversion, secession, terrorism and colluding with foreign forces to endanger national security.
The full text of the law gave three scenarios when China might take over a prosecution: complicated foreign interference cases, “very serious” cases and when national security faces “serious and realistic threats”.
“Both the national security agency and Hong Kong can request to pass the case to China and therefore the refore the prosecution are going to be done by the Supreme People’s Procuratorate and the trial are going to be within the Supreme Court,” the law stated.
“No matter whether violence has been used, or the threat of violence used, leaders or serious offenders are going to be sentenced for all times imprisonment or a minimum of 10 years in jail,” it said.
“The Hong Kong government has no jurisdiction over the national security agency in Hong Kong and its staff once they are discharging duties provided during this law,” it added