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Fast-track Article 23 Consultation Sparks Fears of Deepening Repression

Updated: Jun 4

30 January 2024 – Today in Hong Kong, authorities announced commencement of a brief four-week public consultation period for further hardline national security legislation that could intensify political repression.


The consultation period for Article 23, beginning today, was announced by Chief Executive John Lee, alongside Secretary for Justice Paul Lam and Secretary for Security Chris Tang this morning.

Under Article 23 of the territory's Basic Law, the mini-constitution that has governed Hong Kong since its official takeover by China in 1997, the government must enact laws prohibiting acts that "endanger national security." 


In 2003 a three-month consultation period on Article 23 was held, but plans to implement it were withdrawn after some 500,000 people took to the streets of Hong Kong in protest.


The renewed push for homegrown national security legislation comes after the central government of China imposed a separate National Security Law (NSL) on Hong Kong in 2020, which Article 23 would work alongside.


During this morning’s press conference, Chief Executive Lee specifically referred to the 2019 protests in Hong Kong, labeling them as a "Hong Kong version of a colour revolution,” in an attempt to smear pro-democracy demonstrators as foreign agitators. 


Article 23 is distinct from the Beijing-imposed NSL enacted in June 2020, which criminalized secession, subversion, foreign collusion, and terrorism.


The proposed new law will cover offences such as treason, insurrection, espionage, destructive activities endangering national security, and external interference. The consultation document also addresses issues related to the definition of theft of state secrets and the "extraterritorial effect" of the law.


While Chief Executive Lee has stated that the new law will respect human rights and freedoms, its vague and expansive provisions could easily be weaponized to further curtail freedoms of the press, assembly, and speech, leading to arbitrary arrests and restrictions on civil liberties. This has already been the case under the NSL.


There are also concerns that defendants would not face free and fair trials under Article 23, given that the existing NSL has a 100% conviction rate, with all defendants being denied trial by jury, being subject to forced confessions, and refused a counsel of their choosing. 


Moreover, today’s consultation document does not clearly outline Article 23's penalties nor its approach to tightening bail eligibility and custodial periods.


The law's "extraterritorial effect" also raises concerns about its global jurisdiction, similar to Beijing's NSL. This could lead to the criminalization of acts committed outside Hong Kong's borders, impacting individuals abroad and potentially violating their rights.


Mark Sabah, Director of The Committee for Freedom in Hong Kong (CFHK) Foundation said: "The main purpose of the Article 23 legislation is to ban foreign organisations from engaging in ‘political activities’ and to ban any connections with foreign political entities. This would no doubt include any and all peaceful, pro-democracy, pro-human rights organisations, such as us at the Committee for Freedom in Hong Kong Foundation. “Thousands of Hong Kongers are already in prison simply for the crimes of supporting democracy or being journalists, while over half a million have fled the city due to fear of political persecution. “All countries have legitimate national security interests, but when we look at the destruction of liberties already underway in Hong Kong: the 1700 political prisoners, the jailing of people without convictions, the lengthy sentences on minor charges, we know that this new Article will be used for further repression."

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