Hong Kong Legislature Passes Article 23 National Security Law

20 March 2024

    Hong Kong Passes Controversial National Security Law

    In a swift legislative move, Hong Kong’s 90-seat legislature has unanimously approved a comprehensive national security law, known as Article 23, just 11 days after its introduction. This decision has sparked international concern, particularly from Western governments, over the potential erosion of freedoms in the global financial center.

    The new legal package is designed to outlaw acts of treason, sabotage, sedition, espionage, and the theft of state secrets. It also introduces stringent controls on foreign political entities and organizations within Hong Kong, aiming to curb what it defines as “external interference.” Lawyers have noted that while some aspects of the law align with Western legal standards, others, particularly those concerning sedition and state secrets, are broader and more severe.

    Under the new legislation, crimes such as treason and insurrection carry penalties up to life imprisonment. Espionage can result in a 20-year sentence, while offenses related to state secrets and sedition may lead to a decade behind bars. Despite these harsh penalties, the law acknowledges Hong Kong’s right to freedom of expression among other rights.

    The business community, including foreign banks and hedge funds, as well as diplomats and academics, are closely monitoring the situation. There is a palpable fear that the laws could impose further restrictions on the city’s liberties. Additionally, concerns have been raised about the impact on data security and the broad definition of state secrets potentially hindering research and information gathering.

    Notably, the law introduces a new offense for using computers or electronic systems unlawfully to jeopardize national security, punishable by up to 20 years in prison. The broad scope of what constitutes a state secret has alarmed some legal experts who worry that it could affect due diligence investigations and research into China’s political and economic landscape traditionally conducted in Hong Kong.

    Despite these concerns, Hong Kong’s Chief Executive John Lee has defended the laws, asserting that they adhere to international standards and safeguard the city’s rights and freedoms.

    This legislation comes after Beijing imposed a sweeping national security law in 2020 in response to pro-democracy protests. That law addressed specific offenses and allowed mainland national security officers to operate in Hong Kong for the first time. The enactment of Article 23 is seen by senior officials as a necessary step to close legal loopholes and enhance internet control.

    As China recently updated its own state secrets laws reflecting President Xi Jinping’s priorities, Hong Kong’s version aims to be compatible with its British-based common law heritage while addressing similar concerns about national security.

    The passage of Article 23 marks a significant moment for Hong Kong as it navigates its complex relationship with mainland China and strives to maintain its unique legal identity.

    Hong Kong's 90-seat legislature passed a new national security law, known as Article 23, which updates or introduces laws to prohibit treason, sabotage, sedition, the theft of state secrets, and espionage

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