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Coveney raises concerns over new security law in Hong Kong as thousands defy ban on protests

Under the new law, certain political views and symbols became illegal overnight.

Updated Wed 10:35 PM

hong-kong-china Source: AP/PA Images

HONG KONG POLICE have arrested about 370 people – including 10 under China’s new national security law – as thousands defied a ban on protests on the anniversary of the city’s handover to China.

Police used water cannon, pepper spray and tear gas in a series of confrontations with protesters, one day after China drew global criticism for imposing the controversial legislation on the financial hub. 

Beijing said the law would restore stability after nearly a year of unrest, but instead it sparked the worst street violence in months.

Police said seven officers were injured – one was stabbed in the shoulder as he tried to make an arrest, and three others were hit by a “rioter” on a motorcycle.

Under the new law, certain political views and symbols became illegal overnight – including showing support for Hong Kong, Taiwan, Xinjiang and Tibet independence. 

Details released by police accused those arrested under the new legislation of possessing independence flags, stickers and flyers.

“Advocacy for independence of Hong Kong is against the law,” security minister John Lee told reporters. 

Still, many of those protesting chanted independence slogans – itself now against the law.

Foreign Affairs Minister Simon Coveney said he is concerned about the security law which could see Hong Kong residents extradited to China to face prosecution.

Coveney said the law risks undermining the high degree of autonomy of Hong Kong under the One Country, Two Systems principle.

“Ireland fully supports fundamental freedoms such as freedom of assembly and the right to peaceful assembly.  We have called consistently for these freedoms to be upheld in Hong Kong, and for all sides to refrain from violence and to exercise restraint,” he said.

Ireland and the EU have left the Chinese government in no doubt about the legitimate interest that we have  in ensuring that Hong Kong, and the “One Country, Two Systems” principle that has governed it, remains a success. The continued prosperity of Hong Kong and success of this principle remains in China’s best interest

Coveney added that he will continue to raise concerns through dialogue with China.

hong-kong-china Source: AP/PA Images

Broken promise? 

Opprobrium over the law poured in from critics and western governments – led by the United States and Britain – over fears the law will usher in a new era of mainland-style political repression.

Under a deal ahead of the 1997 handover from Britain, authoritarian China guaranteed Hong Kong civil liberties as well as judicial and legislative autonomy until 2047 in a formula known as “One Country, Two Systems”.

British foreign secretary Dominic Raab said the law breached that agreement, a registered treaty. 

Britain also said it would push ahead with previously announced plans to extend a possible path to citizenship for some three million Hong Kongers.

Washington has vowed unspecified counter-measures, but Democratic presidential hopeful Joe Biden slammed the administration of Donald Trump for not doing enough.

Biden said Trump had “surrendered our values and reassured China’s autocrats they have a like-minded partner in the White House.”

Beijing said foreign countries should keep quiet about the law, while Hong Kong leader Carrie Lam hailed the legislation as the “most important development” since the city’s return to Beijing’s rule.

First Arrest

The first person to be arrested under the new law was found in possession of a Hong Kong independence flag, according to police in Hong Kong.

“A man was arrested for holding a #HKIndependence flag in #CausewayBay, Hong Kong, violating the #NationalSecurityLaw,” police wrote on their verified Twitter account alongside a picture of the man and the flag.

“This is the first arrest made since the law has come into force,” the force added.

Hong Kong’s leader has strongly endorsed the new security law China’s central government is imposing on the semi-autonomous territory in her speech marking the anniversary of its handover from colonial Britain.

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“This decision was necessary and timely to maintain Hong Kong’s stability,” Carrie Lam said.

A pro-democracy political party, the League of Social Democrats, organised a protest march during the flag-raising ceremony preceding Lam’s speech.

Participants chanted slogans echoing demands from protesters last year for political reform and an investigation into alleged police abuses.

hong-kong-china Hong Kong Chief Executive Carrie Lam (centre) and former Chief Executive Tung Chee-hwa (left) attend the flag-raising ceremony at Golden Bauhinia Square today. Source: Kin Cheung/AP/Press Association Images

The law directly targets some of the actions of anti-government protesters last year, which included attacks on government offices and police stations, damage to subway stations, and the shutdown of the city’s international airport.

Acts of vandalism against government facilities or public transport can be prosecuted as subversion or terrorism, while anyone taking part in activities deemed as secessionist would also be in violation of the new law.

Blurred lines

The new national security law further blurs the distinction between the legal systems of Hong Kong, which maintained aspects of British law after the 1997 handover, and the mainland’s authoritarian Communist Party system.

Its passage comes after Hong Kong’s legislature in early June made it illegal to insult the Chinese national anthem.

President Xi Jinping signed a presidential order making the law take effect after its approval by the Standing Committee of the National People’s Congress, China’s rubber-stamp legislature, and it has been added to the Basic Law, Hong Kong’s constitution.

Under the law, those found guilty of inciting secessionist, subversive, terrorist activities and colluding with foreign forces could face life imprisonment if they are deemed masterminds of such activities.

-Additional reporting by Adam Daly and © AFP 2020  

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