Article 23: Hong Kong’s new tough national security law

It is similar to the law imposed by China in 2020

Article 23 Hong Kong Lawmakers raise their hands to vote after the second reading of the Basic Law Article 23 legislation at the Legislative Council in Hong Kong | AP

Tightening the liberties, the Hong Kong lawmakers on Tuesday unanimously passed a new national security bill, Article 23, known as one of the toughest security laws. 

The law was passed within two weeks after it was tabled on March 8. John Lee, Hong Kong's leader called it a "historic moment for Hong Kong". With the legislation coming into effect on March 23, critics fear that the new law will restrict the free speech of the residents. Many nations, including the US, pointed out that the law will further narrow freedoms in the global financial hub, and could be used to "eliminate dissent through the fear of arrest and detention".

According to Lee, Article 23 was necessary to guard against "potential sabotage and undercurrents that try to create troubles". 

China's Vice-Premier Ding Xuexiang earlier said swift enactment of the new legislation would protect "core national interests" and allow Hong Kong to focus on economic development.

What is Article 23? 

Article 23 expands on a controversial national security law earlier imposed by China. In China, it criminalises secession, subversion, terrorism and collusion with foreign forces in Hong Kong. The law was imposed by Beijing in 2020. 

In the case of Hong Kong, the full draft of Article 23 targets new offences like external interference and insurrection, and penalties include life sentences. It also covers various aspects including treason, sedition and state secrets. 

It follows the national security law imposed by Beijing in 2020. Authorities credit it with restoring stability in the city after widespread pro-democracy protests in 2019. 

Back in 2003, there was an attempt to pass the bill, however, massive protests then against the law forced the authorities to shelve it. The strong opposition saw the resignation of security minister Regina Ip. 

The 2024 version of Article 23 allows for closed-door trials and gives the police the right to detain suspects for up to 16 days without charge, reported BBC. 

The city leader will also be given the authority to ban organisations and companies from operating in Hong Kong, should they be found "working for foreign forces". Some of the offences it covers are: 

Theft of state secrets and espionage: The bill has a broad definition of "state secrets". It includes "major policy decisions", "economic or social development" and Hong Kong's "external affairs", among other things. 

Sabotage endangering national security: This is a new offence that targets people who endanger national security either intentionally or by "being reckless". It also wants to criminalise computer-related acts that harm national security including doxxing. 

External interference: This new offence will deal with acts of collaborating with "external forces" to influence or interfere with national and local authorities.

Insurrection: This will deal with acts such as assisting an armed force, or the organisation to which the force belongs, in an armed conflict against China. 

Treason: In addition to treason, which includes offences such as levying war against China, the new bill seeks to criminalise unauthorised military drilling and "misprision of treason", committed by someone who has knowledge of treason but does not report it.

(With agencies input)


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