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Hong Kong Grants Police Sweeping New Powers Under National Security Law

4 minute read

Hong Kong leader Carrie Lam defended national security legislation imposed on the city by China last week, hours after her government asserted broad new police powers, including warrant-less searches, online surveillance and property seizures.

“This law will be enforced very stringently and people’s concerns will be eased,” Lam said Tuesday at a regular briefing before a meeting of her advisory Executive Council. “You will see that people will not regularly fall afoul of the law.”

At the same time, Lam reaffirmed that much of the implementation of the law would be managed in secret, saying that a committee created to oversee it wouldn’t release details from future meetings. Hong Kong’s elected Legislative Council, which wasn’t formally consulted on the measure, will hold a public panel discussion on the topic later Tuesday.

Lam’s comments came after the Hong Kong government said late Monday that the new rules for police were intended to help “prevent, suppress and impose punishment for offenses endangering national security,” hours before the measures took effect. Failure to comply could bring punishments including fines of as much as HK$100,000 ($13,000) and prison sentences as long as two years.

The new policies shed further light on how the security legislation drafted by National People’s Congress in Beijing will dramatically change how justice is administered in the former British colony. Hong Kong was returned to Chinese rule in 1997 on a “one country, two systems” framework to maintain its freedom of expression, capitalist financial system and independent judiciary for at least 50 years.

Lam sidestepped a question about how Hong Kong would respond to decisions by Google, Facebook Inc. and Twitter Inc. to suspend processing user data requests over concerns that authorities could use the measure to curb freedom of expression. U.S. Secretary of State Michael Pompeo blasted the Communist Party’s “Orwellian censorship” in Hong Kong in a statement on Tuesday morning in Asia.

The chief executive cited the recent surge in Hong Kong’s financial markets, with local stocks entering a bull market Monday, as evidence that some sectors were optimistic about the measure’s impact. The advance has been led by mainland Chinese firms listed locally, but Hong Kong firms have also seen sharp gains.

There “has been an increasing appreciation of the positive effect of this national security legislation, particularly in restoring stability in Hong Kong as reflected by some of the market sentiments in recent days,” Lam said. “Surely this is not doom and gloom for Hong Kong. I’m sure with the passage of time and the facts being laid out confidence will grow in ‘one country, two systems’ and Hong Kong’s future.”

The rules allow authorities investigating national security matters to:

  • Secure permission for warrant-less searches from high-ranking police officials in “exceptional circumstances.”
  • Restrict people under investigation from leaving Hong Kong and seize travel documents.
  • Freeze assets and seize property, if the security minister has “reasonable grounds” to suspect that any property is related to an offense endangering national security. Anyone who knows or suspects that any property is related to an offense endangering national security is required to disclose the information.
  • Demand the removal of online messages. Police can seek the security minister’s permission to order publishers, service providers and hosting services to remove messages, restrict or cease access to the message, or restrict or cease access by any person to the platform.
  • Seek warrants to seize electronic devices to stop communications that “seriously affect” the public.
  • Require “foreign and Taiwan political organizations and agents” to disclose local personal particulars, assets, sources of income and expenditures in Hong Kong.
  • Seek chief executive approval to intercept communications and conduct covert surveillance.
  • Request court orders to force those involved in investigations to answer questions, furnish information and produce materials.
  • –With assistance from Karen Leigh.

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