According to reports in the Communist Party-controlled media, the law is expected to criminalize crimes such as secession, vandalism against the Chinese central government, terrorism, and collusion with foreign forces. But hours after its passage, details remain murky, limiting a particularly opaque process that has left analysts and activists guessing.
Speaking at a weekly news conference on Tuesday morning, city leader Carrie Lam initially refused to answer questions about the law, saying it was “inappropriate for me to comment.” Hours later she later defended her in a video speech to the United Nations Human Rights Council in Geneva, saying it would restore stability and prosperity to Hong Kong.
Its administration appears to have been almost entirely cut off from the process – but it did not prevent them from anticipating that the law would only affect a small minority of individuals in the city, and would not harm political freedoms and judicial independence.
In a statement issued last week, Lam said the legislation would be “consistent with the rule of law” and “the rights and freedoms applied in Hong Kong”.
Such talk may be illegal under the new law, if a similar form of legislation is followed in China as expected. Wong, Lu, and Zhao also participated heavily in pressure on the international community to pressure Beijing over Hong Kong, which many expect to be categorized as “collusion with foreign forces.”
Two other political parties, the Hong Kong National Front and local students, also said they were halting operations in the city, although the two groups – marginal pro-independence parties – said they would continue to operate abroad.
Some pro-independence figures have been known to have escaped from Hong Kong in recent months, fearing arrest over violent anti-government protests last year, or the next law. On Sunday, Wayne Chan, organizer of the Hong Kong Independence Union, confirmed that he jumped on bail and left the city. He was facing charges relating to the protest.
While pro-government groups and politicians welcomed the passage of the law – former leader CY. Leung offered rewards for future trials – there was a lot of frustration among many Hong Kong because of the continued lack of details, the feeling of being in a state of mystery, knowing that the law was passed but not what that meant.
In a letter to the city government on Monday, Hong Kong Lawyers Chairman Philip Dykes said the secrecy of the law was “truly exceptional” and called on the government to clarify how to guarantee the minimum rights of citizens.
This uncertainty is likely to continue beyond Tuesday night, as the bill is expected to eventually be announced, and to be published in the Official Gazette. Regardless of how the prescribed crimes or penalties are described, many will watch to see how strong the police and prosecutors are in their implementation.
A major test will come on Wednesday, when Hong Kong celebrates the 23rd anniversary of the city’s handover of Chinese rule. The day has traditionally seen an anti-government rally across the city, but protest has been banned this year.
The organizers say they will go ahead anyway. However, the number of people who join them, and what crimes – if any – are believed to be committed by these people if they are committed, still have to be seen.