Law Gives Hong Kong Government Authority to Suppress Protests

Article 43 of the Law . . .

Article 43 of the National Security Law stipulates various measures that the Office for Safeguarding National Security may take when handling cases violating the National Security Law. The measures include restrictions on persons from leaving Hong Kong and freezing and confiscating their assets, censorship of messages in contravention of the Law, and covert surveillance. On Monday, the Hong Kong government, in conjunction with the Committee for Safeguarding National Security, published the Implementation Rules, which provide further details on the application of Article 43.

New Law leads to arrests . . .

The Hong Kong police forces were quick to exercise the Law. On July 1, within 15 hours of the Law taking effect, the police arrested a protester who allegedly publicly carried the Hong Kong independence flag. During the July 1 protests, which mark the 23rd anniversary of Hong Kong’s handover to the People’s Republic of China, the police arrested an additional nine protesters for carrying banners favouring Hong Kong’s independence ¬– an activity that the Hong Kong police defined as secessionist under the new Law.

Cautious and strategic application of the Law?

Applying a controversial law in a volatile and polarized environment is challenging. Pro-democracy protests have been going on for more than a year, and public trust in the government is low. A comprehensive implementation of the Law leading to mass arrests would likely backfire, further escalating tensions and complicating the government’s ability to govern. Recently, the Hong Kong police declared they would apply the Law to only a small number of people. The police forces are likely to follow this course of action to target a small number of vocal activists, rather than massive arrests, to achieve deterrence while mitigating the degree of public resentment.