'Damocles sword hanging over heads of criminals'

Top News | Mandy Zheng 2 Jul 2020

The newly enacted national security law will serve as a Sword of Damocles over a small number of criminals, a senior Beijing official overseeing Hong Kong has warned.

Zhang Xiaoming, director of the Hong Kong and Macau Affairs Office, also said the unit for safeguarding national security to be set up in Hong Kong will not be regulated under Article 22 of the Basic Law, and suspects arrested by its operatives would be tried in the mainland.

The insights from Zhang came at a briefing in Beijing yesterday, the first time an official of the central government has explained the law.

"It aims to punish a very small number of criminals who seriously endanger national security, hanging a sword over their heads and threatening external forces that interfere with Hong Kong affairs," Zhang said.

"If we let the anti-China forces that disrupt Hong Kong rock the boat freely then it is absolutely a curse on the city rather than a blessing and will ruin one country, two systems."

Zhang said the legislation was a "birthday gift" and likened it to a "patron saint" of Hong Kong. Its imposition will be a turning point to get back on track from the many months of social unrest triggered by the now-withdrawn fugitive bill proposed by Chief Executive Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor.

Some Hongkongers have been so worried about rioters that they are planning to immigrate, according to Zhang.

After hearing about the legislation, he recounted, a Hongkonger considering a move to Singapore tore up the immigration forms and said: "Hong Kong can survive now. This single law can stabilize Hong Kong. It can turn things around completely."

Zhang also warned that people could breach the law by "starting rumors" about police officers, citing as an example claims that officers beat protesters to death at Prince Edward MTR station on August 31 last year.

Rumors circulated online that three people died during the clashes. Authorities denied that claim repeatedly and said seven people were injured but no one was killed.

Such rumors caused discontent in society that was directed at police, Zhang said, adding that if the people were malicious and caused trouble their actions "could constitute a crime."

Provoking hatred toward the central and local governments is also an offense under the national security law.

Offenders could be subject to life imprisonment if a crime was "of a grave nature," while the minimum sentence is three years behind bars.

On the status of the office for safeguarding national security, Zhang said its activities will not be regulated under Article 22, which stipulates that "no department of the central people's government and no province, autonomous region, or municipality directly under the central government" can interfere in the SAR's affairs.

Also under the new legislation, staff of the national security unit are not subject to the jurisdiction of the SAR and will be free from inspections, searches or detention by Hong Kong police.

The office will handle cases that involve a foreign country or external forces, when the SAR cannot effectively enforce the law and when there is a major and imminent threat to national security.

The unit's operatives can investigate cases and arrest suspects, who will undergo trial in the mainland.


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