STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:
China did not even have to begin enforcing a new law to make changes in Hong Kong. The central government just passed a national security law in Beijing. And in Hong Kong, pro-democracy leaders are already stepping away from politics. This new law criminalizes a lot of dissent and changes the way that dissenters would be put on trial. All of this affects a coastal territory that is supposed to have some autonomy dating back to its time as a British possession. NPR's Emily Feng is following this from Beijing. Hi there, Emily.
EMILY FENG, BYLINE: Hey, Steve.
INSKEEP: Is it understood exactly what's in the law?
FENG: Yeah, that's the thing. Beijing passed this law about nine hours ago. But they still have not provided us a public draft of the law, meaning Hong Kong people are supposed to follow a law that they haven't read yet. But broadly, we know that this law would allow Beijing, not Hong Kong, to judge cases it deems relevant to national security and that Beijing will set up its own security body on Hong Kong soil to collect intelligence and investigate such cases. This was a highly secretive and accelerated process for passing what is a very significant piece of legislation. I talked to Wilson Leung earlier today. He's a council member of Hong Kong's bar association.
WILSON LEUNG: And that's, you know, just completely contrary to the notions of law that we have in Hong Kong, which is, you know, law as a accessible, you know, transparent process, where before you enact a law, you know, you discuss it. You get the draft out and you debate it.
FENG: Instead, what Beijing did was they bypassed Hong Kong's legislature completely. It handpicked which representatives to consult and simply imposed the law Hong Kong is typically supposed to follow.
INSKEEP: You mentioned that Beijing will have its own courts for cases that are of interest to Beijing. So people will not be getting into the independent courts they've had since British times and that they thought they were promised until, I believe, 2047. Does this break the promise of some autonomy for Hong Kong?
FENG: Of course, Beijing says that this upholds that principle of semi-autonomy. But in practice, yes, it breaks that promise. This law shows that Beijing's legal dictates now supersede Hong Kong's own rule of law whenever Beijing decides that an issue falls under the umbrella of national security. I also talked to Alan Leong. He's former chair of Hong Kong's legal bar association. He's now a pan-democratic politician. He says that this national security law creates a parallel legal procedure in Hong Kong that's run by Beijing and Beijing only.
ALAN LEONG: Once you are labeled a national security suspect, then you will be put into that system which would be led by a special branch within the Hong Kong police. Your case will be prosecuted by a special department within the Department of Justice. And you will be tried by some hand-picked judges.
FENG: The law is expected to be effective as of tomorrow, July 1, which, not coincidentally, is the anniversary of Hong Kong's handover as a British possession to a Chinese territory. So we shall see if there are protests tomorrow.
INSKEEP: Have officials said how strictly they're going to enforce this new law?
FENG: No. It is unlikely that Beijing would sweep up everyone it deemed subversive in one go. But we have seen a massive chilling effect in Hong Kong's civil society already. Within hours of the law being passed, two opposition political parties said they were going to voluntarily disband because they thought operating under such conditions was too dangerous. You've seen people deactivate many of their online social media accounts because they fear their political posts might be used against them. And sales of anti-surveillance software to jump over Chinese Internet censors have gone way up.
INSKEEP: And I guess if people did protest tomorrow, they would risk being arrested under this new system.
FENG: Right. They face much higher legal penalties now. Hong Kong police have also been much more strict in enforcing anti-protest techniques. The U.S., Britain, other Western countries have spoken up in criticism of this national security law. The U.S. has actually put sanctions, visa restrictions, on Chinese officials who curtail Hong Kong's freedoms. Beijing has hit right back and said It'll curtail visas for Americans who behave egregiously towards Hong Kong.
INSKEEP: NPR's Emily Feng in Beijing. Thanks.
FENG: Thanks, Steve.
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