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On 28 May 2020, China’s National People’s Congress formally approved a proposal that would allow the central government in Beijing to implement a national security law in Hong Kong, bypassing the territory’s legislative council. Although the planned legal changes have yet to be set out in full, it has been reported they will prohibit secession, subversion, terrorism and foreign interference in Hong Kong’s affairs. The changes are likely to bar foreign judges from national security cases and allow mainland national security agencies to set up directly in the territory. It is thought they may be implemented over the summer, before Hong Kong legislative council elections are held in September.

The decision has proven controversial both in Hong Kong and in the west, with critics alleging it breaches the ‘one country, two systems’ framework set out in the 1984 Sino-British Joint Declaration and Hong Kong’s basic law, its mini-constitution. The latter enshrines certain rights for residents of Hong Kong that do not exist in mainland China, including freedom of speech and freedom to demonstrate. However, the basic law also sets out that the territory “shall enact laws on its own” to prohibit acts of treason, secession, sedition and subversion. This has not yet taken place, though an unsuccessful attempt at introducing a national security law was made in 2003.

Hong Kong’s chief executive, Carrie Lam, has dismissed concerns that the proposed law will curtail the rights in Hong Kong. In contrast, the Hong Kong Bar Association has described the draft decision as containing a “number of worrying and problematic features”. These include “no assurance that the HK national security law as proposed will […] comply or be required to comply with provisions of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights”. Meanwhile, the International Bar Association and its Human Rights Institute have issued a joint statement expressing concern that the proposed legislation will be used as a “further means to restrict the rights of peaceful protestors” in Hong Kong. The statement also criticised the “unconscionable” threat to judicial independence represented by the measures.

The UK Government has expressed its “deep concern” about Beijing’s decision. On 28 May 2020, the Government announced it would extend greater visa rights to around 315,000 British national overseas (BNO) passport holders from Hong Kong unless China suspended the proposed national security law. This would provide a potential pathway to full British citizenship for these people.

On 4 June 2020, Baroness Anelay of St Johns (Conservative) is due to ask Her Majesty’s Government “what is their assessment of the impact on human rights in Hong Kong of the national security legislation proposed in the National People’s Congress of China”.

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