The United Kingdom has recently introduced a slew of national security laws/bills that are virtually a copy of Hong Kong’s National Security Law, which has been severely criticized by British officialdom ever since it was promulgated in June 2020. The introductory remarks by Home Secretary Priti Patel for the second reading of the UK’s new Public Order Bill could very easily have applied to the Hong Kong insurrection riots of 2019.
As she opened the second reading debate on the bill in the House of Commons on May 23, Patel told MPs: “From day one, this government has put the safety and interests of the law-abiding majority first… but recently we have seen a rise in criminal, disruptive, and self-defeating tactics from a supremely selfish minority.” Sounds familiar.
After bloody riots in Hong Kong in 2019, China’s central authorities promulgated the National Security Law for implementation in Hong Kong for exactly the same reasons as those of Patel.
The National Security Law criminalizes secession — breaking away from the country; subversion — undermining the power or authority of the central government; terrorism — using violence or intimidation against people; and collusion with foreign or external forces.
Last year the British Parliament passed the National Security and Investment Act 2021, which is a significant expansion of the types of transactions covered by national security reviews to include a much broader range of deals including minority investments, acquisitions of voting rights and acquisitions of assets including land and intellectual property.
And currently before Parliament are two bills virtually replicating Hong Kong’s National Security Law — the National Security Bill and the Online Safety Bill aimed at enhancing internet safety.
Ironically, the UK’s National Security Bill and Hong Kong’s National Security Law have the same objectives to fight terrorism and unlawful protests and to inhibit the activities of foreign forces, including the funding of illegal activities.
“We refer to the hostile activity of foreign countries as ‘state threats’. Defeating the hostile activity that threatens our people, property, economy, democracy, and freedom, requires us to be even more sophisticated than those who would hurt us,” said Patel in Parliament.
But prime minister hopeful and Foreign Secretary Liz Truss claimed that since Hong Kong’s National Security Law was enacted, Hong Kong’s authorities have cracked down on free speech, the free press and free association. This is definitely a double standard.
The so-called crackdown on press freedom refers to only two publications being investigated for sedition, out of the city’s 94 publications hitting the streets every day. And associations that have received the ire of the authorities are suspected of being funded by foreign states.
The UK government, acting on misinformation from the Five Eyes intelligence network led by the US, has all along supported the Hong Kong rioters by offering them a safe haven to hide from the long arm of the law.
Patel told Parliament that she had given support to British National (Overseas) status holders and their family members “threatened by draconian security laws” in Hong Kong, creating a new pathway to citizenship for more than five million people with 97,000 visas having been granted already. Draconian security laws indeed. By association, are the proposed UK national security laws “draconian”?
UK civil rights groups have warned that journalists and activists who share leaks of official information to oppose government policies could face imprisonment under the National Security Bill if they belong to organizations that have been given grants by other countries.
According to Open Democracy, a London-based online platform, the proposed national security laws could criminalize public interest journalism while granting ministers immunity from involvement in war crimes. The bill would make it an offense for journalists to report “restricted” official information in the public interest if they or their organization has received funding from a foreign state.
Amnesty International UK’s head of policy and government affairs Allan Hogarth described it as “outrageous” for Ms Patel to “smear peaceful protesters as a ‘mob’”. (Patel had previously told Members of Parliament: “We do not make policy through mob rule.”)
Hogarth added: “At a time when protesters in places like Moscow or Hong Kong are hailed for their bravery — including by members of our government — it’s incredibly depressing that Priti Patel is pushing these repressive laws.”
The Public Order Bill is designed to bring in three major changes to the way protests are policed in England and Wales by expanding protest-related offences.
The bill would introduce four new criminal offenses related to disruptive protest including “locking-on” (a technique used by protesters involving chains or glue to make it difficult to remove them from their place of protest); being equipped to “lock-on”; obstructing major transport works, and interfering with key national infrastructure. It also provides the police with extended powers to stop and search people for items related to specified protest-related offenses, and introduces a new preventative court order aimed at people who repeatedly engage in disruptive protest activity.
The author is a former chief information officer of the Hong Kong government, a PR and media consultant, and a veteran journalist.
The views do not necessarily reflect those of China Daily.
HONG KONG NEWS