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How China’s National Security Law Changed Hong Kong


After a year of pro-democracy protests that rocked Hong Kong in 2019, mainland China tightened its grip by imposing a broad national security law on the former British colony. Since then dozens of opposition figures -- including media tycoon Jimmy Lai and former student leader Joshua Wong -- have been jailed. A cardinal and a pop star are among those facing charges. News outlets have been shut and teachers disciplined. President Xi Jinping has made his aim clear: Hong Kong should be in the hands of “patriots.” That’s cast a lot of doubt on whether the city can still have the “high degree of autonomy” and independent judiciary promised before the British handed it over to Chinese control 25 years ago -- an arrangement known as “one country, two systems.” 

The national security law is the most significant. It punishes acts of secession, subversion, terrorism and “collusion with foreign and external forces.” It asserts broad powers to control sources of opposition, from democracy advocates to news agencies to overseas dissidents. The legislation was passed in 2020 by China’s top legislative body, the National People’s Congress Standing Committee, and endorsed by Xi without public debate in Hong Kong or a vote by its elected legislature. It allows for sentences as long as life in prison and extends to actions committed by anyone, resident or foreigner. Among the other measures: