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Hong Kong unveils new national security law with tougher penalties

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The Hong Kong government has unveiled a draft bill for new national security laws, known as Article 23, raising further concerns about diminishing freedoms in the city.

About the bill: The proposed bill, which would be added to Hong Kong's mini-constitution and co-exist with the 2020 Beijing-imposed national security law, includes harsh penalties for offenses such as treason, espionage, external interference and disclosure of state secrets, with the most severe offenses carrying life imprisonment.

What leaders are saying: According to China and Hong Kong leaders, the proposed laws are essential to “restore stability” in the aftermath of pro-democracy protests in 2019, citing similarities with international legislations. The new draft aims to fill perceived gaps in the 2020 national security law, with authorities claiming strong public support (98.6%) during the 28-day consultation period.

Critics’ argument: Critics fear the broad interpretation of national security offenses will encompass political criticism, dissent and non-criminal business activities, further jeopardizing rights and freedoms in Hong Kong.

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“I think many Hong Kongers are quite concerned about Article 23,” activist Yu Wai-Pan, who is part of the League of Social Democrats, told AFP News Agency. “I don’t understand why the secretary of justice said he heard no objection or no worry about this legislation. I understand that the channel that we can share our opinion in Hong Kong is quite limited. Even if we are concerned, we will still stay and fight for democracy.”

Expected enactment: The legislature initiated special sessions for the proposed bill, emphasizing urgency in passing the legislation. The bill is likely to receive prompt approval from Beijing-backed lawmakers and be enacted before mid-April.

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