Hong Kong sees 1st arrest under Beijing-imposed national security law

Police raise purple banner warning against 'secession,' 'subversion' as Hongkongers take to streets on 23rd anniversary of handover

Flag adopted by Hong Kong police after passage of national security law. (Internet photo)

Flag adopted by Hong Kong police after passage of national security law. (Internet photo)

TAIPEI (Taiwan News) — A man displaying a pro-independence banner has become the first casualty of Hong Kong's heavy-handed new national security legislation the day after it was passed by Beijing, with Hong Kong police reportedly carrying a new banner of their own to warn protesters allegedly in breach of the broadly defined law, which carries harsh sentences ranging from three years to life.

Shortly before 3 p.m., the Hong Kong Police Force (HKPF) on Twitter posted that the first arrest has been made under the national security law: a man in Causeway Bay who had been standing behind a black flag on the ground that read "香港獨立 HONG KONG INDEPENDENCE." While such slogans have been a common sight in the city since the pro-democracy protests kicked off last summer, displaying them now may constitute an act of "secession."

According to the Law of the People's Republic of China on Safeguarding National Security in the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region, the full text of which emerged Wednesday, a secession charge can be levied against anyone who "organises, plans, commits, or participates" in "separating" Hong Kong from China; "altering by unlawful means" the city's legal status; or "surrendering" it to a foreign country, China Daily reported.

The law stipulates that under normal circumstances, the offense carries a prison sentence of a minimum of three and up to 10 years, but individuals can be slapped with life imprisonment if their offense is deemed to be "grave." Sentences of up to 10 years also apply to convictions of "subversion," "terrorist activities," and "collusion with a foreign country."

The power to interpret the new legislation and — and therefore determine the seriousness of offenses — has been given to the Standing Committee of China National People's Congress, effectively bypassing Hong Kong's legal system. As for trials themselves, the city's chief executive, who answers directly to the Central People's Government in Beijing, has been empowered to handpick judges to preside over them.

While critics of the law say China's unprecedented say in Hong Kong's legal system heralds the end of the special administrative region's judicial independence, Chief Executive Carrie Lam (林鄭月娥) at an Establishment Day cocktail party on Wednesday said: "We will see the rainbow after the rainstorm, and peace will return to Hong Kong after a year of unrest," South China Morning Times reported.

For the time being, however, the rainstorm continues. Hongkongers continue to engage in unsanctioned protests around the city, and police are responding with an aggressive crackdown, conducting searches and arrests, Hong Kong Free Press reported.

In addition to the yellow, red, black, and orange warning flags seen before, officers have now added to their arsenal a purple banner. They are raising it to warn protesters that they are "displaying flags or banners/chanting slogans/or conductive yourselves with an intent such as secession or subversion, which may constitute offences under the HKSAR National Security Law."

At 3:54 p.m., the HKPF tweeted that a total of 70 people had been taken into custody, including a second person, a female, arrested for violating the security law by carrying a piece of paper hand-scrawled with the same pro-independence message and attached to small British and American flags.