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Hong Kong's government nears passage of a new national security measure

LEILA FADEL, HOST:

The government of Hong Kong is getting closer to passing a new national security law known as Article 23. It builds on legislation imposed by Beijing to stifle dissent following pro-democracy protests in 2019. Lawmakers discussed a draft of Article 23 today. For more on this, we're joined by Eric Lai with the Georgetown Center for Asian Law. Good morning.

ERIC LAI: Good morning.

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FADEL: Thank you for being on the program. I want to start with this new national security bill. Why - what's different about this? I mean, there is a national security law on the books in Hong Kong.

LAI: Right. Beijing has imposed a national security law in Hong Kong for - back in 2020.

FADEL: Yeah.

LAI: And it has four offenses, and it has restricted due process in Hong Kong. But this current national security bill has more than 180 provisions to expand the national security crimes, but also further restrict due process and fair treatment of arrestees if they are investigated or arrested by National Security police.

FADEL: So would this stifle dissent even further?

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LAI: It would stifle dissent even further. Not just activists, but it would also impact academics, journalists and even religious clergy and even foreign businesses, mainly because it adopts the ideas or definition of state secrets and national security from mainland Chinese law legal system. It is not simply criminal offenses, but they are transplanting all these mainland Chinese ideas into Hong Kong.

FADEL: Now, this bill had been on the shelf for a long time. Why are authorities trying to fast track it now?

LAI: There is a strong imperative from Beijing that Hong Kong has to complete the national security legislations by themselves. And it seems that the Hong Kong government is eager to place national security over other important developments in society. And they see national security laws - the more legal instruments they have, the greater chilling effect they can create in Hong Kong and even overseas, when there are many emerging, growing Hong Kong immigrant communities in the Western democracies.

FADEL: And there's pressure from Beijing.

LAI: There is a clear signal. When Beijing opened it to two sessions earlier this month, they even gave a strong signal to the Hong Kong government representatives and delegates to return to Hong Kong to stop the legislative processes. It seems they got a very strong signal from Beijing that they have to complete the legislation as soon as possible.

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FADEL: And how soon could that be?

LAI: That - now they have already completed the whole review of the bill just in six days time. They proposed - they tabled the bill last Friday, and now they are ready to go for second reading and third reading properly next week or even before Easter.

FADEL: And very quickly, how would the public receive a law like this? How is the public think about the bill?

LAI: Most of the people are - remain silent because they are afraid of speaking out against the bill. Even for overseas groups, they were labeled as anti-China when they are against the bill.

FADEL: Eric Lai is a research fellow at the Georgetown Center for Asian Law. Thank you for being on the program.

LAI: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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