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First Arrests Made Under China’s New Hong Kong National Security Law. Here’s What You Need to Know

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  • The text for China’s new national security law has finally been released, laying out new details about what this means for Hong Kong residents.
  • Among other things, the law overrides Hong Kong’s Constitution when there are inconsistencies, cannot be interpreted by Hong Kong courts, and allows for closed trials and easily denied bail.
  • One provision also states that non-Hong Kong residents can be prosecuted for acts outside Hong Kong, meaning it could jeopardize travel and independent journalism in the city. It could also force Hong Kongers living outside the city to choose between activism and being able to go home to see their families again. 
  • On Wednesday, Hong Kong police said they had made their first arrests using the new law.

Text of the Law Released

The full text of China’s new national security law against Hong Kong was finally released Tuesday, more than a month after it was proposed and a day after it was formally passed.

The 66-article law includes several broad measures that ban acts like secession, subversion, terrorism, and any activities by foreign forces that interfere in Hong Kong. Though many had hoped the specifics to these four main offenses would be clearly laid out in the full text of the law, they remain vague and contain ambiguous wording that gives Chinese authorities a large scope for targeting pro-democracy activists.

For example, collusion with foreign forces is partially defined as aiding foreign governments in enacting laws or policies that could cause serious obstruction or consequences to Hong Kong or China. Even though what constitutes serious obstruction and consequences is not clearly spelled out, such a definition could target lobbyists asking foreign governments to impose sanctions.

Say one is charged with a crime. The death penalty is off the table but life imprisonment is not. According to the Hong Kong Free Press, “serious” cases can attract penalties of at least 10 years and up to life in prison.

Article 62 of the security law explicitly states that it overrides local Hong Kong law if there are inconsistencies (Surprise, there are!).

For example, one major inconsistency with Article 62 is Article 42, which states that bail will not be granted to suspects “unless the judge has convincing reasons to believe he/she will not continue acts that endanger national security.” Such a rule is at odds with Hong Kong’s Criminal Procedure Ordinance, which presumes innocence and leans in favor of granting bail. 

While this national security law also “presumes innocence,” it doesn’t really explain what a person’s protections are, and many have feared that leaves an open door for China to impose some of the same harsh tactics it practices on the mainland.

“As a national security suspect, you can be locked up for as long as six months incommunicado, subject to torture, coerced confession, no access to counsel or family or friends, before the police decide whether to process you for a crime,” New York University law professor Jerome Cohen explained to The New York Times. 

According to Article 41 of the law, trials can be closed to the public for reasons such as maintaining state secrets. Whether or not a trial involves state secrets will be decided by Hong Kong Chief Executive Carrie Lam, who has long been accused of being a puppet for Beijing.

Lam is also able to appoint specific judges to hear national security cases.

The text of the law provides no provisions allowing Hong Kong courts to interpret any of its articles, unlike how courts can with the city’s de facto constitution, the Basic Law. 

The law also covers political candidates and officials already in office. If they’re found in violation of the law, they either can’t run or have to step down, respectively. That provision could prove to be a major detriment to a city where a candidate’s beliefs on pro-democracy rights has been a key issue.

Police Powers and the Law’s Impact on Foreign Travel

The full text of the law also reveals more about the new national security office being established in Hong Kong. 

That office, which was already known to have the power to oversee education about national security in Hong Kong schools, will not be bound by Hong Kong’s laws. In fact, the Hong Kong government is actually required to cooperate and prevent any obstruction of its work. 

In addition to that office, a new National Security Department will be created within the Hong Kong Police Force and is required to keep its operations secret.

Police within that department are also getting a host of broad powers, including: search powers, powers to restrict international travel, powers to freeze and confiscate of property, powers to require services providers to delete information and provide assistance, power to require foreign political organizations to provide information, and the power to conduct secret surveillance and interception of telecommunications, 

“All in all, this is a takeover of Hong Kong,” Cohen told The Times. 

One of the most audacious articles in the law is Article 38, which states that non-Hong Kong residents can be prosecuted in the city for violating the national security law outside of Hong Kong.

“Oh my god am I reading this right???” Axios reporter for China, Bethany Allen-Ebrahimian, said on Twitter Tuesday. “Did Beijing just grant itself sweeping extraterritoriality to…everyone on the planet?” 

Such a move could have massive implications for tourism, as anyone who has been charged by Beijing for violating its law could be arrested when arriving in Hong Kong or even China. It could also severely threaten independent journalism on the ground in the city.

On a more personal note, those who are originally from Hong Kong but now live outside China may be forced to either: advocate for basic human freedoms but never visit their home again at the risk of being arrested, or keep quiet even outside of China so they can potentially go back home to visit family.

First Arrests and International Response

The Hong Kong Police Force used the new law to reportedly make 10 arrests Wednesday, the first happening after a man displayed a flag reading “Hong Kong Independence.” It was later reported that the flag also had the words “no to” in small letters before the much larger phrase. It’s unclear if the police were aware of those words or if they even mattered considering the larger message.

Police also arrested roughly 370 people after a few thousand began demonstrating in a major commercial district before being forced off the streets. Of those arrests, nine included offenses related to the new security law. One of the people arrested was reportedly a 15-year-old girl who waved a Hong Kong independence flag.

Internationally, countries have continued to speak out against China’s crackdown. 

British Prime Minister Boris Johnson pledged to introduce a new five-year visa in his promise to provide refuge for up to 3 million Hong Kong citizens.

Canada has now updated its travel advisory warning to Hong Kong. That advisory now reads: “You may be at an increased risk of arbitrary detention on national security grounds and possible extradition to mainland China.”

Tuesday evening, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo threatened further action from the United States, saying first on Twitter:

“The CCP’s draconian national security law ends free Hong Kong and exposes the Party’s greatest fear: the free will and free thinking of its own people.”

“The United States will not stand idly by while China swallows Hong Kong into its authoritarian maw,” Pompeo added in a statement. 

See what others are saying: (Hong Kong Free Press) (The New York Times) (South China Morning Post)

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Egypt Seizes Ship That Blocked Suez Canal Until Owners Pay Nearly $1 Billion

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  • Egyptian authorities seized the Ever Given, a mega-ship that blocked the Suez Canal for nearly a week last month, after a judge ruled Wednesday that the owners must pay $900 million in damages.
  • The ship was seized just as it was deemed fit to return to sea after undergoing repairs in the Great Bitter Lake, which sits in the middle of the Suez Canal.
  • The vessel’s owners said little about the verdict, but insurance companies covering the ship pushed back against the $900 million price tag, saying it’s far too much for any damage the ship actually caused.

Ever Given Still in Egypt

An Egyptian court blocked the mega-ship known as the Ever Given from leaving the country Wednesday morning unless its owner pays nearly $1 billion in compensation for damages it caused after blocking the Suez Canal for nearly a week last month.

The Ever Given’s ordeal started when it slammed into the side of the canal and became lodged, which caused billions of dollars worth of goods to be held up on both sides of the canal while crews worked round the clock to free the vessel. An Egyptian judge found that the Ever Given becoming stuck caused not only physical damage to the canal that needed to be paid for but also “reputational” damage to Egypt and the Suez Canal Authority.

The ship’s Japanese owner, Shoei Kisen Kaisha, will need to pay $900 million to free the ship and the cargo it held, both of which were seized by authorities after the ship was transported to the Great Bitter Lake in the middle of the canal to undergo now-finished repairs. Shoei Kisen Kaisha doesn’t seem to want to fight the judgment in court just yet. It released a short statement after the ruling, saying that lawyers and insurance companies were working on the claims but refused to comment further.

Pushing Back Against The Claim

While Shoei Kisen Kaisha put in a claim with insurers, those insurance companies aren’t keen on just paying the bill. One of the ship’s insurers, UKP&I, challenged the basis of the $900 million claim, writing in a press release, “The [Suez Canal Authority] has not provided a detailed justification for this extraordinarily large claim, which includes a $300 million claim for a ‘salvage bonus’ and a $300 million claim for ‘loss of reputation.’”

“The grounding resulted in no pollution and no reported injuries. The vessel was re-floated after six days and the Suez Canal promptly resumed their commercial operations.”

It went on to add that the $900 million verdict doesn’t even include payments to the crews that worked to free the ship, meaning that the total price tag of the event could likely be far more for Shoei Kisen Kaisha and the multiple insurance companies it works with.

See what others are saying: (Financial Times) (CNN) (The Telegraph)

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Treated Radioactive Water From Japanese Nuclear Power Plant Will Be Released Into Ocean

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  • The Japanese government confirmed Tuesday that it will officially move forward with plans to dump millions of gallons of radioactive water from the Fukushima nuclear power plant into the ocean.
  • The government spent a decade decontaminating the water, only leaving a naturally occurring isotope in it that scientists recognize as safe for people and the environment.
  • Despite the safety claims, protesters took to the streets in Tokyo to show disapproval of the decision. Local business owners, in particular, have expressed fears that more municipalities worldwide could ban Fukushima products, including fish, because of distrust in the water.
  • Meanwhile, officials have insisted that the dump is necessary as the water takes up a massive amount of space, which is needed to store highly radioactive fuel rods from the remaining cores at the now-defunct nuclear facility.

Editor’s Note: The Japanese government has asked Western outlets to adhere to Japanese naming conventions. To that end, Japanese names will be written as Family Name followed by Given Name.

Radioactive or Bad Publicity?

After years of discussions and debate, the Japanese government announced Tuesday that it will dump radioactive water from the Fukushima nuclear power plant into the ocean.

Government officials consider the move necessary, but it’s facing backlash from local businesses, particularly fisheries, over potential consequences it could have. Many are especially concerned that the decision will create bad press for the region as headlines about it emerge. For instance, a headline from the Guardian on the issue reads, “Japan announces it will dump contaminated water into sea.”

While the water is contaminated and radioactive, it’s not nearly what the headlines make it out to be. The government has spent the last decade decontaminating it, and now it only contains a trace amount of the isotope tritium. That isotope is common in nature and is already found in trace amounts in groundwater throughout the world. Its radiation is so weak that it can’t pierce human skin, meaning one could only possibly get sick by ingesting more than that has ever been recorded.

According to the government, the decontaminated water at Fukushima will be diluted to 1/7 of the WHO’s acceptable radiation levels for drinking water before being released into the ocean over two years.

Something Had To Eventually Be Done

Over the last decade, Japan has proposed this plan and other similar ones, such as evaporating the water, which the International Atomic Energy Agency said last year met global standards.

The water has been sitting in containers for years, so why is there a push to remove it now? Space and leakage seem to be the primary reasons.

The water containers are slowly being filled by groundwater, and the government expects to run out of space relatively soon. Space is sorely needed, as Prime Minister Suga Yoshihide has pointed out in the past that the government wants to use the space to store damaged radioactive fuel rods that still need to be extracted from the plant. Unlike the water, those rods are dangerously radioactive and need proper storage.

Regardless, Suga reportedly recognizes that removing the water is going to end up as a lose-lose situation.

“It is inevitable that there would be reputational damage regardless of how the water will be disposed of, whether into the sea or into the air,” he said at a press conference last week. As expected, the government’s decision did trigger backlash, prompting many demonstrators to take to the streets of Tokyo Tuesday in protest.

To this day, eleven countries and regions still ban many products from the Fukushima prefecture despite massive clean-up efforts that have seen people returning to the area to live.

See what others are saying: (NPR) (KBS World) (NBC News)

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Greta Thunberg To Skip U.N. Climate Change Conference, Citing Vaccine Inequality

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  • Young environmental activist Greta Thunberg will not attend the U.N.’s climate change conference set to take place in Glasgow, Scotland this November.
  • “Inequality and climate injustice is already the heart of the climate crisis. If people can’t be vaccinated and travel to be represented equally that’s undemocratic and would worsen the problem,” the 18-year-old tweeted Friday, adding, “Vaccine nationalism won’t solve the pandemic. Global problems need global solutions.”
  • Since rollouts began late last year, 40% of vaccines have been administered in wealthy and Western countries, according to The Washington Post.
  • Scientists have warned that the longer the virus continues to circulate widely, the more chances it will have to change and potentially develop vaccine resistance.

Thunberg Points To Vaccine Inequality

Swedish climate activist Greta Thunberg has said she is skipping the UN’s climate change conference.

The COP26 summit is set to take place in Glasgow, Scotland in November, but 18-year-old Thunberg told BBC she won’t attend because she’s concerned about the impact COVID-19 will have on attendance.

In a Twitter thread Friday, she responded to a headline about her plans to miss the summit.

“Of course I would love to attend…But not unless everyone can take part on the same terms. Right now many countries are vaccinating healthy young people, often at the expense of risk groups and front line workers (mainly from global south, as usual…),” she wrote.

“Inequality and climate injustice is already the heart of the climate crisis. If people can’t be vaccinated and travel to be represented equally that’s undemocratic and would worsen the problem.”

“Vaccine nationalism won’t solve the pandemic. Global problems need global solutions,” the teen continued.

Thunberg went on to say that if the summit is delayed, it doesn’t mean urgent action should too.

“We don’t have to wait for conferences nor anyone or anything else to dramatically start reducing our emissions. Solidarity and action can start today,” she added before noting that digital alternatives for the conference would also be insufficient.

“High speed internet connection and access to computers is extremely unequal in the world. In that case we would lack representation from those whose voices need to be heard the most when it comes to the climate crisis,” she wrote.

Data on Global Vaccine Distribution Efforts

According to The Washington Post, nearly 20% of people in the United States are now vaccinated, but many other countries are unlikely to hit that same metric by the end of the year, even with international assistance through the Covax program.

Current projections predict it could be years before developing countries distribute enough doses to come close to herd immunity, which scientists say requires inoculating around 70-80% of a population.

Since rollouts began late last year, enough shots have been distributed to fully vaccinate about 5% of the world’s population, but The Post reported that the vast majority have been administered in wealthy and Western countries.

Around 40% of vaccines have been given in 27 wealthy nations that include only 11% of the world’s population, according to the Bloomberg Vaccine Tracker.

That’s pretty concerning because scientists also warn that the longer the virus continues to circulate widely, the more chances it will have to change and potentially develop vaccine resistance.

Thunberg’s comments are a blow for U.K. organizers, who have already postponed the conference once from last November because of the pandemic. Even now, there has been speculation that it could be delayed again this year.

Thunberg would not play a formal role at the conference but her decision not to attend is a significant symbolic moment.

At COP25, the young climate change activist gave a headline speech and she typically attends major climate events of this nature. On top of that, reports say this summit was slated to be one of the most consequential climate conferences since the 2015 Paris accord.

On the agenda for this year’s conference discussions were country-level plans for cutting carbon emissions, along with progress on the Paris agreement and the U.N. Framework Convention on Climate Change.

See what others are saying: (Insider) (CNBC) (The Washington Post)

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