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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)

International

Thousands Protest in Russia Demanding Release of Putin Foe Alexei Navalny

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  • Russia faced some of the largest protests it has seen in recent years after thousands took to the streets Saturday demanding the government release opposition figure Alexei Navalny.
  • Russian authorities declared the protests illegal and detained more than 3,500 people from more than 100 cities, including Navalny’s wife.
  • The government also released a statement addressing Navalny by name for the first time, attempting to discredit claims he has made, including the idea that President Vladimir Putin has a billion-dollar villa on the Black Sea coast.

Largest Russian Protests in Recent History

Russia experienced some of its largest protests in years Saturday after opposition figure Alexei Navalny called for demonstrations to be held following his arrest.

Supporters demanded Navalny’s release but also called for an end to perceived rampant corruption in the Russian state.

Tens of thousands took to the streets and clashed with police in more than 100 cities, with independent monitors claiming that 3,500 people were detained by police. Among those detained was Yulia Navalnaya, Navalny’s wife, who was targeted by authorities during the protests. She is reported to have been released by Russian media agencies such as TASS.

Despite Russian authorities declaring the protests illegal and warning of repercussions for those who attend, the protests managed to reach a wide range of people. According to the New York Times, over ⅓ of protesters in Moscow said they had never protested before.

Despite the movements current popularity, it may be difficult to turn the popular, anti-Putin movement into something more.The protesters span a broad range of the political spectrum, from far-left communist and anarchist groups to nationalists and libertarians, meaning that while they dislike Putin and the corruption in the Russian government, they agree on little else.

Changing the Message

The protests unveiled a new shift in how Russian authorities deal with Navalny. In the past, authorities and state-backed media never mentioned him by name in order to downplay him; however, that changed this weekend.

Newscasters aired multiple programs to discredit him and paint him as a tool of the West, while Putin denied Navalny’s claims that he has a secret, billion-dollar villa on the coast of the Black Sea. Based on his salary of $133,000 a year, Putin would only be able to afford a single home in Russia. However, there is speculation that due to corruption and embezzling, Putin is likely the actual richest person alive.

Regarding Navalny himself, he’s still in jail pending court proceedings on Feb. 2. If those go poorly for Navalny, he could be in prison until the mid-2020s, but he is more concerned about his immediate future.

In a video to supporters prior to the protests, he made it clear that he has no intention of committing suicide. That statement was likely made due to the fact that many Russian dissidents seem to die via suicide, with much speculation about whether or not that was actually the case.

See what others are saying: (New York Times) (Business Insider) (Associated Press)

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International

Some Flyers Are Forging Old COVID-19 Tests To Travel

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  • As a number of countries and airlines impose rules requiring negative COVID tests up to 72 before flights, more and more people have been forging old tests to make them look new.
  • In a recent report from Vice’s Motherboard, two anonymous men detailed how they forged documents to avoid having to pay for new ones.
  • “Fun fact, the document was in French whereas they were in Sweden the day it was supposedly made, but [airport officials] didn’t see a problem in that,” one man told Motherboard. 

Forging Old COVID-19 Tests

Many countries are now requiring flyers to present negative COVID-19 tests no more than 72 hours before they board planes; however, some people are reportedly forging their test results to get around the restrictions. 

According to Vice’s Motherboard, one anonymous individual used Photoshop to change the date of several of his friends’ older coronavirus tests. 

“Fun fact, the document was in French whereas they were in Sweden the day it was supposedly made, but [airport officials] didn’t see a problem in that,” the man told the outlet. 

Another person told Motherboard that he had changed the date of an old test result using Microsoft Paint in order to travel to Southern Europe for vacation.

Situations like this in Europe are not completely new.

“We needed a COVID-19 test for a family member and I spoke to one travel agent and he said, ‘Get it done and even if it comes out positive we will provide a negative one for you for £50’,” one person told The Sun in October.

While those people seemingly got away with potential forgery crimes, others haven’t.

Last week, it was reported that 45 people were caught trying to enter Croatia with fake COVID tests. Notably, they could each face up to three years in prison for forging documents. 

Earlier this month, a 17-year-old Dutch girl was also caught with a forged COVID test while trying to escape quarantine in Switzerland. 

Why Are People Forging Documents?

Part of the reason people are forging old COVID-19 tests may be to keep from being barred if a new test comes back positive; however, there also appears to be at least one other major reason: money.

Right now, tests in most European countries are free, but that’s not the case for people trying to go on vacation. 

In fact, people traveling for leisure have been warned not to use free COVID-19 testing services to meet flight demands. Instead, they are required to pay out of pocket to have their test sent to a private company. 

See what others are saying: (Motherboard) (The Independent) (TravelPulse)

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International

Russia Orders Social Media Sites To Block Calls for Navalny Protests

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  • Shortly after his arrest on Sunday, Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny called for protests to take place on Jan. 23 and was met with a wave of support online.
  • In response, the government ordered tech giants like Facebook, YouTube, Twitter, TikTok, and Russian-centric VK to “block all publications with calls to demonstrate on the 23rd.”
  • TikTok has already deleted 38% of posts with such calls while VK and YouTube have deleted 50%, and Instagram has removed 17%.

Navalny Calls for Protests

Russian opposition figure Alexei Navalny’s return to Russia and subsequent arrest earlier this week has set off a chain of events in the country.

Since his arrest, Navalny has called for protests to occur on Jan. 23. Now, Russian authorities are taking precautions and arresting his allies in an effort to slow down the momentum of the looming demonstrations. Among their many demands are that Navalny be released.

Throughout the week, thousands of posts shared by younger Russians have raged across social media asking that people partake in the protests. The reach of those posts, however, have been curtailed by the government.

Social media tech giants like Facebook, YouTube, Twitter, TikTok, and the Russian-centric VK were ordered by the Russian government to “block all publications with calls to demonstrate on the 23rd.”

Roskomnadzor, the Russian communications watchdog, later stated, “Internet sites will be brought to administrative responsibility in connection with the dissemination of information prohibited by law and aimed at attracting minors to participate in unauthorized mass public events.”

“Participation in such events is in violation of the established procedure, including in a pandemic, and carries risks of harm to life and health,” it added.

Censorship Payoff Unknown

For many of the sites, which are often seen as a way to promote free speech in regimes that are far more restrictive, the order puts them in an awkward position. Still, many have already complied, at least to some extend.

According to Roskomnadzor, Tiktok has deleted 38% of videos calling for minors to attend the protests. VK and YouTube have both deleted 50% of similar posts, while Instagram has removed 17% of posts that violate the regulations.

It’s unclear to what extent this censorship will have on stopping Russians from attending tomorrow’s protests; however, some of the nation’s largest protests in modern history have been organized by Navalny.

See what others are saying: (Moscow Times) (Associated Press) (Reuters)

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