A former Hong Kong minister has doubled down on his warning the national security law could be “weaponised” for unrelated issues, saying risks could come from both the government and the opposition.
Former secretary for transport and housing Anthony Cheung Bing-leung told the Post on Wednesday he had only sounded a reminder of the potential risk of the controversial law being abused. He was speaking a day after Chief Executive Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor rejected his earlier comments.
“I didn’t say the abuse of the law has happened,” Cheung said. It’s just a precautionary note.”
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Now a research chair professor of public administration at Education University, Cheung said the law was supposed to tackle extreme acts that endangered national security.
“The government should invoke the national security law sparingly and instead use other existing legislation to make arrests or prosecution as far as possible,” he said.
In a book talk on Monday, Cheung had argued that the biggest problem with the issue of national security around the world was not whether countries had laws or enforcement agencies to safeguard this, but whether such legislation could be “weaponised”.
“Since the law is really easy to use, many things, which could just be public order issues and are not within the scope of national security, could be elevated to become national security issues,” he said.
The next day, Lam responded to a question on safeguarding national security in Hong Kong by taking the opportunity to address Cheung’s remarks without naming him: “I was very surprised about [the warning],” she said. “The law was imposed to punish evils. I cannot understand why it can be related to weaponisation.”
She said the greater concern was how anti-establishment forces were using financial systems and social media.
The Beijing-imposed law went into force on June 30 to prohibit in broad terms any acts of secession, subversion, terrorism and colluding with external forces.
Cheung on Wednesday said he fully understood that the chief executive “has to leave no doubt as to supporting the need for and the merit of the present national security law”.
“I raised the precautionary note about weaponisation for political purposes because that is the risk experienced in other countries, including the United States after the terrorist attack on September 11, 2001,” he said. “Right now the US and its close allies are targeting China and firms linked to China in the name of national security.”
He said national security legislation in some Western countries was also quite harsh. “For instance, Australia’s national security laws allow trials to be held in secret,” Cheung noted. “Weaponisation can occur when political opponents of the government use the issue of national security law to play up political fear and conflict.”
But the government should not invoke the legislation lightly, he argued.
At least 20 people have been arrested for violating the law. On July 1, just hours after it was imposed, thousands of protesters went ahead with the opposition’s annual July 1 flagship march in defiance of a police ban. By the end of the day, 10 had been arrested for breaches of the new law.
Most were accused of either displaying or possessing banners carrying messages deemed by the government to be pro-independence.
Only one has been charged in court so far – a man accused of incitement of secession and terrorism, who allegedly rode his motorbike into a group of officers. The suspect had mounted on his bike a flag with the slogan “Liberate Hong Kong”, often seen at anti-government protests over the past year.
The message has been branded a call for independence by the local government – illegal under the new law.
The largest operation involving the law came on August 10 when Apple Daily founder Jimmy Lai Chee-ying, one of his sons and an executive at his media group, as well as three opposition activists, were arrested in separate raids. More than 200 police officers also raided the Tseung Kwan O premises of the tabloid-style newspaper. The six have yet to be charged.
More from South China Morning Post:
- New Hong Kong civil servants told to behave or be fired, by city’s leader Carrie Lam
- National security law: Hong Kong’s academic freedom is perfectly safe
- Hong Kong leader Carrie Lam hits out at former minister over remarks national security law could be ‘weaponised’
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