China imposed a sweeping national security law on Hong Kong Tuesday, dramatically tightening its grip on the semi-autonomous city.
The historic move was decried by Western nations as a threat to the financial hub’s freedoms.
Described by Beijing as a “sword” hanging over the heads of those endangering national security, the law took effect hours after it was signed by President Xi Jinping and just six weeks since it was first unveiled.
Fed up with pro-democracy protests that rocked the city last year, China’s top lawmaking body enacted the legislation following closed-door deliberations that kept details secret until its passage.
The law gives Beijing jurisdiction over “very serious” national security crimes, with offenders facing up to life in prison, according to the text published late Tuesday.
The controversial law also empowers China to set up a national security agency in the city, staffed by officials who are not bound by local law when carrying out duties.
The new suite of powers radically restructures the relationship between Beijing and Hong Kong, toppling the legal firewall that has existed between the city’s independent judiciary and the mainland’s party-controlled courts.
Pro-democracy supporters around the world reacted to the passing of the law with horror.
“It marks the end of Hong Kong that the world knew before,” prominent democracy campaigner Joshua Wong tweeted as his political party Demosisto announced it was disbanding.
“With sweeping powers and ill-defined law, the city will turn into a #secretpolicestate.”
Some Hong Kongers responded by deleting Twitter accounts and scrubbing other social media platforms.
In contrast, former city leader Leung Chun-ying took to Facebook to offer bounties of up to $HK1 million ($A130,000) for anyone who could help secure the first prosecutions under the new legislation or track down people who have recently fled the city.
Twenty-seven countries, including Britain, France, Germany and Japan, urged Beijing to “reconsider the imposition” of the legislation, saying in a statement to the UN Human Rights Council that it “undermines” the city’s freedoms.
The move has also added fuel to tensions between Washington and Beijing.
The US passed the Hong Kong Human Rights and Democracy Act last year requring the government to impose sanctions against China and Hong Kong officials considered responsible for human rights abuses in Hong Kong.
President Donald Trump has said he would strip Hong Kong of its special status with the US in response to the new national security law.
– with AFP