China’s security law is Hong Kong’s deathblow

In 2015, five filmmakers set out to make a dystopian speculative film about the future of Hong Kong.

Produced on a shoestring budget by a largely volunteer crew, it envisioned a nightmarish decade for the city, culminating in a Hong Kong in which the police begin inflicting grotesque violence against dissenters, young children are indoctrinated in Chinese Communist Party ideology, and people are forced to learn Mandarin to have any prospect of good employment. They called it Ten Years.

Less than five years later, the film’s prescience is horrifying. What was intended as the very worst vision for the city has become a terrifying reality.

A police force still running on colonial hardware has run riot for a year, inflicting horrific violence against protesters with impunity—backed to the hilt by the authorities. Mass targeted arrests of high-profile pro-democracy activists and politicians on spurious charges have also been initiated, and on Thursday, in an act many view as the final nail in Hong Kong’s coffin, the dreaded Article 23, a mothballed provision in Hong Kong’s constitution providing for draconian national security laws, was unveiled in all but name.

While the official announcement has only proposed “legal and enforcement mechanisms in Hong Kong for defending national security” as one item among nine on the agenda for the National People’s Congress (NPC) to discuss in Beijing over the next week, the NPC’s role as China’s rubber-stamp parliament means the decision is all but final.

Although the details have not yet been published, it is likely that the legislation’s language will be deliberately ambiguous so as to allow the judicial interpretation of the laws to shift and harden over time. That’s in keeping with the mainland’s own intentionally vague and ever-shifting legal code, in which the only real authority is the Communist Party’s desire. The power of final interpretation on constitutional affairs lies not in any court in Hong Kong, or in any court at all, but in the NPC’s Standing Committee in Beijing, an explicitly political body completely subservient to the party elite. Within Article 23 itself, notions of “sedition and “treason” are left undefined, except to state that they refer to them being undertaken against the Central People’s Government.