Hong Kong marked the 23rd anniversary of the territory’s return to China on Wednesday hours after Beijing’s imposition of a new national security law, drawing international condemnation and thousands of defiant protesters.
Chief Executive Carrie Lam joined her predecessors and other officials at the harbour’s edge for a flag-raising ceremony and a reception for specially-invited guests, as the territory’s annual pro-democracy march was banned for the first time.
In her speech, Lam praised the new law as “the most important development” in the relationship between Beijing and Hong Kong since the 1997 handover, saying it is “necessary and timely” move to restore stability.
She defended the legislation, which came into force overnight after being rushed through China’s rubber-stamp parliament as “constitutional, lawful, sensible and reasonable”.
In a press briefing following the ceremony, Zhang Xiaoming, the Executive Deputy Director of the Hong Kong and Macao Affairs Office, said suspects arrested under the law would be tried in the mainland, adding that Hong Kong’s legal system could not be expected to implement the laws of the mainland.
Spreading “rumours” and “directing hatred” towards Hong Kong police are among the transgressions that could be potentially prosecuted and punished under the new law, he said.
In a separate press conference on Wednesday afternoon, Lam also said that the law reflects Beijing’s desire to uphold one country, two system.
Pro-democracy lawmaker Claudia Mo, for her part, said that “free press could just be announced dead in Hong Kong.”
She added that journalists who publish sensitive information about Hong Kong could also be in “dire trouble”.
Civic Party lawmaker Kwok Ka-ki, meanwhile, was quoted by the South China Morning Post, as saying, “Today is the end of one country, two system. From today it is one country, one system.”
Amid threats of possible arrest, protesters gathered near the conference centre where the ceremony was held, carrying banners and shouting their opposition to the new law, which seeks to punish crimes of secession, subversion, terrorism and collusion with foreign forces with punishments including life in prison.