By Jesús Centeno and Shirley Lau
Beijing, Jul 2 (EFE).- The National Security Law that Beijing imposed on the semi-autonomous Chinese city of Hong Kong this time last year silenced the protests that erupted in 2019 but also led to mass arrests, the marginalization of the political opposition and prompted many citizens to consider emigrating.
One such person is Tom, a man in his 30s who, like others, preferred not to give his full name for security reasons.
“I want to have a better future. Hong Kong is not a stable place,” he told Efe, adding that he planned to move to the United Kingdom.
Since the new law came into effect on June 30, 2020, dozens of alleged activists and protesters have been detained in the former British colony.
More recently, authorities used the law to freeze the assets and arrest several senior editors of the Apple Daily, a popular newspaper critical of Beijing, forcing its closure after 26 years.
The Hong Kong government, at the behest of Beijing, has made pro-independence slogans illegal, ordered schools and libraries to get rid of “politicized” literature and forced the local RTHK TV network to cancel debates and alter its content to conform with the law.
Driven by a fear that the relative freedom enjoyed by Hong Kong will never return, at least 470 people have officially requested foreign asylum, the majority in Australia (305), the UK (121) and Canada (21), according to local media as of May this year.
A CLIMATE OF FEAR
The National Security Law prohibits, sweepingly, acts of “subversion” against the central government in the financial hub and bans collusion with foreign entities.
Amnesty International’s Asia and Pacific regional director Yamini Mishra said it has turned Hong Kong into a “police state.”
“From politics to culture, education to media, the law has infected every part of Hong Kong society and fomented a climate of fear that forces residents to think twice about what they say, what they tweet and how they live their lives,” she said in a statement.
Jean-Pierre Cabestan, director of Political Sciences at Hong Kong Baptist University told Efe that Hong Kong “has moved from a hybrid political system to a semi-authoritarian political system.”
“The National Security Law has dramatically restricted political freedom and overhauled the whole polity. The Covid-19 pandemic has helped its swift implementation,” he added.
“The law has introduced an extensive definition of subversion, terrorism, sedition and collusion with foreign forces; as a result many pan-democrats are in jail or intimidated and cannot develop political activities as before.”
It is for those reasons that Cindy, another Hong Kong resident, has decided to move to Australia with one of her two children. The other is due to travel to the UK this summer, while her husband, a doctor, will remain in Hong Kong.
“We are a family of four and we will soon be separated over three different places. I sometimes ask myself if it’s the right thing to do. But we have no choice. We cannot allow our kids to grow up in a place like this.
“We started making plans to leave a few years ago, but what happened in the last two years sped up our plan, especially the national security law. It has changed Hong Kong so much.”
Michael, 42, freelance worker who took to the streets many times in 2019, said he would remain in Hong Kong but carried guilt that protest leaders are facing hefty jail sentences while he remains free.
“Among the Hongkongers who should be the first to leave the city are Jimmy Lai, Joshua Wong and Benny Tai, but they decided to stay. And in the last two years, many people have sacrificed and suffered a lot, from physical injuries to imprisonment to even death.”