Human Lives Human Rights: The Chief Executive, John Lee, has announced the commencement of public consultation on a new draft national security law in Hong Kong, known as Article 23 legislation. This development is viewed as potentially the most perilous moment for human rights in the region since the introduction of the National Security Law in 2020, raising concerns about increased repression.
The proposed Article 23 legislation, if enacted, could deepen the atmosphere of repression in Hong Kong. The government’s decision to revisit this law over two decades later, coupled with ongoing prosecutions of critical speech and imprisonment of political opposition members, suggests a disregard for the electorate’s concerns. Similar to the National Security Law, authorities may push through this legislation with minimal meaningful consultation, potentially breaching international law.
The intention to intensify repression under Article 23, with steeper penalties and an expanded scope for criminalizing the legitimate exercise of rights in the name of national security, is alarming. The Hong Kong authorities are urged not to advance any legislation that disregards UN expert recommendations and further undermines human rights in the city. The international community is called upon to promptly scrutinize and, if necessary, strongly oppose the government’s proposals.
Article 23 of Hong Kong’s Basic Law mandates the government to pass local laws prohibiting seven offenses, some of which were criminalized under the 2020 National Security Law. The new legislation, named the Safeguarding National Security Bill, is currently open for public consultation until February 28. The government released a consultation paper describing national security risks and principles, but the full draft text of the legislation has not been made public.
In 2003, attempts to introduce Article 23 legislation were met with widespread protests, leading to its withdrawal. Since the imposition of the National Security Law in 2020, there have been discussions about Hong Kong legislating its own national security law under Article 23. The ongoing mass arrests of opposition figures and changes to the electoral system raise concerns about the legislation’s smooth passage in the pro-government Legislative Council. Rights groups previously expressed concerns about similar proposals in 2002.