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Hong Kong security law: Life sentences for breaking law

People in Hong Kong could face life in jail for breaking a controversial and sweeping new security law imposed by China.

The legislation came into force on Tuesday but the full text was only revealed hours afterwards.

It was brought in by Beijing following increasing unrest and a widening pro-democracy movement.

Critics say the new law effectively curtails protest and undermines Hong Kong's freedoms.

Hong Kong's leader, Carrie Lam, defended the law, saying it filled a "gaping hole" in national security.

Details have been closely guarded and the Beijing-backed politician admitted she had not seen the draft before commenting.

The UK, EU and Nato have all expressed concern and anger, while pro-democracy groups have started to disband amid fears of immediate reprisals.

What do we know about the law?

Full details of the new law only emerged after it had come into effect at about 23:00 local time on Tuesday (16:00 BST).

It applies to both permanent and non-permanent residents. Among the details:

  • Crimes of secession, subversion, terrorism and collusion with foreign forces are punishable by a minimum sentence of three years, with the maximum being life
  • Inciting hatred of China's central government and Hong Kong's regional government are now offences under Article 29
  • Damaging public transport facilities can be considered terrorism – protesters often targeted city infrastructure during the long-running demonstrations
  • Those found guilty will not be allowed to stand for public office
  • Beijing will establish a new security office in Hong Kong, with its own law enforcement personnel – neither of which would come under the local authority's jurisdiction
  • Hong Kong's chief executive can appoint judges in national security cases, and the justice secretary can decide whether or not there is a jury
  • Decisions made by the national security commission, set up by local authorities, cannot be challenged legally
  • China also says it will take over prosecution in cases which are considered "very serious", while some trials will be heard behind closed doors.
  • Management of foreign non-governmental organisations and news agencies will be strengthened

The law will not apply to acts which happened before it came into force.

Under the national security law, many of the acts of protest that have rocked Hong Kong over the past year could now be classed as subversion or secession… and punished with up to life in prison.

The city's pro-Beijing leader, Carrie Lam, said the law was long overdue.

Fearing repercussions, political activists are resigning their posts and one pro-democracy protester, who asked to remain anonymous, told me that ordinary people are now deleting posts on social media.

Many people are just stopping talking about politics, and stopping talking about freedom and democracy because they want to save their own lives. They want to save their freedom and avoid being arrested.

One contact of mine, a lawyer and human rights activist, sent me a message shortly after the law was passed. Please delete everything on this chat, he wrote.

What has the reaction been?

The reaction began the moment the law – which was first announced six weeks ago – was signed by China's President Xi Jinping.

Pro-democracy activists in Hong Kong began to quit immediately, fearful of the new law, and the punishment it allows.

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