Chinese President Xi Jinping signs bill that could mean jail for dissent in Hong Kong

China’s President Xi Jinping on Tuesday signed into law the Hong Kong national security bill in a closed-door meeting of the elites of the Communist Party of China (CPC) in Beijing, formalising a legislation that critics fear could crush the city’s freedom.

Official news agency Xinhua said Chinese lawmakers had voted to adopt the law and decided the “national security law would be included” in Hong Kong’s mini constitution known as the Basic Law.

Hong Kong’s pro-democracy activists could potentially face prison terms if found guilty under the new law.

Beijing says the law will be enforced to tackle separatism and foreign interference but critics say it will outlaw dissent and curb the various freedoms enjoyed by Hong Kong’s citizens under the “one country, two systems” mechanism under which it has been governed since 1997.

It will come into effect on Wednesday, July 1, the anniversary of Hong Kong’s handover to China from the British.

Hong Kong activist Joshua Wong announced he is stepping down as leader of his pro-democracy group Demosisto, soon after Beijing had passed the controversial national security law.

“After much internal deliberation, we have decided to disband and cease all operations as a group given the circumstances,” Demosisto said on Twitter.

Wong, 23, had previously said he would be a “prime target” of the law.

“We hope the law will serve as a deterrent to prevent people from stirring up trouble,” Tam Yiu-Chung, Hong Kong’s only representative on the Standing Committee of the National People’s Congress, China’s rubber-stamp Parliament, which approved the law on Tuesday morning.

“Don’t let Hong Kong be used as a tool to split the country,” he said.

“The national security law that targets a tiny minority of people who commit acts of secession, subversion and terrorism, and aims to protect the legitimate rights of the vast majority including law-biding citizens and companies, could not be better to safeguard Hong Kong’s stability and development in the long run,” Xinhua said in a commentary on Tuesday.

“In fact, Beijing is trying to protect the interests of foreign investors in Hong Kong, including those of American businesses. The turbulence since last June has seriously eroded the city’s security and harmed its sound and stable business environment,” the report added.

In Beijing, the Chinese foreign ministry said it will take necessary countermeasures to “firmly safeguard” its national interests in response to the US’s decision to end special treatment for Hong Kong over the new law.

Spokesperson Zhao Lijian told a daily ministry briefing said “the so-called sanctions” by the US side cannot stop China’s determination to promote the law on safeguarding national security in the city.

Zhao said that establishing national security law to safeguard the country’s national security is a representation of the “one country, two systems” principle.

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