Chief Executive of Hong Kong Carrie Lam said Tuesday the new national security law imposed by China does not spell all “doom and gloom” despite TikTok announcing it will abruptly pull out of the territory.
“Surely, this is not doom and gloom for Hong Kong,” Lam, the territory’s Beijing-backed leader, said at her weekly press conference, attempting to calm unease over the new legislation. “I’m sure, with the passage of time … confidence will grow in ‘one country, two systems’ and in Hong Kong’s future.”
Lam also vowed that though national security was a “red line” that should not be crossed, cases that would involve mainland security agents, who now have an enforcement presence in the city as part of the newly established national security committee, would be “rare,” according to Reuters.
The law established the committee under Beijing’s control and allows for those accused of offenses to be sent to the mainland for trial. Those who are not permanent residents of Hong Kong may be charged under the national security law as well.
Despite the national security law going into effect on June 30, the Hong Kong government waited until Monday night to release the new rules for the implementation of the legislation that gives sweeping new powers to the city’s police force, sounding the alarm for tech companies fearful they’ll be subjected to China-like censorship in Asia’s financial hub.
Hong Kong Chief Executive Carrie Lam listens to reporters’ questions during a press conference in Hong Kong, Tuesday, July 7, 2020. TikTok said Tuesday it will stop operations in Hong Kong, joining other social media companies in warily eyeing ramifications of a sweeping national security law that took effect last week. (AP Photo/Vincent Yu)
TikTok, run by Chinese Internet giant Bytedance, said in a statement Tuesday that it had decided to halt operations in Hong Kong “in light of recent events,” according to Reuters.
Critics see the law as Beijing’s boldest step yet to erase the legal firewall between the former British colony and the mainland’s authoritarian Communist Party system. Social media platforms have already been blocked in mainland China behind its “Great Firewall.”
About 370 people have been arrested since last week for charges including unlawful assemblies, disorderly conduct in public places and furious driving, according to police. At least 10 people have been arrested for allegedly directly violating the new law.
Tong Ying-kit, 23, was the first person in Hong Kong to be charged under the new law, for allegedly driving a motorcycle into a group of policemen while bearing a flag with the “Liberate Hong Kong, revolution of our time” slogan. He appeared in court Monday facing charges of incitement to secession and terrorist activities and was denied bail.
Chris Tang Ping-keung, the commissioner of the Hong Kong Police Force, has made an on-camera pledge in support of the new national security committee.
Under the latest rules laid out in Article 43, the police may issue written notices or restraining orders to freeze or confiscate property if there are “reasonable grounds” to suspect that the property is related to an offense endangering national security.
Platforms and publishers, as well as Internet service providers, may also be ordered to take down published electronic messages that are “likely to constitute an offense endangering national security or is likely to cause the occurrence of an offense endangering national security.”
Service providers who do not comply with such requests could face fines of up to 100,000 Hong Kong dollars ($12,903) and receive jail terms of six months. Individuals who post such messages may also be asked to remove the message or face similar fines and a jail term of one year.
Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said Monday he was considering a ban on TikTok amid concerns that the app could be forced to hand over data to the Chinese government. TikTok has some 65 million users in the United States, according to UK’s The Telegraph.
Facebook Inc., which owns Instagram and WhatsApp, Google Inc. and Twitter Inc. have all suspended processing government requests for user data in Hong Kong since last week.
Facebook Inc., said in a statement Monday night that it would freeze the review of government requests for user data in Hong Kong, “pending further assessment of the National Security Law, including formal human rights due diligence and consultations with international human rights experts.”
Twitter also paused all data and information requests from Hong Kong authorities after the security law went into effect last week, emphasizing that it was “committed to protecting the people using our service and their freedom of expression.”
“Like many public interest organizations, civil society leaders and entities, and industry peers, we have grave concerns regarding both the developing process and the full intention of this law,” the company said in a statement.
Google likewise said it had “paused production on any new data requests from Hong Kong authorities.”
Telegram, a platform widely used to spread pro-democracy messages and information about the protests, said it understands “the importance of protecting the right to privacy of our Hong Kong users.”
“Telegram has never shared any data with the Hong Kong authorities in the past and does not intend to process any data requests related to its Hong Kong users until an international consensus is reached in relation to the ongoing political changes in the city,” spokesman Mike Ravdonikas said.
The rules also allow Lam to authorize police to intercept communications and conduct surveillance to “prevent and detect offenses endangering national security.”
Police can conduct searches for evidence without a warrant in “exceptional circumstances” and seek warrants requiring people suspected of violating the national security law to surrender their travel documents, preventing them from leaving Hong Kong.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.