People found guilty under China's new national security legislation for Hong Kong could face a life sentence, local media reported on Monday as the police confirmed at least 53 people were arrested during a largely peaceful protest in the territory against the planned law.
"I believe the punishment may not be three years or 10 years in jail," Ip Kwok-him, a Hong Kong delegate to the Standing Committee of the National People's Congress, which began reviewing a draft of the bill on Sunday, told Apple Daily.
"National security law(s) overseas often have life imprisonment as the maximum sentence. I do not see why the punishment under (Hong Kong's) national security law cannot be as serious as that."
Ip also suggested that the legislation, which targets subversion, secession, terrorism and foreign interference, could be applied retroactively.
Hong Kong has endured more than a year of protests, which started when the territory's government attempted to pass a bill that would have allowed people to be sent to mainland China for trial. The rallies have since evolved into a broader call for democracy and become increasingly violent, marking the biggest challenge to Beijing's power since the territory was returned to Chinese rule in 1997.
The protests slowed this year as the coronavirus pandemic outlawed large gatherings, but people returned to the streets in May after Beijing announced its plan to impose the security law. Many expect the legislation to be enacted before July 1 when the anniversary of the handover is usually marked with a large rally.
The Chinese government has "unshakable determination to push ahead with enactment of the security bill and safeguard national sovereignty and interest," state broadcaster CCTV reported at the weekend, citing a government spokesperson.Police disperse protest
On Sunday, a crowd of several hundred people moved from Jordan to Mong Kok in the territory's Kowloon district, staging what was intended as a "silent protest" against the planned law.
Scuffles broke out with chanting and slogans directed towards police and officers using pepper spray on parts of the crowd. Hong Kong Police said on Facebook that 53 people had been arrested and charged with unlawful assembly, and that some protesters had tried to blockade roads in the area.
We have just released our statement on National Security Law. In the statement, we explained why we oppose the enactment of NSL. Procedurally, it is inconsistent with Basic Law. Substantively, it encroaches on autonomy and undermines judicial independence https://t.co/hllPG0Nqfn pic.twitter.com/ylzBZ6sheW— Progressive Lawyers Group 法政匯思 (@HongKongPLG) June 29, 2020
The national security law has raised concerns that Beijing is further eroding the extensive autonomy promised at the handover.
"The government wants to shut us up and to kick us out," one protester, Roy Chan, 44, told Reuters. "We must stand up and strike down all those people who deprive Hong Kong people's freedom."
The Progressive Lawyers Group has also expressed its concerns about a law it says "will allow the Beijing authorities to arrest and lock up anyone in Hong Kong they consider 'threatening' national security."
The legislation "disregards" due process and is "far more draconian than the extradition bill of 2019. The National Security Law will have a serious long term impact on Hong Kong's autonomy and rule of law, and the way of life as we know it," the group said in a statement on Facebook.
Hong Kong police have refused permission for this year's July 1 march, citing a ban on large gatherings because of the coronavirus.
China has said the new security law will target only a small group of "troublemakers"; a position echoed by the administration in Hong Kong.