Hong Kong Security Law Sends a Chill Over the City | #childabductors

HONG KONG — The Hong Kong police moved swiftly on Wednesday to enforce China’s new national security rules with the first arrests under the law, as the city immediately felt the chilling effect of Beijing’s offensive to quash dissent in the semiautonomous territory.

The law was proving effective in tamping down the anti-government demonstrations that have wracked Hong Kong for more than a year. On Wednesday, the anniversary of Hong Kong’s return to Chinese control — usually observed by huge pro-democracy marches — a scattered crowd of thousands protested, only to be corralled by the police and risk arrest for crimes that did not exist a day earlier.

Deploying pepper spray and water cannons to force protesters off the streets, the police arrested about 370 people, including 10 over new offenses created by the security law that takes aim at political activity challenging Beijing. One of the 10 was a 15-year-old girl waving a Hong Kong independence flag, the police said.

Far-reaching and punitive, the law threatens the freewheeling cultural scene and civil society that make the fabric of life in Hong Kong so distinct from the rest of China. While officials insist that the law will affect only a small group of offenders, many fear the government could use the law’s expansive definitions to target a wide array of people and organizations, prompting many to take defensive action.

A museum that commemorates the 1989 Tiananmen Square massacre is rushing to digitize its archives, afraid its artifacts could be seized. Booksellers are nervously eyeing customers, worried they could be government spies. Writers have asked a news site to delete more than 100 articles, anxious that old posts could be used against them.

“You can say this law is just targeting protesters and anti-Chinese politicians, but it could be anyone,” said Isabella Ng, a professor at the Education University of Hong Kong who founded a charity that helps refugees in the city.

“Where is the line to draw?” said Professor Ng, who worries that her charity could one day come under scrutiny. “Everything becomes very uncertain.”

Albert Wan, the co-owner of Bleak House Books, an independent bookstore, said that he closely tracked all his book shipments, regardless of whether they could be considered political, watching for any sign of delay.

He said that he had also grown wary of unfamiliar customers, and tries to decide if they are browsing for books or seemingly “building a profile” of him and his employees.

“We are being paranoid,” Mr. Wan said. “I don’t know how else to put it.”

For those who built their lives and livelihoods around Hong Kong’s unique freedoms, the security law has forced them to balance two seemingly irreconcilable goals: preserving their own safety, without giving in to fear.

The chill is not limited to local groups. Large international organizations are also evaluating their future in the city. The new law specifically said that the government would “strengthen the management” of foreign nongovernmental organizations and news agencies.

“The rule of law is going to come under very severe stress in Hong Kong,” said Nicholas Bequelin, the director for Amnesty’s East and Southeast Asia operations.

Concerns about the security law’s reach have also forced many writers and protesters to scrutinize their digital footprints for anything that might now be deemed subversive. Activists deleted their accounts on Twitter and on Telegram, a messaging app popular with protesters.

In recent weeks, around a dozen writers asked the editors of InMedia HK, a site that posts articles supporting democracy, to take down some or all of their archives, said Betty Lau, the site’s editor. Editors deleted more than 100 articles, Ms. Lau said.

Hong Kong’s reputation for press freedom has long stood in contrast with the mainland’s censorship regime and routine harassment of journalists. But the new security law has thrown the future of the city’s lively news media into question.

Soon after, three other leading members of Demosisto also resigned. A few hours later, the group announced it was disbanding altogether.

In a note explaining his decision, Mr. Wong wrote, “Nobody can be sure of their tomorrow.”

The crowds of protesters were small on Wednesday, relative to the hundreds of thousands that regularly took to the streets last year. But swarms of riot officers quickly surrounded them.

For some protesters, it’s a fight they are willing to continue, even if it means going up against Beijing. “We have to show the people of Hong Kong that we cannot be afraid or deterred by the national security law,” said Avery Ng, a leader of the League of Social Democrats, a political party. “We are taking a certain level of risk, being that one of our demands is the end of one-party dictatorship.”

Austin Ramzy, Elaine Yu and Tiffany May contributed reporting. Bella Huang contributed research.


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