Hong Kong grappling with future under national security law

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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)

HONG KONG – Hong Kong’s leader Carrie Lam offered scant reassurance Tuesday over a new national security law that critics say undermines liberties and legal protections promised when China took control of the former British colony.

A year ago, Hong Kong residents felt secure enough in their freedoms under the territory’s “one-country, two-systems” regime to bring their children to mass protests. Now, after the June 30 implementation of the security law, some are worrying they might be punished for what they post on Facebook Twitter or even TikTok.

Short-form video app TikTok, which has sought to distance itself from its Chinese roots — it is owned by Chinese internet giant ByteDance — said Tuesday it will stop operations in the city “in light of recent events.”

Hong Kong was promised 50 years of semi-autonomy after the July 1, 1997, handover. That allowed the city’s 7 million residents to keep a free press and other freedoms forbidden in the communist-ruled mainland.

Many of Hong Kong’s older generations fled political upheaval on the Chinese mainland. Younger Hong Kongers grew up expecting to achieve more democracy in their lifetimes. All are struggling to understand the implications of the new law, which prohibits what Beijing views as secessionist, subversive or terrorist activities or as foreign intervention in the city’s internal affairs.

“I didn’t have a strong view against formalizing a national security law but the way it was implemented is intrusive and disrespectful,” said Jen Au, who works in the banking industry. “It’s basically just bullying. Hong Kong has come a long way in the last 20 years to warm up to China and this really just backfired.”

Lam, the city’s Beijing-backed chief executive, said Tuesday the work of the Committee for Safeguarding National Security she chairs, which oversees enforcement of the law, will not be made public. So implementation rules giving police sweeping powers to enforce the law won’t be subject to judicial review.

Asked if she could guarantee that media can still report freely in Hong Kong without facing censorship, Lam said, “If the Foreign Correspondents Club or all reporters in Hong Kong can give me a 100% guarantee that they will not commit any offences under this national legislation, then I can do the same.”