Under the security law, however, Beijing has given itself wide latitude to interfere in Hong Kong’s legal affairs. The legislation will install in Hong Kong a formidable network of security forces controlled by Beijing, including a national security agency, a national security committee and a special prosecutorial office.
Under the legislation, the central government in Beijing can intervene in national security cases, especially during crises or if a case is deemed “complex.” The law says defendants in important cases could stand trial before courts in mainland China, where convictions are usually assured and penalties are often harsh. Trials involving state secrets could be closed to the news media and the public.
The law could bring to Hong Kong many harsh legal practices common in mainland China, experts said. Broadly, the law says that the rights of suspects and defendants in national security cases should be respected. But apart from a presumption of innocence and the right to defend oneself, it does not offer much clarity on those protections, leaving open the danger that some of the harsh, unaccountable practices common on the mainland could spread to Hong Kong.
“As a national security suspect, you can be locked up for as long as six months incommunicado, subject to torture, coerced confession, no access to counsel or family or friends, before the police decide whether to process you for a crime,” said Mr. Cohen, the law professor, speaking about practices common in mainland China.
The law sends a warning to the U.S. and other countries.
Beijing has repeatedly sought to portray the unrest in Hong Kong as the work of foreign countries, especially the United States, accusing them of taking part in a plot to sow chaos in China and topple the Communist Party. Chinese officials have spread unfounded conspiracy theories suggesting that Western countries are funding and directing the activists.
Several parts of the security legislation take aim at the perceived role of foreigners in political activism in Hong Kong.
The new rules apply even to those who are not residents of Hong Kong, suggesting that foreigners who support independence for Hong Kong or call for imposing sanctions on the Chinese government could be prosecuted upon entering Hong Kong or mainland China.