HONG KONG (AP) – The top American diplomat in Hong Kong said Monday that it is a â€œtragedyâ€ to use the semi-autonomous Chinese territoryâ€™s new national security law to chip away at â€œfundamental freedomsâ€ in the Asian financial hub and create an â€œatmosphere of coercion and self-censorship.â€
â€œUsing the national security law to erode fundamental freedoms and to create an atmosphere of coercion and self-censorship is a tragedy for Hong Kong,â€ Hanscom Smith, U.S. consul general to Hong Kong and Macau, told reporters. â€œHong Kong has been successful precisely because of its openness and weâ€™ll do everything we can to maintain that.”
The law, imposed last week following anti-government protests in Hong Kong last year, makes secessionist, subversive, or terrorist activities illegal, as well as foreign intervention in the cityâ€™s internal affairs. Any person taking part in activities such as shouting slogans or holding up banners and flags calling for the cityâ€™s independence is violating the law regardless of whether violence is used.
Critics see it as Beijingâ€™s boldest step yet to erase the legal firewall between the former British colony and the mainlandâ€™s authoritarian Communist Party system.
Since the law went into effect, the government has also specified that popular protest slogan â€œLiberate Hong Kong, revolution of our timeâ€ has separatist connotations and is thus criminalized.
In Hong Kongâ€™s public libraries, books by pro-democracy figures have been pulled from the shelves, including those authored by prominent pro-democracy activist Joshua Wong and politician Tanya Chan. The authority that runs the libraries said it was reviewing the books in light of the new legislation.
Many pro-democracy shops that publicly stood in solidarity with protesters have moved to remove pro-democracy sticky notes and artwork that adorned the walls of their stores, fearful that the content might violate the new law.
A 23-year-old man, Tong Ying-kit, has become 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 â€œLiberate Hong Kong, revolution of our timeâ€ slogan.