The national security law for the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region (HKSAR) has brought hope for safeguarding peace and security in Hong Kong.
On the eve of the 23rd anniversary of Hong Kong’s return to the motherland, the Standing Committee of the 13th National People’s Congress (NPC), China’s top legislature, voted at the 20th session to adopt the Law of the People's Republic of China on Safeguarding National Security in the HKSAR on June 30. Published in the gazette, the law took effect at 11 pm local time on the same day.
The law is a turning point to save Hong Kong out of its predicament, turning chaos into governance.
Article 39 of the law explicitly stipulates that “this law shall apply to acts committed after its entry into force for the purpose of conviction and imposition of punishment.” The law is not retroactive, in other words. That is to say, the law passed today will not be used to punish past behaviors. This is not only a solemn notice to reassure the people, but also a resolute implementation of the basic principles of the rule of law.
This provision is consistent with the usual provisions of international criminal law, in line with international common practice, and conducive to Hong Kong’s revival. Since the turbulence over the amendment bill in June last year, some citizens of Hong Kong, especially a group of young people, have been misled by anti-China forces and committed mistakes or even crimes. However, the law is not retroactive, and it will not convict past crimes with current charges or punish past crimes with current sentencing. This regulation actually creates an opportunity and space for them to turn over a new leaf and return to society.
Since the return of Hong Kong to the motherland, some opposition politicians have indeed made outrageous statements and even committed serious illegal actions. But following legal principles, criminal charges and sentences should be dictated by laws. Making clear that the law is not retroactive means "looking forward" rather than "looking backward", and is also a concrete manifestation of the principle that "crime and sentence are determined by law.”
That the law will not be applied retroactively shows that the central government never uses the Hong Kong national security law to make an enemy of opposition party or pan-democracy camp. The law will punish those criminals who severely hamper national security. It’s not adopted against the whole opposition party. Hong Kong is a pluralistic society, and so is its politics. Anyone holding whatever political view legitimately has the rights and freedoms endowed by the Basic Law, unless they cross the red line and damage national security.
But we should note that the violence and riots that have jeopardized national safety won’t be exempt from punishment even if it took place before the adoption of the Hong Kong national security law. Whoever breaks the law will never escape justice, and no one has the privilege to go unpunished. The HKSAR laws including the Crimes Ordinance stipulate that activities and crimes of damaging national security such as incitement and unlawful gathering will be brought to justice in accordance with the above laws. The executive law enforcement and justice authorities in HKSAR have the responsibility and the power to use the current laws to hold those criminal behaviors offending national safety accountable.
The function of any criminal law is not only to punish crime, but more importantly to prevent it. From this perspective, the explicit provision of article 39 of the law is not only a solemn notice to reassure the people but also a set of rules that everyone have to follow. More precisely, the law does not apply retroactively but will punish those who touch the red line. The law will serve as a “sharp sword” hanging over those "Hong Kong independence" groups and it is also the "guardian" that protects the rights, freedom and peaceful life of the vast majority of Hong Kong residents. With its implementation, there is reason to believe that Hong Kong, “the Pearl of the Orient” will shine again.
Hong Kong, it is time to start again.