In a move feared by Western democracies and local pro-democracy advocates alike, China’s rubber stamp legislature on Tuesday, June 30 unanimously passed a controversial national security law for the semi-autonomous territory of Hong Kong.
The law—which is expected to punish acts of secession, subversion, terrorism, and collusion with foreign forces with sentences ranging up to life in prison—is seen by many as an attempt by Beijing to quash dissent in the restive city, which was rocked by a months-long, sometimes-violent pro-democracy protest movement last year.
Citing unnamed sources, the South China Morning Post reported that the body that advises Beijing on Hong Kong’s Basic Law, the mini-constitution that lays out the city’s many special freedoms, will convene "immediately after the standing committee passed the law to discuss its insertion into Annex III of the Basic Law."
The new legislation has been shrouded in secrecy throughout its drafting, and was reportedly only seen by a handful of Hong Kong delegates to the National People’s Congress before its passage.
State-run outlet Xinhua is expected to release more details about the law this afternoon, and all Hong Kong delegates to the legislature and the Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference have been asked to attend a meeting at China’s liaison office in the city at 3pm, presumably to be briefed on the bill, according to the SCMP.
The law has already put further strain on already-tense U.S.-China relations, with both countries vowing tit-for-tat sanctions against each other’s officials for undermining Hong Kong’s autonomy and meddling in its internal affairs, respectively.
The law is expected to come into effect on Wednesday, which also marks 23 years since the city’s return to China by the British.
Despite China’s PR putsch attempting to assuage people’s fears over the laws, worries that the law will be used to snuff out dissenting voices are unlikely to be calmed by an op-ed in the state-run tabloid the
Calling the law a "new start," the piece went on to list what it characterized as instances of pro-democracy figures already fleeing the city and moderating their rhetoric as a result of the law.
“The few die-hard radical forces in Hong Kong should be warned that the national security law could never be overthrown by mobilizing enough people to protest in the streets as they did with the extradition bill last year,” the op-ed crowed, referring to last year’s protests.
“Hong Kong has returned to China, but a handful of extremists are willing to be pawns of anti-China force of the US… They have betrayed Hong Kong and their country. They have made the wrong bet, and now it's their last chance to stop their wrongdoings before it's too late."
This article originally appeared on VICE US.