Hong Kong police have already made their first arrests under the region’s newly-enacted national security law, less than 24 hours since Beijing passed the controversial legislation.
Details of the law weren't revealed until late last night, and even then, its provisions forbidding secession, subversion, terrorism, and collusion with foreign forces remain broadly defined. Sources revealed on Wednesday morning that any protesters caught waving pro-independence flags, chanting related slogans, or generally advocating for Hong Kong’s liberation could be immediately arrested for violating the new law, which lays out sentences ranging up to life in prison.
The first victim of the new measures was arrested just after midday on Wednesday, as hundreds of people gathered in Hong Kong’s Causeway Bay to protest a ban on the Civil Human Rights Front’s annual July 1 march, which marks the 1997 handover of the region from British to Chinese rule.
A man holding a Hong Kong independence flag was taken into custody by police, who described the incident as “the first arrest made since the law has come into force.”
Minutes earlier, police had raised a previously unseen purple flag warning protesters that they may be in breach of the new national security laws.
“This is a police warning,” the flag reads. “You are displaying flags or banners, chanting slogans, or conducting yourselves with an intent such as secession or subversion, which may constitute offences under the HKSAR [Hong Kong Special Administrative Region] National Security Law.
“You may be arrested and prosecuted.”
Slogans deemed incriminatory under the new law include “Hong Kong independence, the only way out” and “Hongkongers, build a nation”, both of which are commonly chanted by people protesting against the new law, according to Hong Kong Free Press.
While police were reportedly instructed to enforce the legislation by giving out warnings at public gatherings and demonstrations, they were also told they could make immediate arrests under “serious circumstances.”
Shortly after the flagbearer’s arrest, a young man was taken away by riot officers after being found with a spray can of black paint and a bottle of saline solution.
The protests continued to escalate on Wednesday afternoon, with local media reporting sightings of armored vehicles and riot police patrolling the areas around Causeway Bay and Central, as well as the use of a water cannon, pepper spray, and physical force by police.
Hundreds of protesters gathered in different locations on Great George Street and Fashion Walk to shout slogans, several of them holdovers from the pro-democracy protests that rocked the city for months last year.
The national security law was passed unanimously on Tuesday morning by China’s rubber stamp legislature, and is seen by many as an attempt by Beijing to quash the ongoing dissent in the region.
The legislation was 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.
The rollout of the law on Wednesday, July 1, coincided with the 27-year anniversary of the city’s handover—a particularly significant date for Hong Kongers after nearly a year of protests against China's perceived encroachment on the city's unique freedoms.
Under the handover agreement, Hong Kong was meant to enjoy 50 years of a “high degree of autonomy” under the “one country, two systems” framework, which the national security law has been broadly denounced as undermining.
As of press time the SCMP was reporting that at least 30 arrests had been made for alleged violations of the national security law, laws on illegal assembly, and obstructing police officers.
This article originally appeared on VICE US.