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HONG KONG — Police in riot gear arrested more than 500 protesters this week, as people defied coronavirus restrictions and turned out in the thousands to protest Beijing's decision to impose a national security law in the autonomous territory — a move that's sparked condemnation from world leaders and has U.S. President Donald Trump poised to impose sanctions on China.
Many Hong Kongers fear the new law will end the political framework of “one country, two systems” that has guaranteed Hong Kong's autonomy for years. The policy has enshrined freedom not enjoyed by the rest of China into Hong Kong’s Basic Law, a “mini-constitution” that came into effect in 1997 and is supposed to remain in place for 50 years.
“I think if you’re a Hong Konger, you need to come out, because the mainland is taking our freedom of speech, and ‘one country, two systems’ away.” Mrs. Ho, a woman who joined protesters in the streets, told VICE News. “We can’t allow this ‘one country, one system’ to happen to our next generation.”
The new sweeping legislation targets acts of secession, subversion, and foreign interference, in broad language, and is expected to bar foreign judges from deciding national security cases, while giving Chinese intelligence agencies the ability to operate openly.
Though Hong Kong is supposed to pass its own national security legislation under the Basic Law, Beijing’s decision to go past Hong Kong’s legislature comes after protests last year brought millions into the streets and turned violent, upending normal life for months.
The security law is expected to go into effect before the Legislative Council election in September, but Hong Kongers defied coronavirus restrictions to make their views known in what some fear is their last chance.
“It is a legislation without public consultation or mandate.” Peter, a protester in black bloc, told VICE News. “Hong Kong independence is the only way out, and the only way to get rid of the Communist Party’s regime.”
Police used pepper balls and water cannons to suppress demonstrations, and has beefed up security around key protest sites like Hong Kong’s Legislative Council.
“The worst-case scenario is the national security officials setting up in Hong Kong. They can enforce the law by themselves.” Ted Hui Chi-fung, a pro-democracy legislative councilor told VICE News. “The law as we know it may be rewritten.”
The pandemic has killed the momentum of a movement that staved off China’s attempt to chip-away at Hong Kong’s autonomy last year, and helped propel a pro-democracy sweep of local-level elections in November.
While limitations on public gathering remain in place, lawmakers like Hui are trying to reignite the resistance.
“The legislation and justice system will fall apart. Basic human rights, and freedom of speech will be stripped away.” Hui said. “Everyone in Hong Kong rising up and protesting this bill is very important.”
This segment aired on VICE News Tonight on May 28, 2020
Video produced by: Crystal Wong, Stanley Leung and Angad Singh. Edited by: Kimmy Gorden and Rachel Win
This article originally appeared on VICE US.