Hong Kong’s National Security Law and the Philippines’ Anti-Terrorism Law are Strikingly Similar

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Update: Minutes after the first publication of this article, the Anti-Terrorism Bill in the Philippines was signed into law by President Duterte. We have revised the entirety of the article as well as social media posts to align with this update.

Hong Kong’s National Security Law, a piece of legislation feared for its effects on Hong Kong’s democratic and civil liberties, has been approved on Tuesday, June 30 at 11 PM. Before the announcement, the law was kept in secrecy by the Beijing regime, and right until its passage, its details were unknown to the public and Hong Kong authorities.

On the surface, the law sets up various security measures to crack down vaguely defined political crimes of separatism, subversion, terrorism, and collusion with foreign powers. Such crimes are punishable by the maximum penalties of life imprisonment. Inciting to these activities, which includes expression of support and material contributions, will also be met with jail time.

Despite having not read the National Security Law in its entirety, HK Chief Executive, and so-called China’s puppet, Carrie Lam assured the public that the law will not constrain the liberties enshrined by the Basic Law, Hong Kong’s de facto constitution.

“In the last 23 years, whenever people worried about Hong Kong’s freedom of speech and freedom of expression and protest, time and again, Hong Kong has proven that we uphold and preserve those values,” Lam said in May.

However, what soon followed the law’s passage belies Lam’s assurance. Seemingly a demonstration of the National Security Law’s sweeping and vacuumish powers, the Hong Kong Police force announced its first arrest on July 1, 1:38 PM — less than 24 hours after the draconian law’s approval. The man’s crime? He was carrying a banner that read “Hong Kong Independence.”

At 6:46 PM, they announced another arrest: this time, of three women for carrying materials with “HKIndependence” slogans. By 10:40 PM, at least 370 people had been seized, with 10 of them being charged for a direct violation of the National Security Law. Some of the arrested only had “Free HK” and “Conscience” stickers on their phones.

The lack of subtlety in the enforcement of the National Security Law to suppress dissent sends a chilling message all throughout Hong Kong.

“The Chinese have this saying,” China and East Asia expert Ho-Fung Hung said, ‘Kill the chicken to scare the monkey.’”

Hung suggests that the early cases will be prosecuted so China can show their resolve in intimidating people who challenge its authority.

True enough, the National Security Law sent a chilling effect throughout Hong Kong. Pro-democracy groups have since disbanded, key figures announced their resignations, and Hong Kongers have been encouraged to wipe their devices of data and personal information. Businesses otherwise supportive of the pro-democracy movement have also effectively withdrawn their support.

This is Beijing’s Retaliation

The National Security Law is likely one of the outcomes of the massive protests that erupted against the Hong Kong Extradition Bill in 2019. The movement drew protesters, mostly young people, who took the streets. Rallies sometimes become violent encounters with riot police. Pro-democracy leaders met with foreign authorities, like Demosisto’s former leader Joshua Wong with US politicians. HK’s airport was paralyzed for a few days. Then, for two weeks in November, Hong Kong Polytechnic University became the iconic setting of a violent and explosive siege calling for Hong Kong’s freedom and, for many, independence.

When scrutinized, the National Security Law seems to reference these key events that took place during the 2019 demonstrations. The destruction and blockage of public properties such as the airport, parks, and highways, the use of physical violence in those protests, the calls for Hong Kong’s freedom, and the meetings with foreign politicians, when done with the new law in place, will be met with brute police force and grave punishments.

Eerily Similar to the Anti-terrorism Law

If these details seem familiar to you, it is because the Hong Kong National Security Law and the Philippine Anti-terrorism Law have provisions and issues so similar that they look like they were lifted from the same handbook.

From their onset, both the National Security Law and the Philippine Anti-Terrorism Law have been criticized for their vague definitions of the actions they deem punishable.

Their passage through the necessary legislative levels also happened at an unprecedented pace and neglected large-scale opposition of the public. Despite the criticisms, the governments of China and the Philippines proceeded to railroad their respective security legislations.

In their provisions, both will create new committees to oversee the execution of the bills. Composed of mostly appointees from a single branch, they can call for surveillance, investigations, arrests, and detentions of alleged criminals. Their respective provisions regarding these committees put vexing amounts of power that tip the balance of their democratic systems.

Both the National Security Law and the Anti-Terrorism Law can severely punish relatively minor crimes like vandalism, physical violence, destruction of property, and inciting to major crimes (secession, subversion, and collusion with a foreign power in HK, and terrorism for both HK and PH). Banners, speeches, slogans, paraphernalia, and sharing of materials online can qualify as evidence for these crimes.

These laws also legalize unmitigated and uninterruptible surveillance operations on suspects for a long period, and telecommunications service providers are required to cooperate. The committees can restrict the movements, like traveling, of suspected violators, and seize their bank accounts, properties, and assets.

Suspects in Hong Kong can be detained for up to six months, or extradited to and prosecuted in mainland China, where the justice system is usually opaque and closed to public scrutiny. In the same vein, the Anti-Terrorism Law allows for the detention of suspects for up to 24 days, where suspects can be interrogated by the authorities, devoid of the proper judicial process.

In an interview with Vice, political scientist Richard Heydarian said that comparing the Anti-Terrorism Law and National Security Law is valid, given Duterte’s admiration of China’s political system. He pointed out that, with a pandemic in the backdrop, there’s enough pretext to crush opposition and silence voices of dissent.

The rollout of the National Security Law has already introduced a new age of terror — one that is legal and encouraged by the law itself. In the Philippines, crackdowns have also started. Even prior to the final approval from Duterte, the Philippine government managed to shut down the country’s biggest media network, arrest protesters in rallies, and detain civilians who posted criticisms towards the President online.

With journalists, activists, and critics under perpetual danger all throughout Duterte’s rule, we can only imagine how a law that potentially violates democratic rights can be abused to, ironically, terrorize the very same people it should protect.

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