CHINA’S passing of a new national security law ("China approves national security law for Hong Kong citizens, claim reports", The Herald, July 1) represents the gravest threat to human rights in Hong Kong’s recent history. These sweeping new powers mean Chinese authorities can impose its own laws on any criminal suspect it chooses, effectively undermining the territory’s judiciary.

The announcement was timed to coincide with the 23rd anniversary of the territory’s "handover" to China marking the end of UK colonial era rule. At that time, Hong Kong was promised 50 years of continuing autonomy under the UK and China’s Joint Declaration – a "one country, two systems" legally binding agreement preserving rights including freedom of expression and an independent judiciary.

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The new national security law, which had not been seen by the public, came into effect immediately. The speed and secrecy with which China has pushed through this legislation intensifies fears Beijing has created a weapon of repression to be used against government critics, including people who are merely expressing their views or protesting peacefully.

Under the new law, so-called crimes of separatism, subversion, terrorism and “collusion with foreign or overseas powers” to endanger national security carry the threat of life imprisonment – making it clear China aims to govern Hong Kong through fear from this point forward.

The law also authorises the Beijing central government to set up a national security office in the city. In mainland China, such agencies systematically monitor, harass, intimidate and secretly detain human rights defenders and dissidents, with many indications of torture and other ill-treatment.

Hong Kong and Chinese officials have claimed there is an urgent need for security laws to counter the threat of “terrorism” and violence in the city. However, the protesters taking to the streets over the past year have been largely peaceful.

Last week, more than 50 UN human rights expert bodies took an unprecedented step to jointly express concerns about the proposed national security legislation. Today’s positive announcement from the Prime Minister that British Overseas Nationals would be given the right to remain in the UK and the possibility of citizenship may offer some reassurance to Hongkongers fearful about their future, but the threat of draconian curbs on their basic rights and freedoms from Beijing must not be underestimated – particularly for pro-democracy campaigners considered enemies of the state.

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We welcome Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab’s comments that this law is “...a clear violation of the autonomy of Hong Kong and a direct threat to the freedoms of its people” and await the UK Government’s further response to this egregious assault on human rights as we continue to strongly oppose Chinese government agencies operating without oversight in Hong Kong.

Naomi McAuliffe, Scotland Programme Director, Amnesty International, Edinburgh EH2.