Even before the text of the law was eventually published, which happened late last night when the law went into effect, the legislation was having the desired deterrent effect that pro-Beijing officials told me over the past few weeks they hoped it would have. Businesses, university heads, and government departments obediently fell in line to publicly support it, fearful of backlash from China otherwise. Well-known prodemocracy activists, including Joshua Wong, who rose to prominence during the Umbrella Movement of 2014 and who is loathed in Beijing, resigned from their organizations. Demosisto, Wong’s political party, then said it would disband. Other student and activist groups followed. Even some restaurants that had openly supported the demonstrations, part of what was dubbed the “yellow economic circle,” began taking down posters and protest paraphernalia.
Thousands came out today to protest the law, despite police banning the annual rally that marks the handover of Hong Kong, and were met with now-familiar responses: tear gas, pepper balls, and blasts from water cannons. By the evening, less than 24 hours after the legislation was fully unveiled, nine people had been arrested for allegedly violating it, police said. One man was arrested for having a Hong Kong independence flag in his bag, while a woman was arrested for carrying a handwritten independence sign adorned with paper British and American flags. A 15-year-old girl was arrested for waving a flag that read I stand for Hong Kong independence, police said. News of the first arrest came as Lam and two of her deputies told members of the media that the law would be used only in rare cases. After her news conference yesterday, Lam told the United Nations Human Rights Council that the law would “not affect legitimate rights and freedoms,” including the right to protest.
Read: The end of Hong Kong
“This is serious business,” Cora Chan, an associate law professor at the University of Hong Kong, told me. In particular, she noted that the Committee for Safeguarding National Security will be responsible not just for assessing the national-security situation of Hong Kong, but also for formulating policies related to the possible regulation of an array of sectors and groups, including education, the internet, media, NGOs, and the civil service. A dedicated police unit with expanded powers will investigate national-security cases. “The scope of the law exceeds the wildest of expectations. Essentially, Beijing now has unbridled powers in Hong Kong,” Chan said. She added that “the security law poses unfathomable threats to Hong Kong’s autonomy and freedoms, and to Hong Kong’s status as an international city and financial center,” because it both dramatically increases the potential occasions in which Chinese legal principles could be imposed and institutionalizes and normalizes Beijing’s intervention in the city’s legal system.