Hong Kong officials marked the 23rd anniversary of the territory's return to China on Wednesday, hours after Beijing's imposition of a new national security law that sparked challenging protests and international condemnation.
The chief executive, Carrie Lam, joined her predecessors and other authorities at the harbor for a flag-raising ceremony and a reception for specially invited guests, as the territory's annual pro-democracy march was banned for the first time .
In his speech, Lam praised the new law as "the most important development" in the relationship between Beijing and Hong Kong since the 1997 transfer, saying it is a "necessary and timely" measure to restore stability.
She defended the legislation, which went into effect overnight after being taken by China's parliament as "constitutional, lawful, sensible and reasonable".
At a press conference after the ceremony, Zhang Xiaoming, deputy executive director of the Hong Kong and Macao Affairs Department, said suspects arrested under the law would be tried on the continent, adding that Hong Kong's legal system was not expected to implement the laws of the continent.
Spreading "rumors" and "driving hatred" against Hong Kong police Between transgressions there may be transgressions potentially prosecuted and punished under the new law, he said.
At a separate news conference on Wednesday afternoon, Lam also said that the law reflects Beijing's desire to defend one country, two systems.
In response, pro-democracy MP Claudia Mo was quoted as saying to reporters that "the free press could be announced as dead in Hong Kong".
She added that journalists who publish confidential information about Hong Kong may also have "serious problems".
Amid threats of possible imprisonment, protesters gathered near the conference center where the ceremony was held, carrying signs and shouting their opposition to the new law, which seeks to punish crimes of secession, subversion, terrorism and collusion with foreign forces with punishments , including life in prison.
The national security law did not drown out corners for Hong Kong's independence at the July 1 rally. This was after the police made the first arrests under the new law imposed by Beijing. pic.twitter.com/6mVgfX5v4aAdvertisement
– Wei Du 杜 唯 (@WeiDuCNA) July 1, 2020
Authorities barred the annual civil society demonstration, citing a ban on meetings of more than 50 people because of the coronavirus, but many activists said they would challenge the order and march in the late afternoon.
As of 05:00 GMT, police were seen making arrests, including Democratic Party legislator Andrew Wan, who was seen being led by handcuffed police. Images on social media also showed the police using pepper spray on Wan's face.
In the city's Causeway Bay area, a man wearing a "Free Hong Kong" shirt becomes the first person arrested by the police for violating the new law. A search also produced a "Hong Kong independence" flag, police said in a statement.
The annual rally is traditionally held to expose complaints about everything from skyrocketing house prices to what many see as Beijing's growing invasion of city freedoms.
"We march every year, every July 1st, every October 1st and we will continue marching," said pro-democracy activist Leung Kwok-hung.
The National Security Act may prohibit hate speech against the Hong Kong government and give broad powers to authorities, but it has definitely failed to silence the discomfort. "DLLM, #HongKongPolice, ”The protesters shout. pic.twitter.com/ycEslKvQEw
– Rachel Cheung (@ rachel_cheung1) July 1, 2020
However, the police set up strings and blocked the area where the prohibited annual march was due to start at 06:00 GMT.
On July 1 last year, hundreds of protesters stormed the city's legislature to protest a now-discarded bill that would have allowed extraditions to mainland China, looting the building. The protests continued throughout the year, with participants demanding universal suffrage, as promised in the Basic Law or in the mini-constitution of the territory.
Critics fear that the legislation, which was only released after it was passed, would prevent dissent and destroy the autonomy promised when Hong Kong was returned from the UK to China in 1997.
Katrina Yu, of Al Jazeera, said in Beijing that the speed with which the new law was drafted and approved proved "China's determination to end" the Hong Kong pro-democracy movement, which it considers "too much of a threat" to the power of the central government.
She said China may have lost patience last year, while protests continued.
The legislation radically restructures the relationship between Beijing and Hong Kong, foreseen in the structure called "one country, two systems", obliterating the legal firewall between the city's independent judiciary and the courts controlled by parties from the continent.
He authorizes China to create a national security agency in the city, made up of officials who are not required by local laws to perform their duties.
It prohibits four types of national security crimes: subversion, secession, terrorism and collusion of foreign forces to endanger national security.
The full text of the law presented three scenarios in which China could take a charge: complicated cases of foreign interference, "very serious" cases and when national security faces "serious and realistic threats".
"Both the national security agency and Hong Kong can request the transfer of the case to mainland China and the prosecution will be made by the Supreme People's Procuratorate and the trial will be in the Supreme Court," the law said.
"It doesn't matter if the violence was used or the threat of violence used, leaders or serious criminals will be sentenced to life imprisonment or at least 10 years in prison," the document said.
"The Hong Kong government has no jurisdiction over the Hong Kong national security agency and its employees when they fulfill their duties under this law," he added.
The text also specified that those who destroy public facilities and services would be considered subversive. Damaging public transport facilities and arson would constitute acts of "terrorism". Anyone who participates in secessionist activities, whether organizing or participating, will violate the law, regardless of whether violence is used.
The law also said that certain national security cases could be held behind closed doors without juries in Hong Kong if they contained state secrets, although the verdict and possible trials are made public.
The legislation drew international condemnation with US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, accusing China of "paranoia" and saying that the law "destroys the autonomy of the territory and one of China's greatest achievements".
The introduction of the law also demonstrated that China's commitment to international treaties, such as the Sino-British Joint Declaration, were "empty words", added Pompeo.
However, Taiwan opened an office on Wednesday to help people who flee Hong Kong, with a senior minister saying that the self-governing island would continue to support people in the territory.
"This is an important milestone for the government to further support democracy and freedom in Hong Kong," he said. Chen Ming-tong, head of the China Affairs Council, responsible for China's policy in Taiwan.
Adrian Brown of Al Jazeera, reporting in Hong Kong, said city dwellers probably think the new law is "much more comprehensive than they imagined, (and) many are still" trying to figure out how it will affect their citizens. lives. "
"Make no mistake. This is a law that will affect everyone in Hong Kong."