Hong Kong police stepped up security around the city's legislature on Wednesday, ahead of a debate over a law that would prohibit insulting China's national anthem, according to the latest move that activists say are setting aside freedom of expression. in the financial center.
The debate comes days after China announced separate plans to impose a comprehensive national security law in Hong Kong, following last year's huge and often violent pro-democracy rallies.
That move prompted Washington to warn that Hong Kong could lose its status as a global financial center if the city's freedoms and flaunted judicial independence are left behind by Beijing.
Under an agreement agreed with Britain before the city's return to China, Hong Kong must guarantee certain freedoms by 2047, denied those on the continent.
The legislature – known as LegCo – was destroyed by protesters at the beginning of last year's protests, when authorities tried to speed up a project that ended up being dropped, allowing extraditions to the authoritarian continent.
The police were running few chances before Wednesday's debate.
Heavy water-filled barriers surrounded the government complex, while police squads flooded nearby roads and subway stations, making regular stops and searches, AFP reporters said.
A police source told AFP that "thousands" of police were put on hold, ready to respond to any attempt to block traffic outside the legislature or to breach the building.
Some unions and student groups called for a general strike for Wednesday, but it was unclear whether the crowds would materialize.
The Hong Kong government is adopting a bill that will criminalize the anthem of Communist China’s "Volunteers March", making it punishable by up to three years in prison.
Beijing was furious with the Hong Kongers – especially football fans – booing the national anthem.
The city's pro-democracy opposition says the bill is a new attempt to criminalize dissent.
There were fights between rival lawmakers over the legislation.
Pro-democracy politicians are prevented from holding a majority in the legislature, only a few of whom are elected by popular vote.
But for months, they used the obstruction within a legislative committee to prevent the bill from reaching the floor for voting.
The city's pro-Beijing faction took control of the committee earlier this month – a move that opponents said was unconstitutional.
Wednesday's session is the second reading of the law. A third reading is likely to come next week, after which it will become law if passed.
The protests have been fueled by years of mounting fears that Beijing is prematurely eroding Hong Kong's cherished freedoms.
Beijing portrays the protests as a conspiracy supported by the outside to destabilize the motherland.
Protesters say their rallies are the only way to express opposition in a city without completely free elections.
In response to last year's violent protests, Beijing last week announced plans to enact legislation that prohibits secession, subversion, terrorism and foreign interference.
This law, which has not yet been published in full, will bypass the legislature and will be printed in Beijing.
The move scared investors and some Western governments, but Beijing and the city's leader, Carrie Lam, insist that it will not stifle freedoms.