Accessibility links

Breaking News

Factbox: Scope of Hong Kong's New National Security Laws

FILE - Students from Hong Kong and Taiwan display placards reading “Bad laws of China’s national security" during a protest outside the Hong Kong’s Taipei office on May 28, 2020.
FILE - Students from Hong Kong and Taiwan display placards reading “Bad laws of China’s national security" during a protest outside the Hong Kong’s Taipei office on May 28, 2020.

Hong Kong on Friday published its new national security draft law, a document that broadens the definition of crimes including sabotage, sedition and state secrets, and stipulates tougher penalties of up to life imprisonment.

The bill comes on top of a 2020 security law imposed by China a year after pro-democracy protests.

Lawmakers are expected to pass the draft bill within weeks, and the law could have implications for many sectors in the global financial hub including business, academia, law, diplomacy and the media, observers say.

The new offences span a number of areas ranging from grave acts affecting sovereignty including insurrection - or initiating armed conflict against a Chinese armed force - to everyday offences including possession of publications deemed seditious. Authorities say the law will apply beyond Hong Kong.



Rights advocates and lawyers say this category can be applied very broadly, and any one possessing any publication deemed seditious, such as a book or an article, can be accused of this offence.

*The offence carries jail terms of up to 7 years for any seditious act, word or publication with the intention of bringing hatred, contempt or disaffection against China or Hong Kong governments.

*If such acts are carried out in collusion with an "external force", which could include foreign governments, a foreign political party, an international organisation or a company linked to a foreign government, the penalty rises to 10 years.

*The offence also carries a 3 year jail term for possession of a publication with seditious intention, although the bill does not give specific examples of what such material might be.

*Law enforcement officers may enter any premises, including with reasonable force, to remove or destroy seditious publications.

*The law also potentially lowers the threshold for sedition convictions, no longer requiring prosecutors to prove the intention to incite public disorder or violence.

*Calls by some media advocacy and rights groups to remove sedition were ignored by authorities.


*At least 3 years jail for unlawful possession of a state secret which would likely harm national security if released, defined broadly to include secrets spanning defence, foreign affairs, economic development or scientific technology.

*Jail terms of 5 years for unlawful acquisition of such secrets, and 7 years for those leaving Hong Kong with such state secrets.

*While the government introduced a limited public interest defence for state secrets, some lawyers say the law gives authorities and the courts much discretion on the matter.


*Jail terms of 14 years for collaborating with an external force to bring about interference over areas including government policy, the legislature, courts or elections.


*Jail terms of 20 years for acts including entering prohibited places, and intercepting information or documents of use to an external force.


*Maximum life imprisonment for various acts including joining an external armed force at war with China, or use of force to endanger Chinese unity. Jail terms of 5 years for a person who takes part in military or armed "drilling" with an external force without official permission. Lawyers say this could include those who have received military training with a foreign government.


*A maximum penalty of life imprisonment for crimes including joining an armed force in conflict with China, or an act that endangers the unity of China.


*A maximum term of life imprisonment for inciting a member of a Chinese armed force to abandon allegiance to China, or to organise or initiate a mutiny.


*Up to life imprisonment for any person who colludes with an external force to damage or weaken public infrastructure.


Right advocates say the new law will further undermine the legal protections for defendants charged with national security offences.

The right to a lawyer, the presumption of innocence and right to bail had long been strong features of Hong Kong's Common Law traditions. Under a 2020 China-imposed national security law, many pro-democracy politicians and activists have been denied bail under stricter rules.

Under the new law, authorities are expected to go further.

"The most drastic changes of the legislative bill would be issues related to due process and fair trials," said Eric Lai, a fellow with the Center for Asian Law at Georgetown University in the United States.

"It seems the government almost ignores all of the recommendations from the opposing views during the consultation period. The vague and broad terms of offences and definitions remain in the bill," he said.

The detention period of suspects will be expanded from a maximum 48 hours now, to an additional 14 days with the approval of a magistrate. Access to a lawyer could also be denied in view of circumstances endangering national security by the magistrate, who may issue a warrant authorising a senior police officer to restrict the person's consultation with a lawyer. A defendant's movements could also be restricted.

"It is a broad application of very extreme restrictions on the legal rights of an arrestee in Hong Kong," Lai added.

  • 16x9 Image


    Reuters is a news agency founded in 1851 and owned by the Thomson Reuters Corporation based in Toronto, Canada. One of the world's largest wire services, it provides financial news as well as international coverage in over 16 languages to more than 1000 newspapers and 750 broadcasters around the globe.