Meanwhile, residents of Hong Kong marched silently through the financial hub's streets in protest of the planned national security legislation.

Riot police stand guard to avoid mass gathering during a protest in Hong Kong, China on June 28, 2020.
Riot police stand guard to avoid mass gathering during a protest in Hong Kong, China on June 28, 2020. (Reuters)

China has moved a step closer to passing a controversial law targeting dissent in Hong Kong after a top law-making committee discussed the bill, state media has reported.

The Communist Party leadership says the national security law is needed to end political unrest after the city was rocked by months of anti-Beijing protests last year, but critics fear the law would smother the financial hub's treasured freedoms.

Delegates at a meeting of the National People's Congress Standing Committee reviewed the draft of the law at the committee's second meeting of the month on Sunday, the official Xinhua news agency said without giving details of the bill's latest contents.

Sunday's discussion means the committee is expected to vote on and adopt the law – which is being fast-tracked – in the next few days.

China's Parliament endorsed the planned legislation last month, sending the draft to the Standing Committee for discussion and revision.

Xinhua said earlier this month that China will set up a "national security agency" in the semi-autonomous city and that the new law will override any existing Hong Kong laws that may conflict with it.

International critics and opposition politicians in Hong Kong have voiced fears that the law will effectively end the "One Country, Two Systems" arrangement granting the former British colony freedoms unseen on the mainland.

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Hong Kongers march in silence

Hundreds of Hong Kongers marched silently through the city's streets in protest against the legislation.

Riot police armed with shields were present as the crowd moved from Jordan to Mong Kok in the Kowloon district, as part of a "silent protest," in which they marched but the usual chanting or slogan shouting was mainly absent.

However, chanting and slogans were shouted towards police and later scuffles broke out in Mong Kok, prompting police to use pepper spray to subdue parts of the crowd. 

Hong Kong Police said on Facebook that 53 people had been arrested and charged with unlawful assembly, adding that earlier some protesters tried to blockade roads in the area.

"I am here to oppose the national security laws," said Esther, 25 who was on the streets of Jordan on Sunday.

"It's not the last battle, there is a long term resistance (to the laws)."

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Police ban march marking handover

The event came a day after Hong Kong police refused permission for an annual march that is held on July 1 to mark the handover of the city from Britain to Chinese authorities 23 years ago.

Police cited in a statement that a march would be in violation of Hong Kong's current ban of groups of more than 50 people gathering which was put in place as a result of the coronavirus pandemic.

Support for protests drop

A survey conducted by the Hong Kong Public Opinion Research Institute for Reuters showed the national security legislation is opposed by a majority of people in the financial centre.

It also showed support for protests dropping to 51 percent from 58 percent in June compared to a previous poll conducted for Reuters in March, while opposition to them rose to 34 percent from 28 percent.

China had agreed before Britain handed the territory over in 1997 to let Hong Kong maintain certain liberties and autonomy until 2047 – including legislative and judicial independence and freedom of speech.

Article 23 of Hong Kong's mini-constitution, the Basic Law, says the city must enact a bill to prohibit "treason, secession, sedition (and) subversion" against the Chinese government.

But an attempt to pass it through the city's legislature in 2003 was shelved because of mass protests.

Source: TRTWorld and agencies