The legislation – which criminalises anything authorities deem as subversion, secession, collusion with foreign forces and terrorism with up to life in prison – has radically transformed Hong Kong’s political and legal landscape.
Hong Kong authorities arrested 117 people in the first year of a national security law that was imposed twelve months ago, charging more than 60 politicians, activists, journalists and students.
On June 30, 2020, Beijing imposed the security law in Hong Kong following months of often-violent anti-Beijing protests, effectively ending the unrest. The law punishes acts which China considers as subversion, secession, terrorism and collusion with foreign forces with up to life in prison.
It entered into force as soon as it was published, just before midnight ahead of the July 1 anniversary of the former British colony's return to Chinese rule in 1997.
Critics of the legislation, including some Western governments and rights groups, say it has been used to crush dissent. Its supporters say it was vital to plug national security "loopholes" exposed by the 2019 protests.
In response to questions from Reuters, Hong Kong's Security Bureau said the security law has "stopped chaos and restored order," and that those arrested represent "a very small number of the population," which it calculated at "about 0.0016%".
"We would like to emphasise that any law enforcement actions ...are based on evidence, strictly according to the law," a spokesman for the bureau said.
The actions had "nothing to do with their political stance, background or profession," he said.
Arrests made under law
Police said the youngest among the 117 was 15 at the time of the arrest, the oldest 79.
Ten people were arrested on July 1 under the new law, during a protest against the legislation. The trial of Tong Ying-kit, who is accused of driving a motorbike into police officers while carrying a flag with a protest slogan, started last week after courts denied him bail and a jury, in line with the new law's provisions.
Tong, the first person arrested under the legislation, faces charges of terrorism and inciting secession, as well as an alternative charge of dangerous driving. He pleaded not guilty to all charges.
The biggest sweep under the new law was in January, when more than 50 activists and politicians were arrested in relation to an unofficial primary vote which the opposition organised independently to select their best candidates for a since-postponed election.
Authorities say that vote was a "vicious plot" to subvert the government.
Of these, 47 were charged with conspiracy to commit subversion on February 28 and most of them were denied bail soon after and remain in detention.
The highest profile arrest was that of media tycoon and ardent Beijing critic Jimmy Lai in August 2020. Regarded as a "traitor" by Beijing and accused of colluding with foreign forces, Lai was charged months later. He is in prison serving several sentences for unauthorised assemblies related to the 2019 protests.
This month, 500 police officers raided the newsroom of Lai's now-closed Apple Daily newspaper, arresting five executives on suspicion of colluding with a foreign country.
Two Apple Daily journalists were arrested for similar reasons days later.
Amnesty says law creates 'human rights emergency'
Amnesty International has released a report, saying the national security law has created a "human rights emergency".
"In one year, the National Security Law has put Hong Kong on a rapid path to becoming a police state and created a human rights emergency for the people living there," Amnesty's Asia-Pacific Regional Director Yamini Mishra said.
"From politics to culture, education to media, the law has infected every part of Hong Kong society and fomented a climate of fear that forces residents to think twice about what they say, what they tweet and how they live their lives," Amnesty said in the report.
The human rights group said it analysed court judgements and hearing notes, and interviews with activists targeted under the law to show how the legislation has been used t o carry out "a wide range of human rights violations".
"Ultimately, this sweeping and repressive legislation threatens to make the city a human rights wasteland increasingly resembling mainland China," Amnesty said.