HONG KONG – Hong Kong leader Carrie Lam lauded the city’s new national security law on Wednesday as “remarkably effective in restoring stability,” despite criticism that it is severely narrowing the space for free speech and political opposition in the semi-autonomous Chinese territory.
Lam said in her annual policy address that the law had prevented a return of political unrest and that bringing normalcy back to the political system is an urgent priority.
Beijing imposed the security law on Hong Kong in June, aiming to crack down on dissent following months of anti-government protests in the city that at times descended into violence. Last year’s protests were triggered by a proposed extradition law that would have allowed suspects in Hong Kong to be sent to the mainland. The proposal was eventually scrapped.
“Advocacies of Hong Kong independence and collusions with external forces have progressively subsided, some of the prominent figures have kept a low profile, radical organizations have ceased operations or dissolved,” Lam said in her address.
“After a year of social unrest with fear for personal safety, Hong Kong people can once again enjoy their basic rights and freedoms, according to the law,” she added.
Lam also criticized foreign governments for interfering in Hong Kong’s affairs, saying it had jeopardized national security.
The security law’s passage has drawn strong criticism among rights groups and foreign governments, who say it betrays China’s promise under the “one country, two systems” framework to allow Hong Kong to maintain its own legal system and civil liberties for 50 years following the handover from British to Chinese control in 1997.
They point to the curtailing of free speech through the outlawing of statements advocating Hong Kong's independence and criticism of China, the pulling of books from public libraries with suspect political views and a new emphasis on “patriotic education” in schools.