China on Tuesday morning unilaterally passed a new national security law for Hong Kong, according to the South China Morning Post, a move that experts say will further erode the semi-autonomous city’s waning freedoms

According to SCMP, the law was unanimously approved by 162 members of the National People’s Congress Standing Committee, Beijing’s top legislative body. The outlet said the legislation, which has not yet been made public by China, is expected to carry a maximum penalty of life in jail. 

China agreed to draft and force the new legislation on Hong Kong in a largely rubber-stamp vote last month, prompting widespread protests in the territory. The law is expected to ban secession, subversion, and collusion with foreign forces.

Axios reported earlier this month that in a worst-case scenario, the new law could allow Chinese agents to grab people in Hong Kong and send them to the mainland for interrogation or imprisonment. The outlet said the new law could also allow China’s secretive Ministry of State Security to establish a more official presence in Hong Kong.

Hong Kong formally operates with significant autonomy from the rest of China, an arrangement called “one country, two systems.” Hong Kong’s relationship with the mainland is growing fraught, however.

Hong Kong operated under British colonial rule for more than 150 years until its sovereignty was passed on to China in 1997 through an agreement called the Basic Law. This allows Hong Kong to maintain its own political, legal, and economic systems separate from China until 2047.

The Basic Law, or Hong Kong’s mini-constitution, calls for the city to enact national security laws to prohibit “treason, secession, sedition,” and “subversion” against the Chinese government. It is referred to as Article 23. Hong Kong has yet to do so on its own, prompting China to take unilateral action.

China has grown increasingly overbearing in its policies towards Hong Kong in recent years, leading to heightened calls for the city to move towards full democracy. China’s vote on the national security laws reignited protests in Hong Kong last month.

Earlier this month, Hong Kong passed a controversial bill that makes insulting China’s national anthem a crime. The bill states that anyone who insults or commercially misuses China’s national anthem — March of the Volunteers — faces fines of up to HK$50,000, or roughly $6,380, or up to three years in prison. 

Schools in Hong Kong have been ordered to display the Chinese flag and sing the Chinese national anthem as the city begins enforcing the law. 

Pro-democracy leader Joshua Wong tweeted last month that China’s aggressive measures were “retaliation” for months of violent clashes between protesters and police spurred by the deeply unpopular extradition bill proposal last year.

In a tweet on Tuesday, Wong announced that he was stepping down from his pro-democracy group in protest of the national security law’s passage. He said the new law marked the “End of Hong Kong” and the “Beginning of Reign of Terror.”

“If my voice will not be heard soon, I hope that the international community will continue to speak up for Hong Kong and step up concrete efforts to defend our last bit of freedom,” he wrote. 

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