ON THE FIRST DAY of the law’s implementation, police arrested 10 people under the new law as thousands defied the police ban and turned out to the streets, including Cheung. Rows of riot police tried to block the protest route, and Cheung could sense a high level of anxiety among the protesters as they faced off against the riot police’s pepper spray, tear gas, and water cannons. By the end of the night, police arrested more than 370 people. The 10 arrested under the new law were guilty of crimes ranging from holding a “Hong Kong independence” flag to carrying “subversive” materials including stickers that read “conscience” and another quoting Amos 5:24.
Within the first week, the government banned the protest slogan “Liberate Hong Kong, revolution of our times” as well as Lennon Walls where protesters wrote messages of support on colorful Post-it Notes. Libraries pulled books by pro-democracy activists to review if they violated the law. The government gave police sweeping new powers to search private property without a warrant, freeze assets, intercept communications, and force internet firms to hand over and decrypt information. Schools banned the protest anthem “Glory to Hong Kong” as well as any activity that expresses the protesters’ political stance. Three writers for the pro-democracy Apple Daily newspaper have discontinued their columns.
By July 8, Beijing had turned the hotel where Cheung was under quarantine into the new national security headquarters in Hong Kong, affixing the red-and-gold emblem for the People’s Republic of China on the building’s exterior. The office, which oversees the enforcement of the sweeping new law, is headed by Zheng Yanxiong, a Guangdong official who is best known for his heavy-handed dealing with protests over land disputes in the southern village of Wukan. (He criticized the villagers for talking to “rotten foreign media organizations” instead of the government.)
Cheung lists the things he believes Hong Kong has lost since the passage of the bill: rule of law, an independent judiciary, freedom of speech, autonomy, “freedom from fear as now we live in Hong Kong with white terror …, and a very energetic, talented future generation of Hong Kongers.”
The law establishes the Committee for Safeguarding National Security. Under the supervision of Beijing’s central government, it works in secret and operates outside of judicial oversight. The law also empowers a section of the police force—which can include officers from China—to focus on national security cases. A new division in the Department of Justice will prosecute national security cases. Hong Kong Chief Executive Carrie Lam will appoint the division’s leader.
Lam also chooses the judges who hear national security cases, but the special Office for Safeguarding National Security will take over cases officials consider more serious. Staffed with mainland officials, it can send the accused to China to face trial there and is not subject to Hong Kong law.
Cheung says that in talking with Hong Kong pastors, some have told him they’ve begun to censor their sermons. Pastors who have spoken out prophetically to the general public or against the sins of the authorities in the past seem to be waiting to see how things play out.
As he has been studying Chinese church history with a focus on the years around the Communist takeover in 1949, he sees parallels between history and what is happening in Hong Kong today. Before, he didn’t understand how people could go along or do little amid such massive government changes. “But now we understand that there’s not much you can do except to accept it and try to accommodate accordingly.”