‘You can break the law without intending to’: Countries update Hong Kong travel advice over national security legislation

Flag raising ceremony at Golden Bauhinia Square in Hong Kong on July 1, 2020. Photo via YouTube/Information Services Department, HKSARG
Flag raising ceremony at Golden Bauhinia Square in Hong Kong on July 1, 2020. Photo via YouTube/Information Services Department, HKSARG

Hong Kong authorities said the national security law will only target “an extremely small minority.” That, it turns out, is a colossal lie.

According to Article 38 of the criminal legislation, anybody—regardless of whether they are a citizen of Hong Kong, or even located in the city—could contravene the law. Countries around the world are reacting accordingly, with a number updating their travel advisories to warn of “increased risk” when traveling to the city.

Australia’s travel office puts the reality bluntly. “This law could be interpreted broadly. You can break the law without intending to. The maximum penalty under this law in Hong Kong is life imprisonment,” the advisory reads.

The UK has issued a similarly ominous warning. There is “a risk of heightened tension” due to the passing of the security law, and “Mainland authorities could under certain circumstances detain individuals under the terms of this law, with maximum penalty of life imprisonment,” the UK’s Foreign and Commonwealth Office says.

Canada, the first country to update its travel advisory to reflect the new law, warns: “National security legislation for Hong Kong came into effect on July 1, 2020. You may be at increased risk of arbitrary detention on national security grounds and possible extradition to mainland China.”


The national security law came into effect in Hong Kong late Tuesday night, with the full text made public around the same time. Among the alarming details is the fact that the legislation allows Beijing to assert extrajudicial powers over virtually anybody if they are deemed to have committed the broadly defined acts of secession, subversion of state power, terrorism, and foreign collusion.

“All 8 billion people in the world should familiarize themselves with the Hong Kong national security law to avoid falling into the legal trap,” said Eric Cheung, a law professor at the University of Hong Kong.

On Wednesday, when thousands of angry Hongkongers protested the law, police arrested 10 people on suspicion of violating the new legislation. Two females who were apprehended were found to be in possession of fliers with the words “One Nation, One Hong Kong,” while at least two others were waving Hong Kong independence flags.

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