Following Hong Kong’s protest-turned-riot on the night of February 8, that started as an effort by anti-Beijing and anti-government activists to defend hawkers from eviction, some Hong Kong government officials have called for a domestic security law to be reintroduced.

The protests started when localists, reportedly lead by the group Hong Kong Indigenous, surrounded unlicensed snack hawkers to try to prevent authorities from shutting them down. Ongoing controversy has followed government regulation of vendors at night markets over the past few years. Protesters started throwing things around midnight, according to the South China Morning Post‘s timeline, and then police fired warning shots at 2 am, but the riot only intensified, and fires were lit on the street starting at 4 am.

China’s central government labeled the localist protesters “separatists,” using a word they have used to refer to Xinjiang and Tibetan independence activists.

Now some government officials and pro-establishment activists are calling for renewal of an Article 23 domestic security law that was pulled in 2003 after mass protests. The protests led to the proposal, so-named because it is allowed for in Hong Kong’s Basic Law under Article 23, being withdrawn from the Legislative Council and then Secretary for Security Regina Ip resigning.

The protests in 2003 had a huge impact on Hong Kong civil society, leading to more demands for universal suffrage and being cited today as a hopeful example of what is possible with protests.

Reintroducing a version of the proposed law, which critics contended would stifle freedom of expression and protest, and which could give the government expanded powers and criminalize certain groups, would cause a political uproar. But the pro-government is increasingly anxious over recent developments and might see the aftermath of the riot as the perfect time to try.

Rao Geping, a judicial official in China and a member of the Basic Law Committee, called for an Article 23 security law to be introduced. Sing Tao, a pro-establishment newspaper that is the second-largest by circulation in Hong Kong, wrote in one of its headings: “Article 23 has been slandered and demonized”.

Sing Tao has lead its front pages with massive coverage of the riots for the past two days. Yesterday, one Sing Tao article bemoaned that too few Occupy Central activists were punished and called for more of the rioters or protesters to be charged.

Other activists who have called for a domestic security law in the aftermath of the riots include Chinese Association of Hong Kong and Macau Studies vice president Lau Siu-kai and former president of the Law Society of Hong Kong Ho Kwan-yiu.

Meanwhile some current and former government officials are trying to quell fear of the law, including Secretary for Security Lai Tung-kwok former LegCo president Rita Fan.


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