People in Hong Kong could face life in jail for breaking a controversial and sweeping new security law imposed by China.
The legislation came into force on Tuesday but the full text was only revealed hours afterwards.
It was brought in by Beijing following increasing unrest and a widening pro-democracy movement.
Critics say the new law effectively curtails protest and undermines Hong Kong’s freedoms.
The territory was handed back to China from British control in 1997, but under a unique agreement supposed to protect certain freedoms that people in mainland China do not enjoy – including freedom of speech.
Hong Kong’s leader, Carrie Lam, defended the law, saying it filled a “gaping hole” in national security.
Details have been closely guarded and the Beijing-backed politician admitted she had not seen the draft before commenting
But Ted Hui, an opposition legislator, told the BBC: “Our rights are (being) taken away; our freedom is gone; our rule of law, our judicial independence is gone.”
The UK, EU and Nato have all expressed concern and anger, while pro-democracy groups have started to disband amid fears of immediate reprisals.
Washington, which also urged Beijing to reconsider, had already begun to end the preferential treatment Hong Kong enjoys in trade and travel with the US, bringing it in line with mainland China.
The law will not apply to acts which happened before it came into force.
Under the national security law, many of the acts of protest that have rocked Hong Kong over the past year could now be classed as subversion or secession… and punished with up to life in prison.
The city’s pro-Beijing leader, Carrie Lam, said the law was long overdue.
Fearing repercussions, political activists are resigning their posts and one pro-democracy protester, who asked to remain anonymous, told me that ordinary people are now deleting posts on social media.
Many people are just stopping talking about politics, and stopping talking about freedom and democracy because they want to save their own lives. They want to save their freedom and avoid being arrested.
One contact of mine, a lawyer and human rights activist, sent me a message shortly after the law was passed. Please delete everything on this chat, he wrote.