Individuals convicted of violating the national security law could face life imprisonment, contrary to previous indications of a 10-year limit on jail terms. On Sunday, the National People’s Congress started a three-day meeting to finalize the controversial bill.

The national security law is aimed at preventing, stopping, and punishing the people of Hong Kong from committing acts of secession, subversion, terrorism, and collusion with foreign forces. While previous declarations suggested that the bill would carry a maximum penalty of 10-year imprisonment, two sources have revealed that the bill will carry a maximum penalty of life imprisonment.

A delegate from Hong Kong who had sight of the draft of the law said on Sunday that the life sentence would be very targeted based on Sunday’s meeting. “It will definitely cover more than just secession and subversion,” said the source. “The law is not going to be merely a toothless tiger,” he added.

This contradicted earlier comments by Tam Yiu-Chung, who said the penalty for violators of the law had been set at only three to 10 years imprisonment. Following his initial statement, he clarified it was five to 10 years. On the eve of Sunday, however, the legislator said he would inform his fellow lawmakers in Beijing of calls from Hong Kong to impose higher penalties to improve the law’s deterrent effect.

During the meeting on Sunday, the lawmakers from Beijing refused to disclose the details of the amendments but confirmed that they had paid heed to the alleged calls for amendments. NPC deputies and Hong Kong pro-Beijing politician Stanley Ng Chau-Pei said the bill had been made retroactive with stiffer penalties.

“The report presented by Shen this morning had taken into account the views we conveyed,” said Ng.

Meanwhile, the sources also revealed that the explanations given on the new law were not on choice of words identical with Hong Kong’s common law system. “For example, the wording used to describe life imprisonment in Hong Kong’s law is different from mainland law, thus there will be explanations on that,” said one of the sources.

Hong Kong Leader Carrie Lam Carrie Lam defended China's new national security law in a speech on Tuesday, May 26. Getty/ Anthony Wallace