Crackdown habit now extends to Hong Kong

January 7, 2021

For those who thought that the new National Security Law (NSL) in Hong Kong would not be used so harshly or quickly, the latest salvo against the pro-democracy movement in Hong Kong is a rude wake up call: more than 50 people were arrested in the early hours of Wednesday 6 January 2021. Pro-democracy politicians and campaigners had their homes raided before being detained in an unprecedented crackdown. On 6 January 2021 Seth Farsides for the International Observatory for Human Rights described the scene:

In total, 53 individuals were detained on 6 January 2021 under provisions of the National Security Law (NSL), which was imposed on Hong Kong by the Chinese mainland in June 2020. The individuals stand accused of “subverting state power”, following a number of primaries being conducted for pro-democracy candidates ahead of the delayed Hong Kong election which had been due to take place in September 2020.

Today’s raids further demonstrate Carrie Lam’s willingness to stifle opposition movements and deny the people of Hong Kong a free and fair election. More than 1,000 officers were involved in an operation that “look[ed] more like a purge than law enforcement” according to Tom Cheshire, Asia correspondent for Sky news.

Among those arrested were several former lawmakers and district councillors, organiser of the primaries Benny Tai and American lawyer John Clancey and Robert Chung who provided the technology that carried out the poll through the Hong Kong Public Opinion Research Institute, of which he is the executive director.

It was reported that Joshua Wong was also raided by police, according to his Twitter account, while newspapers Apple Daily and the Stand were visited by police seeking contact information of primary candidates. {see also: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2020/12/10/albert-ho-wins-baldwin-medal-2020/]

Many of those arrested managed to livestream the events, with at least one capturing footage of authorities confirming their arrest was linked to participating in primary polling. Pro-Democrats had been aiming to win 35 seats in the upcoming election, a majority in the 70 seat LegCo.

Valerie Peay, Director of the International Observatory of Human Rights and past Hong Kong resident voiced her outrage at the move, saying:

At what point of this travesty will the UK Government hold China accountable for not only dismantling all protections put in place to protect the rights of the Hong Kong people but corrupting all sense of the rule of law? Almost all of the people arrested today were born in Hong Kong pre 1997 under British freedoms. Do their lives count for so little that we will not lift a finger to protect them now less than 24 years later?

In practice, this means that acts considered commonplace in western democracies – such as standing in elections – can now be punished in the once semi-autonomous city. Amnesty International’s Asia-Pacific Regional Director Yamini Mishra said:

Charging dozens of pro-democracy lawmakers and activists with ‘subversion’, just because they held their own informal primary contest, is a blatant attack on their rights to peaceful expression and association. People have a legitimate right to take part in public affairs. Political opposition should not be silenced just because the authorities don’t like it.

This is not the first crackdown under the NSL – although it is the most extensive single operation. In December 2020, the owner of Hong Kong tabloid Apple Daily, Jimmy Lai was charged with violating the law and Tony Chung, a teenage activist, was found guilty under the law for defiling a Chinese flag….

Between China’s election in October and taking its seat on the Human Rights Council on 1 January 2021, IOHR tracked over 100 human rights abuses, not including the ongoing daily abuse of the Uyghur Muslims. Within this, 17 abuses directly related to China’s actions in Hong Kong, including: The arbitrary detention of Hong Kong residents, establishment of a ‘snitching hotline’ incentivising residents to report violations of the NSL, requiring lawmakers to pass a ‘patriotism’ test, and the detention of three opposition lawmakers.

A slither of hope for those detained today might manifest in Hong Kong’s courtrooms. So far, Hong Kong’s courts have dismissed many of the charges brought against protesters under former laws and Hong Kong’s, albeit outgoing, chief justice has reaffirmed the courts commitment to the rule of law.

Worryingly, the NSL provides for the possibility of trials on the Chinese mainland and China’s Hong Kong and Macau Affairs Office has also lobbied for the need for “”judicial reform” in Hong Kong itself.

See also: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2020/12/18/chinas-continuing-crackdown-on-human-rights-lawyers-shocking-say-un-experts/

https://mailchi.mp/hrf.org/last-chance-to-support-hrf-in-287987?e=f80cec329e

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