[WSMDiscuss] In Hong Kong, officials work to stop another kind of outbreak : Democracy / Fifteen high-profile pro-democracy activists arrested in weekend sweep

Jai Sen jai.sen at cacim.net
Tue Apr 21 17:25:12 CEST 2020

Tuesday, April 21, 2020

Viruses in movement…, Hong Kong in movement…, China in movement…, Justice in movement…

·      In Hong Kong, officials work to stop another kind of outbreak : Democracy (Michael Bociurkiw)

·      Fifteen high-profile pro-democracy activists arrested in Hong Kong in weekend sweep (Nathan VanderKlippe)

[Yet another sign of the long-awaited ‘return to normality’ ? :

In Hong Kong, officials work to stop another kind of outbreak : Democracy

Michael Bociurkiw

https://www.theglobeandmail.com/opinion/article-in-hong-kong-officials-work-to-stop-another-kind-of-outbreak/ <https://www.theglobeandmail.com/opinion/article-in-hong-kong-officials-work-to-stop-another-kind-of-outbreak/>
Michael Bociurkiw is a global affairs analyst and former reporter for the South China Sunday Morning Post.

A second consecutive summer of violent street protests is the last thing Hong Kong needs right now in order to overcome the economic contagion from the COVID-19 epidemic.
But that is exactly what the administration of Chief Executive Carrie Lam is setting the Asian financial hub up for, after police arrested at least 15 pro-democracy leaders on Saturday.

The authorities said the arrests related to the alleged organization of and participation in unauthorized protests between August and October of last year, which escalated into violent confrontations with police, paralyzed the city and brought the economy to its knees.

But the crackdown appears to be more of an attempt to tamp down dissent ahead of anniversaries in June and July, as well as crucial Legislative Council elections in September.

To begin, the people arrested were by no means participating in the violence that included petrol bombs being lobbed at police lines or subway stations and private enterprises being vandalized. Among the detained are Martin Lee and Margaret Ng, foreign-educated barristers who have a distinguished record in fighting for the civil rights of the Hong Kong people. And in another blow toward the eroding of press freedoms in Hong Kong, Jimmy Lai, the owner of the immensely popular newspaper Apple Daily, was also arrested.

Mr. Lee, also known locally as the “father of democracy,” is a former chairman of the Hong Kong Bar Association and helped draft Hong Kong’s Basic Law, the city’s mini constitution. Ms. Ng is a former employee of Chase Manhattan Bank and earned degrees from Cambridge and Boston University.

The roundup – the largest of pro-democracy leaders in Hong Kong in a single day – is a clear signal that Beijing, and its obedient administrators in Hong Kong, will not allow the COVID-19 pandemic to dull its ability to quash dissent, whether in the former British territory, Xinjiang or elsewhere. Since the outbreak of protests last year, police have arrested more than 7,800 people, including many on rioting charges that carry jail terms of up to 10 years.

There are indications that Beijing’s patience is running thin with the deteriorating situation in Hong Kong, even though the violent protests have mostly subsided since the COVID-19 pandemic struck the city several weeks ago. Tensions ratcheted up after Beijing’s top official in Hong Kong, Luo Huining, repeated calls for the urgent introduction of draconian national security laws that had been shelved since 2003.

Ever since the protests started last June, sparked by Ms. Lam’s introduction of a controversial extradition law that could pave the way for fugitives to be sent to China for trial, authorities in Beijing have blamed the unrest on foreign entities such as the United States.

The central authorities are also no doubt irritated by paralysis in the Legislative Council, where 14 bills and 89 pieces of subsidiary legislation – including a bill highly prized by Beijing that would punish those who abuse the national anthem – have been stuck in committee because of months of filibustering by opposition lawmakers. It now appears that Beijing, through its representative officers in Hong Kong, intends to take a more aggressive role in the internal affairs of the city, arguing that they are above the Basic Law.

What can the West do to help support the pro-democracy movement? The U.S. and British governments have condemned the arrests, but loud rhetoric has not appeared to be an effective deterrent for Beijing up to this point. But, as some American lawmakers suggested over the weekend, now may be the time to test the effectiveness of the Hong Kong Human Rights and Democracy Act, which would suspend Hong Kong’s special trade status with the U.S.

And then there’s the matter, of course, of the COVID-19 pandemic. With around 1,000 cases – and with no new cases reported on Monday, the first time that has happened thus far – it may not be long before lockdown restrictions are loosened. But the situation will be determined by whether or not police reach for the Prevention and Control of Disease Ordinance, which bans gatherings of more than four people, to use infection as a cover for quelling dissent.

The aggressive actions against pro-democracy leaders, coupled with threatening talk from Beijing, shows that even though the city may have the COVID-19 crisis under control, it is far from being able to keep the streets calm. It’s all adding up to another long hot summer of angry protests in Hong Kong – pandemic or not.

Fifteen high-profile pro-democracy activists arrested in Hong Kong in weekend sweep

Nathan VanderKlippe, The Globe and Mail

https://www.theglobeandmail.com/world/article-fifteen-high-profile-pro-democracy-activists-arrested-in-hong-kong-in/ <https://www.theglobeandmail.com/world/article-fifteen-high-profile-pro-democracy-activists-arrested-in-hong-kong-in/>

Former lawmaker and pro-democracy activist Martin Lee, second left, leaves the Central District police station in Hong Kong on April 18, 2020, after being arrested and accused of organizing and taking part in unlawful assemblies in August and October last year.   (ISAAC LAWRENCE/AFP/Getty Images)

Seven police officers came into Martin Lee’s Hong Kong home on Saturday, brandishing a search warrant. They left with two pieces of evidence – his mobile phone and a T-shirt he wore during a protest march last year – and with Mr. Lee himself, the man considered the father of democracy in the Asian financial centre.

Mr. Lee was one of 15 high-profile activists arrested in a weekend sweep. The arrests created shock in Hong Kong, but Mr. Lee, 81, expressed little surprise. “The police are completely the masters in Hong Kong. They are running this place,” he said in an interview Monday, after he was released on bail. In that context, “a midnight knock on the door is to be expected. They are really very decent – they came almost midday. I can’t complain.”

The arrests were made amid a flurry of statements and legal interpretations that further strengthened the hand of Beijing in the Asian financial centre.

Opinion: In Hong Kong, officials work to stop another kind of outbreak: democracy <https://www.theglobeandmail.com/opinion/article-in-hong-kong-officials-work-to-stop-another-kind-of-outbreak/>
They also continue a broad effort by Hong Kong police against participants in a series of protests, many of them violent, that began last year when the city’s leadership introduced a bill that would have enabled extradition to China. By mid-March, police had arrested 7,854 people on a series of charges, including taking part in a riot, unlawful assembly, assault, arson and possession of an offensive weapon. A total of 1,252 people have been charged, according to Hong Kong Police.

“Hong Kong upholds the rule of law. No one is above the law,” Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Geng Shuang said Monday. He admonished foreign critics to “stop bolstering anti-China rioters and stop interfering in China’s internal affairs.”

Canadian Foreign Affairs Minister François-Philippe Champagne, in a statement released early Monday, called the arrests an “extraordinary measure” that “calls for close scrutiny.”

But international expressions of concern are unlikely to sway authorities in Hong Kong and Beijing, said Anson Chan, a former chief secretary in Hong Kong who has been openly critical of China’s Communist rulers.

“They really are throwing caution to the wind. They don’t much care about how it is regarded here or overseas,” she said. “They are determined to demonstrate who is the boss – and to clamp down even further on Hong Kong’s rights.”

Many of the people arrested on Saturday have been previously arrested for acts of civil disobedience. It was the third arrest for Mr. Lee. It was the fifth for Albert Ho, a former legislator with the city’s Democratic Party. And Avery Ng, a pro-democracy activist, was released from prison just three weeks ago. On Saturday, eight officers came to his door, arresting him on accusations of organizing and knowingly participating, twice, in unauthorized assemblies last year. “It’s a strong escalation on the crackdown by the Beijing government,” he said.




Hong Kong police arrested 15 activists, including veteran politicians, a publishing tycoon and senior barristers, in raids on Saturday in the biggest crackdown on the city's pro-democracy movement since the outbreak of mass protests last year. Olivia Chan reports. Reuters 

The protests were unauthorized, he noted, because police declined to authorize them. Authorities are “bullying us into silence,” Mr. Ng said.

He says he believes the arrests are an attempt to neutralize people who might oppose national security legislation that would prohibit treason, secession or “subversion against the Central People’s Government.” Such legislation is required by the city’s constitution-like Basic Law, but has not been passed. However, new calls have emerged in the past week from local and Chinese leaders alike to set in place national security rules.

”The arrest and suppression of our street protests and protest movement is to clear the way for the legislation,” said activist and former politician Lee Cheuk-yan, who was also among those arrested. ”Beijing always sees Hong Kong as a threat to national security, including all our marches and protests and our demands for democracy.”

Those worries may be unfounded: Hong Kong leadership is “not keen” to push forward legislation that could spark a new round of protests, said Johannes Chan, a constitutional expert who is former dean of the faculty of law at the University of Hong Kong. “It will be political suicide for a rather weak government to push such a controversial bill,” he said.

But worry about eroding conditions in Hong Kong have extended beyond activists. On Monday, Fitch Ratings downgraded the city’s credit rating, citing the impact of the coronavirus pandemic and the “lingering uncertainty” of unresolved issues that “entrenches the risk of renewed bouts of public discontent, which could further tarnish international perceptions of the territory’s governance, institutions, and political stability.”

Fitch also warned that “Hong Kong’s gradual integration” into China’s “national governance system” means that its ratings should be closer aligned with those of China. A spokesperson for the Hong Kong government responded in a statement Monday, saying “the view that Hong Kong’s rising economic and financial ties with the Mainland is credit negative is … ungrounded.”

Criticism of Hong Kong police is also unfair, said Grenville Cross, a criminal justice analyst who is a former director of public prosecutions in Hong Kong.

“The protest movement, and its international backers, have mounted an insidious campaign to smear the reputation of the police, and the reason for this is that the force has been so successful in controlling their excesses and upholding law and order,” he said.

Mr. Lee, however, placed fault with Chinese leadership. “The only thing they know is to suppress, suppress, suppress, arrest, charge,” he said.

But, he said, “the Communists shouldn’t be running this place to begin with. It should be Hong Kong people running Hong Kong.”


Jai Sen

Independent researcher, editor; Senior Fellow at the School of International Development and Globalisation Studies at the University of Ottawa

jai.sen at cacim.net <mailto:jai.sen at cacim.net>
Now based in New Delhi, India (+91-98189 11325) and in Ottawa, Canada, on unceded and unsurrendered Anishinaabe territory (+1-613-282 2900) 

CURRENT / RECENT publications :

Jai Sen, ed, 2018a – The Movements of Movements, Part 2 : Rethinking Our Dance. Ebook and hard copy available at PM Press <http://www.pmpress.org/>
Jai Sen, ed, 2018b – The Movements of Movements, Part 1 : What Makes Us Move ? (Indian edition). New Delhi : AuthorsUpfront, in collaboration with OpenWord and PM Press.  Hard copy available at MOM1AmazonIN <https://www.amazon.in/dp/9387280101/ref=sr_1_2?ie=UTF8&qid=1522884070&sr=8-2&keywords=movements+of+movements+jai+sen>, MOM1Flipkart <https://www.flipkart.com/the-movements-of-movements/p/itmf3zg7h79ecpgj?pid=9789387280106&lid=LSTBOK9789387280106NBA1CH&marketplace=FLIPKART&srno=s_1_1&otracker=search&fm=SEARCH&iid=ff35b702-e6a8-4423-b014-16c84f6f0092.9789387280106.SEARCH&ppt=Search%20Page>, and MOM1AUpFront <http://www.authorsupfront.com/movements.htm>
Jai Sen, ed, 2017 – The Movements of Movements, Part 1 : What Makes Us Move ?.  New Delhi : OpenWord and Oakland, CA : PM Press.  Ebook and hard copy available at PM Press <http://www.pmpress.org/>
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