Conflict Alerts

Conflict Alerts # 338, 4 March 2021

Hong Kong: 47 pro-democracy activists charged with security crime
Sukanya Bali

In the news
On 28 February, Hong Kong police confirmed that 39 men and eight women pro-democracy campaigners were being charged on account of a “conspiracy to commit subversion”. The group of pro-democracy activists include former lawmakers, academicians, social workers, and youth activists. Jimmy Sham, one of the 2019 protest organizers said, “Democracy is never a gift from heaven. It must be earned by many with a strong will.”

On 1 March, hundreds of protestors gathered to show their support outside the West Kowloon court complex. Protestors held banners and raised slogans saying, “Liberate Hong Kong, a revolution of our times.”

Issues at large
First, China’s continuing arrests of pro-democracy activists.  In June 2020, China imposed the National Security Law which criminalises acts deemed to subversion, secession, terrorism, and collusion with foreign forces. Those charged could also face life imprisonment. China has described it as an attempt to restore stability in the city. Young protestors like Joshua Wong, Ivan Lam and Agnes Chow Ting were convicted for unlawful assembly, in December 2020. Over the last few months, many political leaders have been arrested on charges of "contempt" and "interfering" with the city's Legislative Council. Jimmy Lai, the founder of Apple Daily was recently denied bail for the third time by the Hong Kong High Court. He was arrested last year in August, on suspicion of colluding with foreign powers and was arrested under the new security law.

Second, the extensive use of National Security Law. On 6 January, 50 pro-democracy protestors were arrested. The protestors were accused of organizing and participating in the unofficial “primary election” of 2020. The polls aimed at selecting the strongest candidates for the legislative council election. Hong Kong officials described the primary as “the strategy to violate the security laws, ban and attempt to derail government functioning and pose a threat to national security.” Since 2020, police have arrested more than 10,000 people, out of which more than 2,400 have faced charges and 100 have been arrested under the national security law.

Third, the changing nature of the protests - from the streets to court halls. After the outbreak of COVID-19, the protestors on the street dwindled. For the first since January 2020, the supporters gathered outside the court hall. More than 100 police officers were deployed. Hong Kong Judiciary called the situation “very crowded.”

Fourth, increasing international response. The international community showed solidarity and condemned China's action in Hong Kong. The US Secretary of State Antony Blinken tweeted, “We condemn the detention of, and charges filed against pan-democratic candidates in Hong Kong’s elections and call for their immediate release. Political participation and freedom of expression should not be crimes. The US stands with the people of Hong Kong.” Nanaia Mahuta New Zealand’s Foreign Minister also tweeted saying, “the charges marked an escalation in the application of the national security law and New Zealand is concerned and would be monitoring the situation.”
In perspective
The extensive clampdown of the pro-democracy protests under the National Security Law indicates that the space for dissent or democracy is narrowing in Hongkong and China's hold on Hong Kong is tightening, effectively eroding the one country's two systems.

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