Not only did participants risk arrest by attending an illegal rally, some chanted the banned slogan ‘Liberate Hong Kong. Revolution of our time’
Defiant Hong Kongers yesterday risked arrest outside a local court in the biggest demonstration in months, as dozens of the territory’s most prominent democracy advocates were jailed on subversion charges and authorities in Beijing moved to limit the opposition’s role in future elections.
The arrests of 47 opposition figures — including key protest organizers Joshua Wong (黃之鋒), Benny Tai (戴耀廷) and Jimmy Sham (岑子傑) — over their roles in an informal election primary last year represented the most sweeping use of a national security law imposed by China.
The proceedings drew hundreds of supporters outside the courthouse in West Kowloon. Not only did participants risk arrest by attending an unauthorized rally, some chanted: “Liberate Hong Kong. Revolution of our time” — a slogan banned since the law’s enactment.
“I’m here to support our comrades,” Hong Kong district councilor Leon Kwan (關俊笙) said. “As long as this breath lasts, I’ll fight until the end.”
At another court in the same complex, a handful of other prominent democracy advocates — including Martin Lee (李柱銘), Hong Kong’s so-called “Father of Democracy,” and media tycoon Jimmy Lai (黎智英) — were being tried on separate charges over their roles in an unauthorized rally.
The latest charges were condemned by Washington and the EU, with US Secretary of State Antony Blinken calling for the “immediate release” of the democracy advocates.
The cases were just one of several moves by authorities to clamp down on the opposition ahead of a legislative election planned for later this year, after it was delayed from September last year.
The move comes ahead of China’s National People’s Congress, with senior officials calling for an overhaul of Hong Kong’s election system that could further reduce the already-limited influence of pro-democracy politicians.
China’s Hong Kong and Macau Affairs Office Director Xia Baolong (夏寶龍) was meeting with Hong Kong officials in Shenzhen to discuss electoral changes.
“The decision to charge these people also suggests that the government wants to do real and lasting damage to the political opposition in Hong Kong, above and beyond the 2021 election cycle,” Georgetown Center for Asian Law executive director Thomas Kellogg said.
“It may be that we’re seeing the end of formal opposition politics in the SAR, which would be a real shame,” he said, referring to Hong Kong’s status as a special administrative region of China.
The opposition figures detained on Sunday are being prosecuted over their roles in helping organize a primary that drew more than 600,000 voters in July last year to choose candidates for Hong Komg Legislative Council elections.
Authorities say the primary, as well as plans to force the resignation of Hong Kong Chief Executive Carrie Lam (林鄭月娥) using a provision of the territory’s Basic Law, were part of an illegal attempt to paralyze the Hong Kong government.
The election was eventually postponed by a year, with the government citing the COVID-19 pandemic. Critics said the pro-China administration hoped to avoid a repeat of a defeat in local district council elections in late 2019.
Former Hong Kong Legislative Council president Rita Fan (范徐麗泰) told officials at the Shenzhen meeting that district councilors should be barred from the 1,200-person committee that selects the territory’s chief executive, the Standard newspaper reported.
The 2019 victory for democracy advocates in 17 of 18 local district councils gave the opposition 117 seats on that committee, giving them a better chance of blocking Beijing’s choice to lead Hong Kong.
“The central government is really worried about the elections,” City University of Hong Kong assistant professor of Chinese politics Dongshu Liu (劉冬舒) said, adding that the plan to force Lam’s resignation alarmed Beijing. “The central government was really shocked that they seemed to be likely to succeed.”
Comments will be moderated. Keep comments relevant to the article. Remarks containing abusive and obscene language, personal attacks of any kind or promotion will be removed and the user banned. Final decision will be at the discretion of the Taipei Times.