China has launched an unprecedented crackdown on Hong Kong’s pro-democracy movement by arresting more than 50 activists and politicians.
The move on Wednesday finally ended the charade of the “One Country, Two Systems” model that was agreed between London and Beijing before Britain’s handover of the city in 1997.
“The Chinese Government has decided to mark 2021 with sweeping arrests of over 50 prominent pro-democracy activists in Hong Kong, removing the remaining veneer of democracy in the city,” Maya Wang, a senior China researcher at Human Rights Watch, said.
In dawn raids, up to 1,000 police officers rounded up the most prominent pro-democracy politicians and activists linked to June’s independently-staged primary elections. They were rolled out to select opposition candidates for the city’s legislative election in September before it was pushed back a year because of the Covid-19 crisis.
Media outlets such as Apple Daily, Stand News, and Inmediahk were also searched.
“The operation today targets the active elements who are suspected to be involved in the crime of overthrowing or interfering seriously to destroy the Hong Kong government’s legal execution of duties,” Hong Kong Secretary for Security John Lee told a media briefing.
His comments echoed China’s response, distorting the facts in line with Beijing’s directives.
Since President Xi Jinping’s administration imposed a draconian national security law on Hong Kong, it has been used to stifle freedom of speech, ban protests and undermine limited elections for the legislative.
Critics have argued that local government leader Carrie Lam, who was handpicked by Beijing as chief executive of Legco, is nothing more than a CCP puppet. Her support for hardline statements emanating from the mainland has reinforced that view.
“China has supported the Hong Kong authorities in the fulfillment of their duties. Hong Kong people’s rights and freedoms according to the law are not affected,” Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying told a regular news conference.
Yet as the dawn raids unfolded, it emerged:
- That 53 people were arrested under the national security law, which carries a maximum sentence of life imprisoned if charged and convicted.
- Most of those detained had either organized or taken part in non-binding primary elections, which were allowed under the Basic Law.
- They include former Democratic Party and Civic Party politicians James To Kun-sun, Lam Cheuk-ting, Andrew Wan Siu-kin, Alvin Yeung Ngok-kiu and Wu Chi-wai, according to their public Facebook pages.
- Occupy Central co-founder Benny Tai Yiu-ting, who drafted the opposition’s strategy, was also detained along with activists Owen Chow Ka-sing, Lester Shum and Gwyneth Ho Kwai-lam.
- Police went on to search the offices of Hong Kong Public Opinion Research Institute, which helped organize the elections. They destroyed the data of more than 600,000 people who voted in the primaries.
- American lawyer John Clancey was arrested during a raid carried out at the legal firm of Ho Tse Wai & Partners, sources confirmed
- He served as the treasurer for the political group Power for Democracy during the pan-democratic camp’s primary election last year.
- The home of leading pro-democracy activist Joshua Wong was also raided even though he has been jailed for unlawful assembly during the 2019 protests.
News of the arrests quickly turned into international outrage.
“The Biden-Harris administration will stand with the people of Hong Kong and against Beijing’s crackdown on democracy … [this is] an assault on those bravely advocating for universal rights,” incoming US Secretary of State Antony Blinken said on Twitter, referring to President-elect Joe Biden’s administration, which takes over later this month.
Chris Patten, the last governor of Hong Kong, was even more strigent in remarks reported by the Reuters news agency.
“The Chinese Communist Party has further turned the screw in Hong Kong. Liberal democracies around the world must continue to speak out against the brutal destruction of a free society,” the former cabinet member of Margret Thatcher’s government in 1989 said.
Human rights groups also condemned the action taken by Lam’s government.
“This shocking crackdown on Hong Kong’s political opposition – sweeping up candidates, activists and pollsters alike – is the starkest demonstration yet of how the national security law has been weaponized to punish anyone who dares to challenge the establishment,” Yamini Mishra, the Asia-Pacific regional director of Amnesty International, said.