Human Rights

Hundreds of protestors rally around the ‘Hong Kong 47’

They voice support outside a court for pro-democracy activists charged with ‘subversion’ as China continues its crackdown

They came. They saw. They chanted. Hundreds of pro-democracy activists gathered outside a Hong Kong court on Monday to support 47 democrats charged under the national security law.

Dressed in black, they held up banners that read “release all political prisoners” and chanted “liberate Hong Kong, revolution of our time.”

The slogan is in direct defiance of the draconian national security law that was imposed on the city by China’s ruling Communist Party.

All the 47 pro-democracy campaigners have been charged with “conspiracy to commit subversion,” which carries a maximum sentence of life in prison.

“The [charges are] deeply disturbing step. The national security law violates the Joint Declaration, and its use in this way contradicts the promises made by the Chinese government, and can only further undermine confidence that it will keep its word on such sensitive issues,” British Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab said, referring to the agreement signed between London and Beijing before the handover of Hong Kong to China in 1997.

The facts:

  • China criminalized “subversive” acts last year after the summer of discontent in 2019.
  • Millions of pro-democracy campaigners took to the streets in mainly peaceful protests against an extradition law, which was later shelved.
  • Critics have argued that the new security law is being used to silence dissent.
  • Mass arrests and imprisonment have followed.
  • The 47 pro-democracy campaigners were arrested in dawn raids last month.
  • Their alleged crime was being involved in unofficial “primaries” in June to select opposition candidates for the 2020 legislative elections.
  • A Covid-19 second-wave forced the elections to be postponed until later this year.
  • Beijing authorities said the primary polls were part of a plan to “overthrow” the Hong Kong government.

Crackdown continues: “The Hong Kong government’s budget for this year has a new line item: ‘safeguarding national security.’ It carries a price tag of US$1 billion. It also comes on top of a $3.3 billion budget for policing, a 25% increase compared to last year. No evidence suggests Hong Kong is suddenly awash in common crime. Rather, the dramatic increase follows Beijing’s imposition of the national security law on the city last June,” Maya Wang, a senior researcher for China at Human Rights Watch, wrote in a commentary.

What was said: “Democracy is never a gift from heaven. It must be earned by many with a strong will. We will remain strong and fight for what we want,” Jimmy Sham, one of the leading organizers of the 2019 protest movement, said.

Delve deeper: China has rapidly dismantled the “One Country, Two System” model that allowed Hong Kong greater autonomy. Pro-democracy voices have been muzzled after Xia Baolong, the head of the Hong Kong and Macao Affairs Office, confirmed last month that only “patriots” would “govern” the city. By “patriots,” he meant Chinese Communist Party sympathizers. In a brief statement, he effectively banned democratic candidates from taking part in elections this year while sending out a warning to district councilors in Hong Kong.

China Factor comment: Democracies across the world have described what is happening in Hong Kong as deeply disturbing. But global condemnation has failed to curb Beijing’s remorseless drive to turn Asia’s leading financial hub into just another Chinese city. Along the way, President Xi Jinping has reneged on the agreement signed with the United Kingdom in a move to smash the pro-democracy movement. Most of the parents or grandparents of the activists involved today actually fled mainland China to escape this sort of oppression.

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