Police in Hong Kong have arrested around 50 pro-democracy figures for allegedly violating China’s new National Security Law. The pro-democracy activists had participated in an unofficial primary election last year. It was to be held for increase the chances of pro-democracy lawmakers to control the Hong Kong legislature.
The mass arrests are the biggest move against Hong Kong’s democracy movement since China’s National Security Law was passed by Beijing for the self-autonomous region in June last year. Hong Kong Police have not confirmed the arrests.
At least seven members of Hong Kong Democratic Party — the largest opposition party of the island — were arrested, including a former party Chairman. Former lawmakers were also arrested. Benny Tai, a key figure in Hong Kong’s 2014 protests and a former law professor, was also apprehended by the police, according to reports. He was one of the main organizers of the primaries last year.
The home of a prominent pro-democracy activist Joshua Wong, who is serving a long prison sentence for organizing and participating in unauthorized protests last year, was also raided. According to reports, all the pro-democracy candidates who had participated in the unofficial primaries (elections) were arrested.
Police also raided the headquarters of a prominent pro-democracy online news site in Hong Kong, armed with a court order seeking assistance in an investigation. In recent months, Hong Kong has jailed several pro-democracy activists for their involvement in anti-government protests. Others have been charged under the National Security Law including media persons and outspoken pro-democracy activists.
China’s National Security Law criminalizes acts of subversion, secession, terrorism and collusion with foreign powers to intervene in the city’s affairs. Serious offenders could face up a maximum punishment of life imprisonment. The Law has been criticised by several countries and the UN.
Pro-democracy activists and lawmakers had last July held an unofficial primary election to figure out which candidates they should field in a legislative election (that was postponed due to the Covid-19 pandemic). The pro-democracy camp wished to gain majority in the polls and wanted to vote against bills they deemed to be pro-China.
More than 600,000 Hong Kong citizens voted in the primaries, although pro-Beijing lawmakers and politicians criticized the event and warned that it could breach the Security Law, which was imposed on the city to quash dissent following months of anti-government protests. Hong Kong’s Chief Executive Carrie Lam had said last year that if the primary election was aimed at resisting every policy initiative by the Hong Kong government, then it may fall under subverting state power, an offence under the National Security Law.
Beijing had termed the primaries as illegal, calling it a “serious provocation” of Hong Kong’s electoral system.
Following the handover of Hong Kong to China by the British in 1997, the city has operated on a “one country, two systems” framework that affords it freedom not found on the Chinese mainland. In recent years, Beijing has asserted more control over the island-city, drawing criticism that Hong Kong’s freedoms were under attack.
Last November, all the pro-democracy lawmakers of Hong Kong had resigned after China passed a resolution that led to the disqualification of four lawmakers, leaving a largely pro-Beijing legislature.
Analysts opine that China has failed to learn from its past mistakes in Hong Kong. Repression generates resistance, and millions of Hong Kong people will persist in their struggle for their right to vote and run for office in a democratically elected government, say activists.
Human rights groups say, China’s National Security Law is a draconian law that allows the Chinese government to arrest and imprison people for long terms for exercising their constitutionally protected rights. Many analysts say, Beijing is aiming to make Hong Kong an extension of mainland China. This is not in sync with Hong Kong’s milieu, as its citizens had enjoyed democratic rights being citizens of a British colony until 1997.
Script: Padam Singh, AIR: News Analyst