Hong Kong opposition shudders as mass arrests herald “harsh winter”


Published on: 01/12/2021 – 07:58Modified: 01/12/2021 – 07:57

Hong Kong (AFP)

Mass arrests of opposition figures in Hong Kong under new security law demolished assurances that only a “small majority” would be targeted, analysts say, as China ignores international censorship to purge the city of dissent.

Benny Tai walked out of the police station squinting under the camera lights about 36 hours after being arrested last week by officers from the new Hong Kong National Security Unit.

The 56-year-old law professor is no stranger to police interrogation rooms and has previously been jailed for his campaign for democracy.

But he was shocked by the scale of the operation last week.

“Hong Kong has entered a harsh winter, with strong and cold winds,” he told reporters.

For two days, more than 1,000 officers dispersed around the city and arrested 55 defenders of democracy on suspicion of “subversion” – one of the new crimes of the broader security law.

The list of those arrested reads as follows: who’s who from the democratic movement; from veteran moderates and former lawmakers to lawyers, academics, social workers and young activists.

“All of this is aimed at Democrats in all areas, at all levels,” former MP Claudia Mo, one of those arrested, told AFP.

Activists say their worst fears have come true. The new law, they say, is not the scalpel promised by Beijing would only be used to eliminate real threats to China’s national security – it is a hammer.

After his release on bail, former lawmaker Ray Chan referred to a speech given last year by city chief Carrie Lam.

“Carrie Lam said the National Security Act would only affect a small number of people,” he said.

“Instead, Hong Kong has become the city in China with the highest number of people accused of national security offenses. ”

– Subversive primary –

Lam delivered the speech to the United Nations Human Rights Council on the day the security law was imposed, its contents kept secret until the time it was enacted.

“It will only target a very small minority of people,” she assured listeners. “The fundamental rights and freedoms of the overwhelming majority of Hong Kong residents will be protected. ”

However, both the wording of the security law and the way in which the authorities have used it have hardly convinced skeptics.

Last week, the UN rights office said the latest confirmed arrests “as feared, the offense of subversion under the National Security Act is effectively being used to detain individuals for exercising rights. legitimate to participate in political and public life ”.

What shocked many observers was the “crime” that Hong Kong police saw as subversion.

Last summer, the generally fractured pro-democracy opposition gathered to decide who could run in local parliamentary elections.

In a bid to secure a majority for the first time in the partially elected chamber, they hoped they could then veto budgets and potentially trigger a recall from Lam.

In a democracy this would be considered the norm of politics

But China saw it as an attempt to overthrow a system with a varnish of choice that is ultimately designed to ensure it retains full control.

Those arrested, Hong Kong security chief John Lee said, were trying to “overthrow” the government.

– A distracted US –

Victoria Hui, an expert from the University of Notre Dame in the United States, said the arrests confirm that security law trumps basic law – the mini-constitution that once guaranteed that Hong Kong would maintain certain freedoms.

“If trying to win an election and veto the government budget as authorized in the Basic Law is now defined as illegal by the National Security Act, then it is clearly intended to … impose direct mainland rule on Hong Kong “, She told AFP.

“This wave of arrests will surely not be the last. ”

International criticism has been sharp, but ineffective.

Among those arrested was the first foreigner, an American lawyer who practiced in Hong Kong for decades. US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo has warned that new sanctions could be imposed.

But Beijing has ignored the threat, helped in part by the fact that the European Union has agreed to a trade deal with China despite years of growing rights concerns.

Whether deliberate or not, the arrests came at a time when Washington is distracted by its own political chaos.

“Beijing is taking advantage of the period of transition of the American presidency, of the power vacuum in Washington,” Willy Lam, an expert from the Center for China Studies, told AFP, adding that international censorship would have little impact.

“The aim is to silence not only pro-democracy politicians, but civil society in general,” he said.

(vitag.Init = window.vitag.Init || []).push(function () { viAPItag.display(“vi_1088641796”) })


Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here