by Peter Westmore
Following months of unrest in Hong Kong over the refusal of the Beijing-nominated Government to protect human rights and the rule of law, the communist-controlled National People’s Congress in Beijing has adopted a security law which will be enforced in Hong Kong. This is contrary to the Sino-British Treaty signed in 1984.
The new law has the following elements:
- Beijing will establish a national security office, staffed by mainland security services, to supervise local authorities in policing the law.
- Hong Kong’s top official will pick which judges hear national security cases, overriding the independence of Hong Kong’s judiciary.
- Mainland Chinese authorities can “exercise jurisdiction” over cases in special circumstances, meaning certain crimes in Hong Kong could result in trials on the mainland.
Hong Kong will set up a national security commission, with a Beijing-appointed adviser and operating under “the supervision of the (Chinese) central government”.
The bill overrides local laws. If there is a conflict with existing Hong Kong law, the new Chinese security law prevails.
While the Chief Executive of Hong Kong, Carrie Lam, claims that the new law will not undermine Hong Kong’s “judiciary independence and high degree of autonomy”, the content of the new law clearly contradicts her assertion.
In fact, many of Hong Kong’s leading citizens have already been charged for exercising the democratic right to protest against Beijing. More than 9,000 people were arrested, 1,351 people face charges for different offences, and more than 150 people are detained awaiting trial over the protests in 2019 that turned violent, after police attacked protesters.
Among those charged last April was Martin Lee, now aged 82, and widely acknowledged as the “Father of Democracy” in Hong Kong. Mr Lee was founding chairman of the Democratic Party.
Another of those arrested, Albert Ho, is chairman of the Hong Kong Alliance in Support of Patriotic Democratic Movements in China and former chairman of the Democratic Party.
Cheuk-yan Lee, General Secretary of the Hong Kong Confederation of Trade Unions, was also arrested, as was prominent businessman Jimmy Lai, founder of Next Digital, a Hong Kong-listed media company.
Several leaders of the League of Social Democrats, a left-wing pro-democracy party in Hong Kong, were also arrested, including chairman Raphael Wong, Avery Ng and Leung Kwok-hung.
Human rights activists like Figo Chan and prominent barrister Margaret Ng were also charged.
The recent arrests of upstanding leaders of the community have shocked people in Hong Kong.
These arrests follow those of student activists who were tried and imprisoned for earlier pro-democracy protests.
Among them are Edward Leung, student leader, social activist and spokesman of Hong Kong Indigenous. He was convicted of rioting and sentenced to jail for six years.
Lo Kin Man was convicted of rioting and sentenced to jail for seven years. Yung Wai Ip was convicted of rioting and sentenced to jail for three years following student protests in 2017. Sin Ka-ho, a 21-year-old young man, the first anti-government protester to plead guilty to the charge of rioting during last year’s unrest, was sentenced to four years’ jail.
The arrests show the breadth of the pro-democracy coalition in Hong Kong, which is trying desperately to maintain the freedoms that Beijing promised to guarantee for 50 years after the formal takeover of Hong Kong in 1997 but has unilaterally abrogated.
PROFILE: MARTIN LEE
Martin Lee was for many years a leading Hong Kong barrister, was chairman of the Hong Kong Bar Association 1980–1983, later founded the Democratic Party to fight for the rights of the people of Hong Kong, and served several terms as a member of Hong Kong’s Legislative Council.
He was charged with participating in an “unauthorised assembly” last year, a charge that many called blatantly political, given his involvement in non-violent protests that involved hundreds of thousands of people, and his categorical rejection of violence by students or police.
After his arrest, he said: “Over the months and years, I’ve felt bad to see so many outstanding youngsters being arrested and prosecuted, but I was not charged. Now I’ve finally become a defendant. I feel proud that I have a chance to walk this path of democracy together with them.”