When Democratic Primary Elections Become a Crime in Hong Kong

Tai Yiu-ting, a former law professor, one of the “three sons of Occupy” and one of the organizers of Hong Kong‘s pan-democratic 2020 primary election, is charged with “subversion of state power.” Tai speaks to photographers before entering a police station, Feb. 28 (Reuters)

Forty-seven pan-democrats in Hong Kong were charged Sunday with “subversion of state power” and denied bail. The police accused them of participating in the primary election held by the pan-democrats last July. This is the largest crackdown on the opposition since the implementation of Hong Kong’s version of the national security law. AFP commented that the move underscores the growing brutality of Beijing‘s crackdown on Hong Kong.

Hong Kong’s pro-democracy camp held a primary election last July to ensure that the winner of the primary would be able to secure a majority of seats in the September Legislative Council election. The primaries attracted more than 600,000 voters. Hong Kong police arrested more than 50 Hong Kong people from the pan-democratic camp, including the 47 people mentioned above, on Jan. 6. The police accused these people of participating in the primary election held by the pan-democrats last July with the intention of bringing down the Chief Executive and paralyzing the SAR government, committing the crime of “subversion of state power” under the Hong Kong version of the National Security Law.

The pan-democrats arrested at that Time were released on bail, except for Wong Chi-fung, Wu Chi-wai and Tam Tak-chi, who were already imprisoned or serving prison sentences. They were scheduled to report to the police station on April 8, but were told by the National Security Division of the Hong Kong Police Force to report to the police station earlier than February 28. The pan-democrats include Tai Yiu Ting, Mao Meng Jing, Au Nuo Xuan, Sham Tze Kit, Chu Kai Dee, Wong Tze Yue, Yeung Ngok Kiu, Lam Cheuk Ting, Sham Ao Fai, Tam Man Ho, Leung Kwok Hung and others. Hong Kong police said that all the arrested people will be detained until 11:00 a.m. on March 1 at the West Kowloon Magistrates’ Court for arraignment.

This massive crackdown is undoubtedly a heavy blow to the pan-democratic camp, with pan-democrat Sophie Max tweeting that “leading voices of Hong Kong’s democracy movement are now either in jail, exile or charged with subversion”. The European Union expressed serious concern on Sunday, noting that “the nature of this accusation clearly and unquestionably shows that Hong Kong will not tolerate the existence of legitimate political pluralism from now on.”

The Hong Kong SAR government’s 2019 push to amend the Fugitive Offenders Ordinance triggered the most serious political crisis since Hong Kong’s return to China in 1997, with millions of people taking to the streets to “oppose sending China” and the Beijing regime finally ignoring its commitment to protect Hong Kong’s judicial independence under “one country, two systems” by replacing the Hong Kong Legislative Council in late June 2020 and forcing through a Hong Kong version of the National Security Law

The pan-democrats charged Sunday include representatives of Hong Kong’s opposition forces, including former Civic Party lawmaker Mao Mengjing, university teacher Dai Yaoting, lawyers, social workers, and younger democrats like Huang Zhifeng. Police said a total of 39 men and eight women, aged 23-64, were charged.

Wong is one of the widely familiar faces of Hong Kong’s pro-democracy movement, having already been sentenced to prison for organizing a demonstration in 2019. John Clancey, an American lawyer who has lived and worked in Hong Kong for decades, was also arrested on Jan. 6 in connection with Hong Kong’s version of the National Security Law, but was not included in the list of charges this time.

Many of the accused pro-democracy activists kept their fighting spirit when they went to the police station to report the case. “Democracy is never a gift that falls from the sky, only a strong will can win”, Hong Kong Civil Human Rights Front (HKCF) convenor Shum Chi-kit told the media. The Hong Kong Civil Human Rights Front has never been a non-violent organization, having initiated the massive demonstrations of millions of people taking to the streets against sending China since the summer of 2019. For his part, Hong Kong Federation of Postsecondary Students member Aofa Shum said, “We decided a long time ago that we would not give in to totalitarianism” and “I hope Hong Kong people share this idea.”

The strength of Hong Kong’s pan-democratic camp was shown in the primary election held last year, with over 600,000 people participating in the voting campaign, and various polls predicted that the pan-democrats would win the September legislative election. Previously held District Council elections saw a brilliant victory for the pan-democratic camp.

The pro-democracy primary campaign sparked Beijing’s fury, calling it a “serious provocation” and an attempt to paralyze the HKSAR government, and threatening that the primary campaign might involve the crime of subversion of state power under Hong Kong’s version of the National Security Law. Faced with strong public support from the pan-democratic camp, the authorities first disqualified most of the candidates and then announced that the legislative elections would be postponed for a year on the pretext of an Epidemic.

The opposition in Beijing argues that the Chinese authorities’ accusation of primary elections means that from now on all forms of anti-government in Hong Kong will be considered illegal. Stott, a British academic who was appointed by the Hong Kong government as a member of the Hong Kong IPCC’s international panel of experts but soon resigned, said: “In Hong Kong, participation in the democratic process has now become a crime.

Hong Kong is not a fully democratic system because the Chief Executive is not directly elected and only half of the members of the Legislative Council are directly elected. Hong Kong people have been fighting for dual universal suffrage, a prospect noted in the ‘Basic Law’ that lays down the framework of one country, two systems. Beijing has also previously allowed the existence of the opposition.

The West has condemned Beijing’s massive crackdown on the pan-democrats as an abrogation of the “one country, two systems” that China promised the international community in order to bring about the smooth reunification of Hong Kong, as well as the freedom of expression and judicial independence guaranteed by one country, two systems.