Lee Cheuk-yan has seen loads throughout his 63 years in Hong Kong, however this week for the primary time he felt horror.
On Wednesday at daybreak, 1,000 police swept town, finishing up mass arrests of 55 folks related to a transfer to deliver a few democratic election. Dozens of scholars, social staff, attorneys and politicians have been rounded up with out warning within the largest assault on opposition because the implementation of the nationwide safety legislation (NSL) in June.
For Lee, a veteran activist, former legislator and one of many few individuals who weren’t caught within the dragnet, the “absurdity” of the crackdown was chilling.
“Yesterday’s occasions, the horror of them, was so unimaginable and unpredictable, in how the Communist get together is utilizing the nationwide safety legislation,” he says, his voice ringing with incredulity. “[The primaries] weren’t remotely near something regarding nationwide safety however they used the legislation anyway.”
The NSL was imposed by Beijing after the mass pro-democracy protests of 2019. It broadly outlined and criminalised acts of subversion, secession, overseas collusion, and terrorism.
These arrested on Wednesday – together with the already jailed activists Joshua Wong and Tam Tak Chi – have been accused of subversion. The group included six alleged organisers and each single candidate concerned in an unofficial main by the pro-democracy camp final 12 months.
Their arrests have been revealed by a drip feed of social media posts and dramatic reside streams. World governments condemned the crackdown, and within the US Mike Pompeo, the outgoing secretary of state, threatened additional sanctions over the “marketing campaign of political repression”.
However inside Hong Kong the aftershocks of the unprecedented day have been felt the strongest. It was as if opposition itself had grow to be unlawful.
“The aim is twofold,” says Lee. “One is to proceed placing worry within the minds of the folks to allow them to rule by that worry. And the second is to wipe out any opposition in Hong Kong who may attempt to problem them.”
‘Decapitating civil society’
Lee expects to go to jail. He’s dealing with at the very least 4 separate prison trials this 12 months over protest-related fees, however has not stopped talking out within the meantime.
“Anybody in Hong Kong in a method needs to be prepared for spend a while in jail,” he says. “You may nonetheless battle on along with your spirit, and bodily we will’t be restrained by jail sentences.”
His is without doubt one of the few voices of dissent left in Hong Kong. The whole democratic caucus has both resigned or been disqualified from the legislative council. Dozens have been arrested beneath the NSL for acts of speech, and veteran leaders equivalent to Martin Lee stopped speaking about democracy in public months in the past.
The motion’s most well-known figures – Jimmy Lai, Joshua Wong, Agnes Chow, Ivan Lam, and Tony Chung – are in jail, whereas others like Nathan Legislation, Ted Hui, Pastor Ray Chan, and Sunny Cheung have fled abroad.
Cheung, 25, left Hong Kong after he ran as a candidate within the primaries, and watched from afar as “the entire pro-democracy camp was eradicated by the Beijing authorities, completely crushed”.
“I’m actually involved about the way forward for activism,” he tells the Guardian. “You may’t actually fulfil the duty of being a lawmaker any extra. You may’t dare to oppose something, there can solely be obedient lawmakers.”
Wednesday’s roundup greater than doubled the variety of folks arrested beneath the NSL. A minimum of 4 media teams have been ordered handy over info, reportedly together with contact particulars. Workers on the public broadcaster, RTHK, have been warned by their boss to not interview any of the group. Within the wake of the arrests, civic teams started disbanding or shifting their operations and servers abroad.
Others shut down WhatsApp teams, deleted membership data, and reassessed the safety of donors. The Hong Kong Alliance, chaired by Lee, accelerated its digitisation of historic paperwork in regards to the Tiananmen Sq. bloodbath to maneuver it out of the jurisdiction.
Carl Mizner, Fordham College legislation professor and Chinese language governance skilled, says “decapitating civil society” was an important step in Beijing’s plans to “totally dominate Hong Kong”.
“Rounding up and arresting anybody with a demonstrated functionality to mobilise important fashionable assist is only a begin,” he stated.
‘A chilly winter’
The authorized foundation for the arrests lies in article 22 of the NSL, defining the crime of subversion to incorporate organising or planning to noticeably intervene, disrupt or undermine “the efficiency of duties and capabilities” by the Central or Hong Kong governments.
The primaries drew an estimated 600,000 folks out to vote. Underneath the banner of “democracy 35+” candidates pledged to win the vast majority of the legislative council’s 70 seats and vote down the federal government’s price range, finally forcing the resignation of chief government Carrie Lam.
Authorities statements stated this was sufficient to suit the NSL’s definition of subversion, however many disagreed.
Alan Leong, a lawyer and member of the Civic get together who stays in Hong Kong, says authorities had failed to clarify how the actions of the 55 have been unlawful and the accusation was “ridiculous within the excessive”.
Leong and others stated there was a perception in political circle that even when the arrests by no means quantity to convictions, the transfer was designed to forestall them from working in elections, and scare others away, successfully ending political resistance.
Lee says there may be now no likelihood of truthful elections in Hong Kong sooner or later, as a result of the authorities had “cleansed the opposition”.
“When you begin to say you need to win, they’ll use the nationwide safety legislation in opposition to you. The entire main train was to say we would like a majority,” he says. “So what’s the purpose of an election if attempting to win is a nationwide safety risk? That’s the absurdity.”
But Regina Ip, a pro-Beijing legislator, believes there’ll at the very least all the time be an opposition. “Within the [previous] elections, many full unknowns have been elected as long as they ran beneath a pro-democracy banner. There will probably be sympathy for these from the pan democratic camp,” she says.
As an aspiring candidate in exile, Cheung nonetheless believes there’s a future. “When the repression is clearly a lot stronger than the resistance we will present proper now, possibly many people have to remain low and be affected person, to attend for the following wave to come back out on the streets,” he stated.
By Friday morning almost all of the arrested had been launched on police bail, their passports confiscated. None had been charged.
“Hong Kong has entered a chilly winter, the wind is powerful and chilly,” Tai stated on his launch. “However I consider many Hongkongers will nonetheless use their very own approach to transfer ahead in opposition to the wind.”