On Sunday, February 28th, authorities in Hong Kong charged 47 democracy activists with violating the national security laws imposed by mainland China last year. This is the latest in a series of crackdowns by the Chinese government on demonstrators and activists in Hong Kong and is the biggest incident to date concerning the new security laws. Among those charged were various lawyers, activists, former lawmakers, and councillors, who were arrested for organizing and participating in the July primary election for Hong Kong’s democratic opposition. The demonstrators were all arrested under the new single charge of subversion and risk serving maximum life sentences in prison.
The EU office stated that these charges are “of great concern to the EU’’ and confirm that “political pluralism’’ is no longer tolerated in Hong Kong. Similarly, U.K. Foreign Secretary, Dominic Raab, criticized the charges stating that these new laws were introduced in order to “bring stability to Hong Kong.’’ However, the recent actions of the authorities show that these laws are actually “designed to crush political dissent.’’
The new U.S. Secretary of State, Anthony Blinken, has voiced the U.S.’ support for the democratic movement in Hong Kong stating that “The Biden-Harris administration will stand with the people of Hong Kong and against Beijing’s crackdown on democracy.’’
The new security laws China has imposed on Hong Kong on the 30th of June have been heavily criticized ever since its first announcement. The U.K. government stated that these laws are in direct violation of the Sino-British Joint Declaration, which returned the former British colony Hong Kong to China under the agreement Hong Kong will function under the “one country, two systems” principle. The declaration sought to protect the democratic rights of Hong Kong citizens and allow freedoms that China does not have such as freedom of speech and freedom of assembly.
However, with these recent arrests and charges, it is clear that the new security laws have been passed with the intent to punish demonstrators who stand in opposition to the Beijing regime.
Hong Kong Chief Executive Carrie Lam has in the past promised that the laws will be “used in limited effect’’ and only target a small number of “extreme activists.’’ However, the case of those arrested for participating in the primary election is different. The democratic opposition in Hong Kong has held primary elections before in an attempt to stand up to the pro-Beijing movement and force the Hong Kong Chief Executive’s resignation, however, they took place without any legal consequences. This incident serves as a prime example of how the new security laws will be weaponized to target and convict “anyone conspiring to provoke hatred towards the Chinese government or the authorities in Hong Kong.’’
The international response mostly consisted of strong critiques against the new security laws. The U.K. government stated that it will be raising the issue at the UN Human Rights Council. The EU’s European Commission President, Ursula von der Leyen, has declared that the EU is currently “in touch with their international partners’’ and is awaiting to see further developments in Hong Kong. However, no action has yet been taken to address the situation. The U.S. House speaker at the time of the introduction of the new Hong Kong laws, Nancy Pelosi urged the U.S. government to impose sanctions and consider visa limitations and economic penalties.
International organizations and democratic countries need to make haste on their threat to impose sanctions and halt trade with China, in response to these human rights violations.
The new security laws have struck fear within Hong Kong residents, with many pro-democracy groups disbanding as soon as the laws were introduced, out of fear for their own safety. However, the fight for maintaining democracy in Hong Kong and the will of its citizens remains strong. One of the citizens arrested, a key organizer in the Hong Kong protests, Jimmy Sham, bravely stated on his way to the police station that “Democracy is never a gift from heaven. It must be earned by many with strong will’’ and Hong Kong “will remain strong and fight.’’