Hong Kong pro-democracy protests in 2019 (Photo: etan liam)
On Sunday, the Hong Kong SAR regime is set to appoint a parliament packed full of communist party loyalists in the city’s first general election since Beijing’s overhaul of the electoral system to ensure only “patriots” hold power.
A mere three of the 153 candidates running for Hong Kong’s Legislative Council are democrats, whilst the remaining majority are vetted, hand-picked government footmen, discrediting the notion that this poll – which will no doubt be paraded by the Hong Kong regime as a token of democracy – retains any semblance of legitimacy.
The election will be further tarnished by the total absence – for the first time in Hong Kong’s history – of opposition parties, following the all-out war waged by Beijing against the city’s historically spirited pro-democracy movement. For the last two years, lawmakers and activists have been, en masse, arbitrarily detained, imprisoned, gagged or forced into exile.
From violently quashing Hong Kong’s popular pro-democracy movement in an unprecedented show of police brutality in 2019, to the forced imposition of the national security law last year, Beijing’s crusade against democracy, human rights and civil liberties in the territory has been relentless.
The national security law is a purposely imprecise legislation, criminalising any act which could be deemed by Hong Kong’s courts as amounting to secession, subversion, terrorism, or collusion with foreign forces. And maliciously constructed breaches of this legislation are punishable by up to life imprisonment.
Under the auspices of the law, more than 150 people, including pro-democracy politicians, activists, lawyers and journalists, have been arrested, with many languishing behind bars for months without bail.
It has also become increasingly clear that the Hong Kong regime, commandeering a judiciary weaponised as an instrument of repression, has sought to set dangerous precedents for the upcoming trials of the 100 people charged under the national security law so far.
Over the summer, the first national security trial found the universal slogan of Hong Kong’s pro-democracy movement, ‘Liberate Hong Kong, Revolution of Our Times’, as amounting to inciting secession.
Speech crime is now a dark reality in Beijing’s Orwellian makeover for Hong Kong, and as Amnesty International warned at the time, the ruling “essentially outlaws a popular slogan widely used by the pro-democracy movement and could enable future convictions of numerous other protestors who used it.”
These cases offer only a coup d’œil into the Beijing and Hong Kong SAR regimes’ systematic violations of democratic freedoms. More than 50 civil society organisations, professional unions, and print media across Hong Kong – from the Tiananmen vigil group to independent newspaper Apple Daily – have closed under the crushing weight of the national security law; their members detained, intimidated, and harassed.
And just this week, jailed founder of Apple Daily, Jimmy Lai, was sentenced to a further 13 months in prison for taking part in a vigil last year commemorating the victims of China’s 1989 Tiananmen Square massacre.
The European Parliament has often condemned in clear terms Beijing’s mounting rights abuses in Hong Kong. However, in the executive branch, inaction persists.
Despite inaugurating its Magnitsky-style sanctions regime last year, designed to target those involved in rights violations, the EU, as a whole, has yet to seriously challenge China’s aggression in Hong Kong.
In July 2020, the European Council announced a series of measures in response to the imposition of the national security law, including the review of extradition agreements between Member States and Hong Kong, and the stepping up of academic exchanges and scholarships for Hongkongers to study in the EU. These measures, however, are largely yet to be implemented.
The EU has also imposed limited sanctions on Chinese officials guilty of gross human rights violations against the Uyghur Muslims in Xinjiang, but has faltered and failed to act decisively on Hong Kong.
The European Parliament, on the other hand, has led the line on the European stage in standing up to Beijing’s litany of repression in Hong Kong, most recently through its adoption of a resolution in September calling for a new EU-China strategy based on respect for democracy and human rights.
It is high time that the Council and the Commission follow this lead, and that the EU, as a reputable champion of democracy, took resolute action on Beijing’s systematic degradation of democracy and civil liberties in Hong Kong, suspends further cooperation in trade and customs, and sanctions officials guilty of persecuting freedom-loving Hongkongers.
Standing for Hong Kong means standing for our principles and our long-term interests.