For Hong Kong’s Free Millions, Communism Catches Up
Beijing engineers new crackdowns aided by a Quisling government
For more than 150 years, Chinese have fled to Hong Kong to escape persecution, civil war, and state power. They came fleeing the Taping rebellion, through the collapse of the monarchy, and, most of all, from the bloodletting, famine, and madness of Mao Zedong’s Cultural Revolution and the Tiananmen massacre, all the work of the Communist Party.
But now the one-party state, fount of all power and knowledge, has caught up with the people who were once refugees from it. In Hong Kong itself, a servile government has been using legal sledgehammers at those who dared demonstrate against it, throwing around riot and assault charges which carry long jail sentences for alleged crimes which, if not political, would carry at most a brief prison sentences.
Hardly surprisingly, many, mostly young, people have been arrested for but not yet charged with such offenses have been forced to seek refuge from a police-run system seeking to lock up as many political dissidents as it can.
For 12 such people, their luck ran out on August 23 when a speedboat which had been intended to take them to Taiwan was arrested by mainland authorities. They have since been held incommunicado at the Yantian detention center in Shenzhen just across the border. They have not been allowed to contact their families. They have been denied bail and have been held without charge.
It is claimed they were arrested in mainland waters, which would subject them to mainland procedures – the word “law” is scarcely appropriate – rather than the more transparent processes of Hong Kong. One is only 17 years old and thus should not be treated as an adult and another just 18.
In principle, they should be accused of unlawful crossing of a border, an offense which is not uncommon and usually carries a light punishment. But this group may well face the accusation of “separatism,” a very serious crime under the National Security Law.
Of the group, one had already been arrested in Hong Kong on suspicion of “colluding with foreign elements,” another very serious offense under the National Security Law imposed on Hong Kong by Beijing a few months ago.
Meanwhile, the “law” in Shenzhen is proceeding according to the dictates of the party. Supposedly persons are allowed to select a lawyer for their defense. But in this case, lawyers chosen by the families were frightened off the case and government-appointed lawyers put in their place.
Although all are Hong Kong residents, the local government has done nothing to ensure that they are treated properly and given the rights supposedly accorded under mainland law.
The episode is yet another illustration both of how desperate some people in Hong Kong have become to leave and of how by one means of another the mainland is tightening its grip with the full assistance of the bureaucrats, headed by Chief Executive Carrie Lam doing their patriotic duty of following orders from above.
Covid-19 has also become a cover for making any kind of assembly of people illegal, mostly recently banning a demonstration to be held on October 1, China’s National Day, even though organizers promised to maintain social distancing.
Almost daily seemingly minor events show the determination of a bureaucracy headed in practice by the Security and Police bureaucracies to silence those viewed as critical. A reporter for Radio TV Hongkong has been invested for supposedly over-sharp questioning of the thin-skinned Lam, and might lose her job. It probably does not help that she is of Pakistani ethnic origin in a China increasingly marked by Han chauvinism and anti-Muslim official policies.
In a further example of the latter, the small Cham (Malay-speaking people who were originally rulers of much of Vietnam) Muslim minority in Hainan has reportedly been told to stop wearing traditional dress, including hijabs, displaying Arabic script, or advertising halal food. Although the community is far too small to be of a potential threat like the Uighurs of Xinjiang, their very presence seems to offend the party bosses.
Such Han chauvinism is likewise at work in policies towards Hong Kong which, despite a 95 percent Han population, is seen as a bastion of foreign influence as well as liberal democratic ideas anathema to the inheritors of the mantles of Lenin and Mao.
In the face of this, Hong Kong’s pro-democracy legislators have had to face whether to continue a losing struggle in a council packed with government loyalists from business groups. Contrary to the Basic Law, the government canceled elections supposed to have been held earlier this month and extended the legislative term for a further year. Covid-19 was again the excuse to avoid an election in which government candidates for directly elected seats would likely have lost heavily.
Faced with the choice of boycotting the Council or carrying on despite the apparent illegality, the legislators mostly opted to let the public decide via an opinion poll by an experienced pollster. The result was narrowly – 47 percent to 45 percent – in favor of continuing. Two had already decided against participating and one has resigned for health reasons but the other will fight on.
With clamps on opinions as well as actions, and a media increasingly in the pocket of the government, Legco is seen as providing a venue for questioning government policies, obtaining official information and being a check, however feeble, on abuse of power by a government which believes that the executive stands above both the legislature and the judiciary.