Hong Kong Activists Already Targeted by New National Security Law  

Top protest figures in the crosshairs

Beijing apparently is wasting no time using the national security law it intends to foist onto Hong Kong to target local activists for potential punishment, including tycoon Jimmy Lai Chee-ying, former lawmaker “Long Hair” Leung Kwok-hung and student activist Alex Chow Yong-kang, said a well-informed risk consultant who studied the Hong Kong protests.

The activists will be punished if they remain in Hong Kong and continue their dissenting activities after this law takes effect, said the risk consultant who asked not to be named for fear of retaliation.

The Chinese government discussed the new law at the “Two Sessions” meetings of the National People’s Congress (NPC) and the Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference in Beijing on May 22.  The law, which has already sparked protests in Hong Kong and criticism abroad, is scheduled to be approved by the NPC, China’s rubber stamp parliament, on May 28.

In the months after that, the Chinese government is expected to work with the Hong Kong government to implement the law, with ominous implications for Lai and others who have been arrested for leading demonstrations in the city. In reaction, protesters estimated in the thousands took to the streets against the proposed legislation on May 24, with police arresting more than 190 people.

“The behavior of the violent protestors fully shows they were ‘singing the same song’ with foreign forces, creating terror and fomenting Hong Kong independence,” said a Hong Kong Liaison Office spokesman on May 25. “The iron-clad facts again prove (this law) is very necessary, very urgent.”

Various signs indicate “extremists” are planning a “violent, illegal” demonstration larger than the one on May 24, the spokesman warned. “If some people act unilaterally, awaiting them is necessary punishment according to the law.”

On May 27, thousands of police are expected to be deployed in anticipation of demonstrations in front of Hong Kong’s Legislative Council building, to protest a proposed law to criminalize insulting the Chinese national anthem, according to media reports.

Jimmy Lai branded a traitor

On May 22, Jimmy Lai, the proprietor of the hugely popular anti-Beijing newspaper Apple Daily, launched an English-language Twitter account. His first tweet said, “China clampdowns on HK’s rule of law and freedom by a new National Security Act is now good time to start a Twitter a/c. to show the world CCP’s (Chinese Communist Party’s) disrespect of law and the fact that CCP is not to be trusted.”

On May 24, the Global Times, a Chinese nationalistic newspaper, citing “experts”, alleged that Lai, “who has been dubbed ‘a modern-day traitor,’ opened the account to seek public attention, but instead provided evidence for national security agencies for actions of subversion.”

On May 25, Lai tweeted, “Beijing’s Foreign Minister Wang Yi insisted (the national security law) would not damage Hong Kong’s autonomy nor freedom. Is Wang the reincarnation of Hitler’s propaganda chief Goebbels, but speaking fluent Mandarin? Repeating a lie a thousand times does not make it the truth.”

The Global Times also mentioned Joshua Wong Chi-fung, a 23-year old leader of the Occupy Central protests in Hong Kong in 2014, who has tweeted asking US legislators to vote for the Hong Kong Human Rights and Democracy Act of 2019, which would sanction Chinese officials for interfering in Hong Kong affairs.

Quoting unnamed observers, the Global Times said this could provide “solid evidence” that Wong colluded with Western politicians, which would be punishable under the security law.

 “It’s not implausible that criticism against Beijing or (the Hong Kong government) or even support for protests will soon be construed as a subversive act, punishable by law,” Wong tweeted on May 25. “Chilling effect will eventually snowball: starts with self-censorship & spills over its borders into the rest of the world.”

Asked if the security law would stifle free speech, Hong Kong chief executive Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor told a press conference on May 25: “So for the time being, people have the freedom to say whatever they want to say.”

Hong Kong’s judicial independence and freedoms will remain under this law, she added.

But many Hong Kong residents think otherwise. On May 21, when the national security law was announced, the number of organic virtual private network (VPN) installations in Hong Kong jumped by 520 percent from the previous day, according to Atlas VPN, a VPN service provider. The number of VPN installations in Hong Kong surged 210 percent day-to-day on May 22, 133 percent day-to-day on May 23 and 265 percent day-to-day on May 24.

A statement on May 25 by the Hong Kong Bar Association noted the upcoming law required Hong Kong judicial organs to “punish acts endangering national security.” The reference to “judicial organs” gives rise to perceptions that the judiciary of Hong Kong will be instructed “to act in a particular way” said the association. “Independence of the judiciary…. should not be undermined in any way.”

David Ogilvie, a Hong Kong-based financial professional, said, “Any threat to Hong Kong’s liberties will undoubtedly affect its attractiveness as an international business hub, especially if there is any hint that Hong Kong’s independent judicial system could be forced to become more like the mainland’s.”

Hairy fate for “Long hair”?

On May 23, shortly after the security bill was discussed in the “Two Sessions” on May 22, the Global Times’ Chinese-language website published an article with one photograph of a mainland Chinese businessman who is a Belize citizen, Henley Lee Hu Xiang, meeting “Long hair” and one photograph of Lee meeting Chow.

The newspaper didn’t disclose the timing or location of the meetings. But, it said, from these two photographs, “it can be seen that the connections between Henley Lee and the forces of Hong Kong independence are deep.”  

Lee, the paper alleged, raised funds to finance these two people who “foment disorder in Hong Kong.”  Chow and “Long hair” denied having close ties with Henley Lee, reported the Standard, a Hong Kong daily newspaper.

Lee is in jail awaiting trial in mainland China. He testified in Chinese court documents to helping to transfer money for the purchase of a villa in the French Riviera for Gu Kailai, the wife of former Chongqing party secretary Bo Xilai, Asia Sentinel reported on May 1.

Bo, a political rival of Chinese President Xi Jinping, is serving a life sentence in a Chinese prison for corruption. Lee’s links to Bo suggest the Hong Kong protests may be a sideshow of a power struggle between Xi and his domestic enemies.

The Global Times article said many Hong Kong independence advocates including Nathan Law Kwun-Chung, a former student leader, and Joshua Wong met US diplomats in Hong Kong last year. The article was accompanied by a photograph of Law and Wong meeting a woman in what looked like a hotel lobby.

The article also mentioned a Taiwanese man, Lee Meng-chu, who is now under detention in mainland China. The Global Times alleged Lee is an advocate of Taiwan independence who visited Hong Kong last August to support the protests there, then went to mainland China to conduct espionage activities.

The cases of Henley Lee and Lee Meng-chu show the national security law must be established and “can no longer be delayed,” said the Global Times.

On May 24, Taiwan President Tsai Ing-wen wrote on her Facebook expressing support and offering unspecified help for the Hong Kong people. She alleged the security law will erode Hong Kong’s freedom and judicial independence.

Asia Sentinel no longer names its correspondents writing from Hong Kong out of concerns for retribution.