About a thousand people gathered in protest on Monday (1st) outside a Hong Kong court as, inside the building, 47 pro-democracy activists attended a hearing in cases where they are accused of conspiracy to commit subversion.
Although on a much smaller scale compared to the acts that have invaded the streets of the former British colony since the end of 2019, the manifestation of this second was the largest recorded this year, despite the rules of social distance imposed by the authorities to reduce the risk of the spread of the coronavirus and police reinforcement, with more than 100 officers in training who were anticipating possible protests.
The 47 activists are accused of organizing and participating in an unofficial primary vote in July last year, in a bid to select the strongest candidates for election to Hong Kong’s Legislative Council.
The election was due to take place in September, but was postponed for a year – authorities in Hon Cong say they did because of the pandemic, but opponents saw the postponement as election fraud disguised as health policy public.
Among the defendants are law professor and organizer of priors Benny Tai and well-known names in the pro-democracy movement, such as ex-lawmaker Lester Shum, young candidate Owen Chow and prominent Joshua Wong.
According to the indictment against the 47 activists, the primaries – which numbered around 600,000 voters – were part of a plan to “overthrow” the government. Combined with the veto of the candidacies of 12 of the city’s main Democratic politicians and the postponement of the elections that followed, the lawsuit against the activists has been interpreted as another sign of the authoritarian trajectory imposed on Hong Kong by Beijing.
The 39 men and eight women, aged 23 to 64, were formally indicted on Sunday (28), according to the National Security Act, another symbol of the increased influence of Xi Jinping’s regime over the former British colony which , in theory, should be self-contained.
The legislation, enacted by Beijing last year, authorizes the crackdown on four types of crimes against state security: subversive activities, secession, terrorism and collusion with foreign forces, with penalties that can lead to life imprisonment.
According to Hong Kong officials, campaigning to try to win a majority of the 70-seat Legislative Council in order to block government proposals and increase pressure for democratic reform can be seen as a subversive act.
The council has 70 members, appointed on the basis of a complex system that almost automatically grants a majority to Beijing’s friendly bloc. Only 35 deputies are elected by direct ballot, and the rest are nominated by groups aligned with China.
“This is the most ridiculous prison in Hong Kong history,” said Herbert Chow, 57, one of the protesters standing outside West Kowloon courthouse on Monday. “But I have confidence in our justice system to restore justice. It is the last line of defense.”
Most of those present at the protest were dressed in black, the color associated with acts against the government that attracted international attention to the territory in 2019. Slogans such as “liberate Hong Kong, revolution of our time” and ” fight for freedom, stay with Hong Kong ”also appeared on the posters and slogans of the demonstrators.
Others greeted with three fingers pointing upwards. The gesture comes from the “Hunger Games” book and movie franchise and is used as a token of appreciation, admiration and farewell to a loved one. In real life, the same greeting has been used in other protests in Hong Kong, Thailand and, more recently, Myanmar.
A small group also expressed support for the Hong Kong authorities. “Punish traitors severely, enforce security laws and put them behind bars,” one poster read,
Hundreds of people lined up to try to enter the hall where the hearing was held, including several diplomats. “It is clear that the use of the national security law is much broader than what the Chinese and Hong Kong authorities have promised,” said Jonathan Williams, an official at the British consulate.
He added that the British government had “full confidence in the independent judiciary” to treat defendants fairly and impartially, without political pressure.
British Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab on Sunday called the accusations against the activists “deeply disturbing”.
“The National Security Law violates the Joint Declaration and its use in this way contradicts promises made by the Chinese government and can only further undermine confidence that it will keep its word on these sensitive issues,” Raab said citing the treaty. which formalized the return of Hong Kong by the British to the Chinese in 1997.
The joint statement does not provide a mutually-approved mechanism to ensure compliance, but signatories have the right to report potential violations of the conditions. The British could still go to international courts to demand China’s engagement under the deal.
According to the British government, there have been at least three breaches of the treaty.
The first took place in 2016, when employees of a publishing house known to have published books criticizing the Chinese regime were arrested. The second was in June last year, when Beijing enacted the National Security Law, and the third in November, when the Chinese parliament passed a resolution allowing the Honduran executive to deport, without procedure. judicial process, legislators considered to be pro-independence, as complicity with foreign forces or as threats to national security.
US Secretary of State Antony Blinken also condemned the detention and charges against the activists and called for his immediate release. “Political participation and free speech should not be crimes. The United States is on the side of the people of Hong Kong,” he wrote on Twitter.
The latest crackdown on dissidents comes as Chinese officials prepare to announce electoral reforms that are believed to further reduce the role and influence of opposition forces in the civil service .