Hong Kong in light and shadow
This has been one of those days that I expected to be a bad news day. And it's not just that the weekend came with its share of bad news -- on the pandemic but also political fronts. Re the former: the world has a new Wuhan coronavirus variant (known as Omicron rather than Nu or Xi) to deal with. And while it hasn't broken Hong Kong's current streak of 52 days since the last locally transmitted coronavirus infection (yet -- touch wood!), Hong Kong has detected three cases of people entering its borders who have been infected with the Omicron variant.
At the same time, even while some countries (like Switzerland and Indonesia) have imposed a travel ban on Hong Kongers, I think it's fair and safe to say that most Hong Kongers have other, more pressing matters to worry about -- like political persecution. And a good measure of how much political persecution has been going on can be seen by way of over 50 organizations -- some decades old, others established in the wake of the 2019 anti-extradition bill protests -- having been disbanded in the past 11 months.
A look of the list compiled by the Hong Kong Free Press should prove instructive in terms of how widely as well as greatly Hong Kong's civil society has been affected by China's imposition of a national security law on Hong Kong. We're talking, after all, of organizations established and comprised of such as civil servants, finance workers, doctors, pharmaceuticial and medical devices industry employees, IT workers, actuarists, marine transport services workers and Christian pastors rather than just students, teachers, lawyers and human rights activists having felt obliged to fold. So, yes, the dissolution of the likes of the 6.12 Humanitarian Relief Fund, the Civil Human Rights Front and the Hong Kong Alliance in Support of Patriotic Democratic Movements of China has just been the tip of the large iceberg.
The reason why I knew today would bring more bad news was that we saw the resumption of the national security law trial of the 47 politicians and political activists arrested back on February 28th for their involvement in the democratic primaries of July 2020; the vast majority of whom have been denied bail and thus held in custody since then. And so it proved when presiding magistrate Peter Law announced another adjournment of the trial -- this time to March 4th of next year.
Some reminders courtesy of the Reuters article on this development: "The security law sets a high threshold for defendants seeking bail to demonstrate they would not break the law, a departure from common law practice, which puts the onus on prosecutors to make their case for detention"; "[r]easons for denying bail included unanswered emails from the U.S. Consulate and WhatsApp messages with foreign journalists, which were taken as proof there was a risk that defendants could endanger national security if released on bail"; and "[t]he protracted hearings and the reasons for rejecting bail have stunned diplomats and rights groups, who see it as a dramatic display of the city's authoritarian turn."
Also, here's American lawyer Samuel Bickett on what this all connotes to sane, rational observers: "Almost the entire opposition party imprisoned for a year not just without trial, but without even being told the factual allegations against them. There is no honest argument that due process/rule of law still exist in HK, and anyone who says otherwise is trying to deceive you". Also: "On top of that, let’s not forget that no crime was committed. These opposition candidates were arrested for *organizing a primary to get their candidates elected to office*. That’s why they’re in jail."
By the way, that Legislative Council election those democratic primaries were held in preparation for? It's now far more "election" rather than election. And so worried are the authorities about it that they announced today that the police will deploy over 10,000 officers on December 19th ("election day") to ensure its smooth running.
Of great concern to the authorities is that the turnout will be low and/or many of the votes cast will be blank or spoilt. Already, you can see "reasons" being offered by "establishment types" about why this would happen that are as dubious as the "election" itself. (I mean, "foreign influence" -- really?) Surely it makes more sense to think along the lines of what history professor Jeppe Mulich Tweeted: i.e., "When the majority of voters cannot vote for the candidates they want to represent them, why do you expect them to turn up at all?"
More than by the way, the Hong Kong government today also issued arrest warrants for exiled politicians Ted Hui Chi-fung (who, in a parallel universe, would have been a Legislative Council election candidate) and former district councillor Yau Man-chun. Their alleged crime? Encouraging people to cast blank ballots on December 19th.
As AFP's Jerome Taylor noted in a Tweet: the "[l]ikelihood of foreign police acting on [this arrest] warrant is zero given this is not an offence in democracies." To which Ted Hui himself added: "Also interesting is my [Facebook] post of the alleged 'incitement' is still unkilled despite the [Hong Kong authorities having] openly pledged to have FB remove it. It seems the request wasn't entertained"!
I leave it to Bloomberg's Matthew Brooker to sum today up: "Broken promises, meaningless elections - or, as followers of the news here in Hong Kong like to call it, “Monday”"! Adding to the farcicial nature of Hong Kong politics in 2021: check out this Tweet by Lok. about a pro-government election candidate deciding to "cosplay" as an anime character (who he may not have realized has died). Truly, you don't have to make things up to show how hard it is to take this upcoming "election" seriously -- and yes, there are times when we have to laugh, otherwise we'd cry!