Hong Kong Police Charge Eight Pro-Democracy Figures Over July 1 Protest

2020-12-08
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Hong Kong Police Charge Eight Pro-Democracy Figures Over July 1 Protest Pan-democratic lawmaker Eddie Chu (L), activist Figo Chan (C), and activist Leung Kwok-hung (R) march on the anniversary of Hong Kong's handover to China from Britain, July 1, 2020.
Reuters


Hong Kong police on Tuesday charged eight pro-democracy activists, including three former democratic camp lawmakers, in connection with protests against a draconian national security law imposed on the city by the ruling Chinese Communist Party (CCP) on July 1.

Elected district councilors Andy Chui and Lancelot Chan and former Legislative Council (LegCo) members Eddie Chu, Wu Chi-Wai, and Leung Kwok-hung were among those charged with "inciting others to take part in an illegal assembly," in connection with the protest.

Others face charges of "holding or organizing an illegal assembly" and "knowingly taking part in an illegal assembly" on June 30 and July 1.

All eight were released on bail pending a court appearance next week.

Despite promises made by Beijing to preserve Hong Kong's traditional freedoms after the 1997 handover to Chinese rule, the national security law criminalizes speech that is critical of the Hong Kong authorities or the CCP, and sparked mass protests across Hong Kong on the day that it took effect.

Leung said the charges were arbitrary and designed to create a chilling effect on free speech in the city.

"These are arbitrary prosecutions and arrests," Leung said. "It's a policy intended to create a chilling effect with one prosecution after another."

"We are on the way to direct rule [by Beijing]," he said.

Chief executive Carrie Lam declined to comment on the charges, but warned opposition activists not to break the law.

Arrests tied to US sanctions

The timing of arrests and charges against pro-democracy figures in Hong Kong appears closely linked to escalations in U.S. sanctions on Hong Kong and CCP officials in recent weeks.

Police in Hong Kong arrested 16 pro-democracy activists and protesters on Aug. 26, following the initial round of U.S. sanctions that included Lam and Beijing's Hong Kong envoy Luo Huining on Aug. 7.

A second round of arrests and charges followed the announcement of further sanctions by the U.S. targeting high-ranking Hong Kong-linked Chinese officials on Nov. 10.

The charges came as the U.S. Treasury added the names of 14 more members of China's National People's Congress (NPC) standing committee to its list of sanctioned individuals linked to curbing human rights and civil liberties in Hong Kong.

"Beijing’s unrelenting assault against Hong Kong’s democratic processes has gutted its Legislative Council, rendering the body a rubber stamp devoid of meaningful opposition," Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said in a statement.

"The National People’s Congress standing committee [has] effectively neutered the ability of the people of Hong Kong to choose their elected representatives," he said, adding that China is in breach of the 1984 Sino-British Joint Declaration, a U.N.-registered treaty governing the running of Hong Kong after the handover.

The NPC standing committee voted unanimously to adopt the National Security Law for Hong Kong.

"Beijing has used [the law] repeatedly to stifle dissent and arrest those who protest Beijing’s oppressive policies," Pompeo said.

Barred from travel to US

Sanctioned individuals and their immediate family members are barred from travelling to the United States, while their assets within the jurisdiction of the United States or in the possession or control of U.S. persons will be blocked and U.S. persons are generally prohibited from dealing with them.

Carrie Lam has described having to use "piles of cash" after being denied the use of international payments systems and bank accounts where the companies concerned do business in the U.S.

The Hong Kong government strongly condemned the "so-called sanctions" that were linked to  the disqualification last month of four Hong Kong lawmakers.

"The so-called 'sanctions' arbitrarily imposed by the US government smacks of political manipulation and double standards," it said in a statement.

Hong Kong current affairs commentator Johnny Lau said the CCP will likely need to demonstrate to the rest of the world that it doesn't fear U.S. sanctions.

"It looks as if [police] are acting on orders from higher up," Lau said. "It could be open season on the pro-democracy camp in Hong Kong in the wake of U.S. sanctions."

Church's assets frozen

Meanwhile, a church whose middle-aged and elderly members formed a group called "Safeguard Defenders" to protect young protesters from police violence during last year's protest movement said its HSBC bank account had been frozen.

The Good Neighbourhood North District Church said its account and those of its pastor Roy Chan and his wife had been frozen, in a move it said was political retaliation for the church's role in last year's protests.

The announcement came after HSBC froze the bank accounts of exiled former Democratic Party lawmaker Ted Hui after he fled to Europe.

YouTube media commentator Wong Kim said the U.S. sanctions had targeted some very high-ranking CCP officials.

"There are no more than 100 people in China who hold the equivalent rank to these people," Wong said. "These sanctions are really going to bite home and have a direct impact."

"They are high-ranking members of China's political elite, and their families hold way more overseas assets than the likes of Carrie Lam," he said.

The U.S. House of Representatives on Monday passed a bill that will allow Hongkongers to live and work in the U.S. under provisions for humanitarian relief.

Hong Kong residents who have been "targeted for exercising their democratic freedoms" will be allowed to seek refuge in the U.S., sponsor Democratic Rep. Tom Malinowski said in a statement.

Reported by Gigi Lee for RFA's Cantonese Service, and by Lu Xi and Han Jie for the Mandarin Service. Translated and edited by Luisetta Mudie.

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