Hong Kong Charges Four Over Public Burning of Beijing's Policy Paper

2015-07-07
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Occupy Central leader Joshua Wong speaks to the media after a vote at the city's legislature in Hong Kong, June 18, 2015.
Occupy Central leader Joshua Wong speaks to the media after a vote at the city's legislature in Hong Kong, June 18, 2015.
AFP

Four Hong Kong pro-democracy activists, including Occupy Central student leader Joshua Wong, face charges of obstructing the police in the course of their duty, in connection with the burning of a Beijing policy paper outside the Chinese government's liaison office in the former British colony.

Wong, who heads the student activist group Scholarism, pan-democratic lawmaker Albert Chan, League of Social Democrats deputy chairman Raphael Wong, and Nathan Law, secretary general of the Hong Kong Federation of Students, burned Beijing's "white paper" on the "one country, two systems" arrangement under which it rules Hong Kong during a June 2014 demonstration outside Beijing representative office in the city.

Now, Wong has received a call from Hong Kong police notifying him about the charges, he wrote on his Facebook page.

Video footage of the protest shot by the League of Social Democrats show police constables trying to put out the fire caused by the burning copies of the white paper.

Law told RFA that he believes the charges are politically motivated, and could have a chilling effect on freedom of expression in Hong Kong, which has been promised the protection of its traditional freedoms for 50 years after the 1997 handover to Chinese rule.

"I am sure that these charges are political," he said. "It's quite frightening that the police are bringing charges over something that happened more than a year ago."

"There is a fear that we will maybe see a lot more of this kind of charge in the future, which will make people afraid to take part in these sorts of activities," he said.

Beijing issued the policy paper as a strong reminder that it rules Hong Kong, as political activists in the former British colony geared up for a campaign for fully democratic elections in 2017 that was to become the mass civil disobedience campaign known as the Umbrella Movement by the end of September.

Hong Kong was promised a "high degree of autonomy" under the terms of its 1997 return to Chinese rule, within the "one country, two systems" framework agreed between British and Chinese officials and enshrined in its mini-constitution, the Basic Law.

But the white paper, published days ahead of an unofficial referendum that saw 400,000 people vote in favor of universal suffrage and public nominations, spelled out that such autonomy was still subject to the will of Beijing, and didn't constitute full autonomy, nor decentralized power.

Wong has previously been prosecuted on a similar charge during the clearance of the last of the 79-day Umbrella Movement occupiers from Kowloon's Mong Kok district, but the case was later dismissed.

Raphael Wong confirmed to RFA that he too had received a similar call from police.

"This case doesn't involve a serious crime, so they should have been able to gather all the material they needed to charge us in a short time," Wong said. "This is a straightforward case that shouldn't take a year."

"That's why I think this is an extermination campaign being carried out in the wake of the Umbrella Movement, and of the political reform package."

Death blow

On June 18, Hong Kong lawmakers dealt a death blow to Beijing's electoral reform package, in a humiliating defeat for Hong Kong's chief executive Leung Chun-ying and for Chinese officials.

Members of the city's Legislative Council (LegCo) voted against the bill by 28 votes to eight, with 34 pro-government lawmakers walking out in an unsuccessful bid to stall the vote.

The bill would have enacted an Aug. 31 plan outlined by China's parliament, the National People's Congress (NPC), to allow all of Hong Kong's five million eligible voters to cast a ballot in the 2017 race for the next chief executive, but would have limited the slate to candidates approved by Beijing.

The NPC's plan sparked the 79-day Occupy Central campaign last year, and was rejected by pan-democratic lawmakers as "fake universal suffrage."

Raphael Wong said Beijing had got itself "in a fit of pique" over the rejection of its electoral reform package.

"Beijing is showing a fit of pique about this, but they won't do away with me," he said. "I get stronger the more I fight. Bring it on."

A handful of activists accompanied Raphael Wong on Tuesday to a police station in Hong Kong Island's Western district, shouting "It's not a crime to oppose the white paper!" "Fight for universal suffrage without fear," and "Shame on these reprisals!"

Among them was veteran activist Leung Kwok-hung, known by his nickname "Long Hair," who said there was no need for the charges against the four activists.

"For the police to interfere with their burning of the white paper was an infringement of their freedom of expression," Leung told RFA.

"The white paper was pretty small, and there was no need to stop them from burning it in a public place," he said.

"It's pretty clear that what they mean to say is that you can't burn it in front of the central government liaison office."

Reported by Lin Jing for RFA's Cantonese Service, and by Xin Lin for the Mandarin Service. Translated and written in English by Luisetta Mudie.

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