Hong Kong Activists Jailed Again as New Law Slashes Elected Seats

The US says the changes to Hong Kong's electoral system are a step backwards for political participation in the city.
2021-05-28
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Hong Kong Activists Jailed Again as New Law Slashes Elected Seats Pro-democracy activist Albert Ho is escorted to a Hong Kong Correctional Services van to be taken to District Court in Hong Kong for sentencing on charges of unauthorized assembly, May 28, 2021.
AFP

Authorities in Hong Kong on Friday handed down additional jail terms to veteran rights activists and pro-democracy politicians for taking part in an "illegal assembly" on Oct. 1, 2019.

Former lawmakers Albert Ho, Lee Cheuk-yan, and Leung Kwok-hung were handed 18-month prison sentences, along with peaceful protest organizer Figo Chan.

Detained pro-democracy media mogul Jimmy Lai was handed a 14-month sentence while on remand pending trial under a draconian national security law imposed on Hong Kong by the ruling Chinese Communist Party (CCP), while former lawmakers Cyd Ho and Yeung Sum, were jailed for 14 months, alongside former League of Social Democrats chairman Avery Ng.

All of the defendants had pleaded guilty. Four have already been sentenced separately in connection with a mass, peaceful protest on Aug. 18, 2019. Former lawmaker Sin Chung-kai and activist Richard Tsoi received suspended sentences.

Judge Amanda Woodcock told the court she was handing down the sentences as a "deterrent," taking into account "the prevailing tumultuous situation in Hong Kong at that time."

The defendants chanted "Remember June 4th!" and "Mourn June 4th!" in a reference to next week's anniversary of the Tiananmen massacre by the People's Liberation Army (PLA) on June 4, 1989 that ended several weeks of mass, student-led democracy protests in Beijing and other Chinese cities.

Meanwhile, a government bill slashing the proportion of elected seats was passed in the city's Legislative Council (LegCo), now devoid of any political opposition following mass arrests and mass resignations of pro-democracy lawmakers in January and December respectively.

While chief executive Carrie Lam and China's Hong Kong and Macao Affairs Office hailed the passing of the law as an "achievement" leading to "good governance," pro-democracy politicians said it was a major step backwards for political participation in the city.

A step backward

Democratic Party chairman Lo Kin-hei said the outcome had been expected, but wasn't in accordance with public opinion as Lam and Chinese officials have repeatedly claimed.

"There have been a large number of public opinion surveys showing that many citizens believe that this kind of change is a step backwards from genuine universal suffrage," Lo told reporters after the bill passed.

"This was an outcome that we really didn't want to see."

Several pro-democracy groups and politicians have already indicated to local media that they will boycott December's elections, in which candidates must be vetted by several layers of China-led bureaucracy before being allowed to run.

The new law also reduces the number of popularly elected seats in LegCo from 35 to 20, while increasing those appointed by the government or elected by a pro-Beijing committee from 35 to 70.

'Severe constraints'

U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken said the new law "severely constrains" political participation in Hong Kong.

"Decreasing Hong Kong  residents’ electoral representation will  not  foster long-term political and social stability for Hong Kong," Blinken said.

"This legislation defies the Basic Law’s clear acknowledgment that the ultimate objective is the election of all members of the Legco by universal suffrage," he said, in a reference to promises by China that Hong Kong would move towards fully democratic elections following the 1997 handover at the end of British colonial rule.

U.K. foreign secretary Dominic Raab told his Chinese counterpart Wang Yi on a meeting on Thursday that London has "ongoing concern at the situation in Hong Kong," as well as human rights violations in Xinjiang.

Hanscom Smith, the U.S. Consul General in Hong Kong and Macau, said the new electoral system was highly manipulable by Beijing, and represents a huge step backwards.

Hong Kong's secretary for constitutional and mainland affairs Erick Tsang said such criticisms were "unfounded and malicious," and ignored the disruption to political and daily life caused by the 2019 protest movement, which began as a series of mass public protests against plans to allow alleged criminal suspects to be extradited to face trial in mainland Chinese courts controlled by the CCP.

Reported by Gigi Lee, Lau Siu Fung, Chan Yun Nam and Chingman for RFA's Cantonese and Mandarin Services. Translated and edited by Luisetta Mudie.

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