Hong Kong Police Arrest Eight Pro-Democracy Lawmakers Over Scuffle

china-clash-110220.jpg Pro-democracy and pro-Beijing lawmakers clash in the House Committee of Hong Kong's LegCo, May 8, 2020.
File Photo

Police in Hong Kong have arrested eight pro-democracy politicians on charges linked to physical attempts to reinstate the chairperson of a powerful committee that sets the order of business in the city’s Legislative Council (LegCo) on May 8.

Democratic Party lawmakers Wu Chi-wai, Andrew Wan, and Helena Wong were arrested on Saturday in connection with scuffles in LegCo sparked by a unilateral takeover of the House Committee chair by pro-Beijing lawmaker Starry Lee.

When pro-democracy lawmakers protested at the meeting, which was called to elect a new chairperson, they were ejected by LegCo security guards, one of whom was apparently injured during the prolonged scuffles, according to social media footage of the chaos.

Labour Party lawmaker Fernando Cheung and party chairman Steven Kwok were also arrested, as were former lawmakers Ray Chan and Chu Hoi-dick, who refused to serve after chief executive Carrie Lam postponed LegCo elections scheduled for September, citing coronavirus concerns.

No pro-China lawmakers were arrested in connection with the incident.

Police said via their Facebook page on Sunday that they had arrested six men and a woman aged 33 to 63 on suspicion of “contempt” of and “interference” in the running of LegCo on May 8, including serving and former lawmakers and a legislator’s assistant.

They will be released on bail pending a court appearance on Thursday, a spokesman said.

If prosecuted, those arrested could face up to 12 months’ imprisonment under those charges.

On Monday, lawmaker Ted Hui was also arrested in connection with the May 8 incident, as he reported to a police station under the terms of his bail conditions relating to a separate charge.

"It signifies that Hong Kong has become a complete police state, where the police regulate politicians' and LegCo members' speech and behaviour... even if it's parliamentary procedural issues, now it's controlled by the police," Hui told government broadcaster RTHK.

Former LegCo member Emily Lau said the legislation protecting LegCo privileges was originally intended as a protection for the right to free speech in the chamber.

"It is really ironic that they are using legislation on privileges ... enacted by the colonial government back in a time before we had direct elections," Lau told RFA. "That law was enacted to protect the right of members to speak in the legislature, but now it is being used to arrest them."

She said the fact that none of the pro-China lawmakers had been arrested was ominous.

"This is not the way to do it," she said. "It will only provoke more conflict and confrontation."

'Totalitarian, arbitrary'

Pro-democracy members of LegCo issued a joint statement strongly condemning the arrests, which they said were “totalitarian and arbitrary,” and called for the immediate and unconditional release of the eight politicians.

The original intent of the Legislative Council (Powers and Privileges) Ordinance governing the running of LegCo was to protect its members, the statement said.

“It is now being abused willy-nilly by this totalitarian government as a legal weapon to suppress the rights of LegCo members to stand up for themselves in LegCo,” it said.

“But we will not back down ... and we will continue to fight!” the lawmakers said.

At around 2.30 p.m. on May 8, as lawmakers gathered for a House Committee meeting, Starry Lee, then chair of the pro-China Democratic Alliance for the Betterment and Progress of Hong Kong (DAB), occupied the chairperson’s seat after it was handed to her by pro-China colleague Regina Ip, who had just finished chairing a meeting of another committee.

The move effectively prevented incumbent chairman Dennis Kwok, who had presided over several weeks of inaction with regard to electing a new chairperson, from chairing the meeting, and prompted a series of loud protests and physical attempts to regain the seat by pan-democrats, who were later dragged from the LegCo chamber by security guards, aided by pro-China lawmakers.

Lee’s occupation of the seat came after criticism of Kwok’s filibustering in the pro-China press.

The House Committee decides which bills will come up for debate in LegCo, and in what order.

End of meaningful discussion

In Washington, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo issued a statement condemning the arrests

"The arrest of these lawmakers six months after the incident in question is a clear abuse of law enforcement for political purposes. The Hong Kong government’s harassment and intimidation of pro-democracy representatives and attempts to stifle dissent are stark examples of its ongoing complicity with the authoritarian Chinese Communist Party, which seeks to dismantle the promised autonomy of Hong Kong and eviscerate respect for human rights," said Pompeo.

Ma Yue, an associate professor in the Department of Politics and Administration at the Chinese University of Hong Kong, said the arrests are the first time that lawmakers have been subjected to criminal charges for filibustering and in-chamber protests.

“In the past, members would be removed from the chamber at most, but now they can face criminal procedures, which may make it impossible for such protests to happen in the chamber now in future,” Ma told RFA on Monday.

“This issue is the erasure of … meaningful discussion and different voices from LegCo - if that happens then it will basically just feel like a rubber stamp,” he said.

The U.K.-based rights group Hong Kong Watch condemned the arrests in a statement on its website.

“It is a sad day for Hong Kong,” the group’s chief executive Benedict Rogers said. “These arrests mark the latest example of sustained political interference by the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) in Hong Kong’s democracy, as it seeks to abuse the law to settle political scores.”

“The fact that the police have targeted pro-democracy lawmakers, while sparing pro-Beijing politicians who were filmed physically assaulting their opposite numbers and dragging them from the chamber demonstrates the arbitrary and political nature of these arrests,” Rogers said.

He said Beijing is intent on reducing LegCo to a rubber-stamp body staffed by Beijing’s allies and out of touch with the people of Hong Kong, and called for a United Nations mechanism to monitor human rights abuses in Hong Kong.

Reported by Lu Xi and Man Hoi-tsan for RFA’s Cantonese and Mandarin Services. Translated and edited by Luisetta Mudie.


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