Blank Votes in Beijing's New 'Election' Will Break Law, Hong Kong Leader Warns

2021-04-13
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Blank Votes in Beijing's New 'Election' Will Break Law, Hong Kong Leader Warns Hong Kong chief executive Carrie Lam holds a pamphlet on 'Improving Electoral System (Consolidated Amendments) Bill 2021' while speaking at a press conference at government headquarters, April 13, 2021.
AFP

Authorities in Hong Kong have warned that anyone who calls for the casting of blank protest votes in China-controlled elections slated for Dec. 19 will be breaking the law, as officials revealed plans to offer seats on the powerful Election Committee to losing, pro-China candidates in the last District Council election.

"We are required to act in accordance with the law to prevent any acts that are amounting to manipulating or obstructing elections," chief executive Carrie Lam told a news conference on Tuesday.

That included "certain activities by certain people, which are intended to incite people not to cast a vote or to do something strange in the elections, then it will be an offense," she said.

Earlier this year, police arrested 47 pro-democracy politicians and activists for "subversion" under a draconian national security law, after they took part in a democratic primary last summer that was designed to win enough opposition seats in the Legislative Council (LegCo) to block government budgets and other proposals.

Lam and her officials said that some 200 pro-China, losing candidates in the November 2019 District Council elections -- which returned a landslide victory for pro-democracy candidates after several months of mass protests -- would be given seats on the pro-Beijing Election Committee, which was recently given expanded powers to approve prospective election candidates and select 40 members of LegCo under sweeping changes imposed on the city by the ruling Chinese Communist Party (CCP).

The changes mean that anyone closely associated with the pro-democracy camp is highly unlikely to be allowed to run in elections, presenting the city's five million voters with a slate of candidates pre-approved by a China-backed vetting committee working from opinions submitted by the national security police.

Marches, military drills

The moves came as public institutions in Hong Kong prepared to mark National Security Law Education Day on Thursday, with the city's law enforcement agencies promising a display of "goose-stepping" military drills based on those typically carried out by China's People's Liberation Army (PLA).

The Immigration Department said it wanted to use the display to highlight the fact that Hong Kong "is an inalienable part of China," saying that it had been training its officers in the new style of marching since last year, government broadcaster RTHK reported.

Customs and correctional services officers are also learning to goose-step, while the fire and rescue services have no plans to do so, the report said.

Moves are also afoot to revise school textbooks to bolster the CCP's claim over the democratic island of Taiwan, which has never formed part of the People's Republic of China.

Current affairs commentator Camoes Tam said recent changes to Hong Kong's education system brought in since the national security law took effect on July 1, 2020 closely track those brought in by the CCP across mainland China after it took power in 1949, and in Macau after social unrest in 1967.

Jailed democracy activist Joshua Wong was back in court on Tuesday, where he was sentenced to a further four months in prison after pleading guilty to joining an "illegal assembly" during the 2019 protest movement, as well as violating an anti-mask law imposed by Lam to stop protesters from hiding their identities on security camera footage.

Veteran pro-democracy campaigner Koo Sze-yiu -- who has stage-four cancer -- was also jailed for five months, after being found guilty of taking part in an "illegal assembly" at his trial.

Textbooks revised

In mainland China, textbooks were rewritten to erase the former Kuomintang regime's version of history, while schoolchildren were required to memorize the CCP version instead, he said.

"We think this is brainwashing," Tam said. "If you look at what happened in Macau, they actually started brainwashing schoolchildren after the clashes of 1967, which is why people in Macau are relatively docile and not many [protests] have taken place."

School textbooks are submitted voluntarily by educational publishers to the education department for review.

Meanwhile, unidentified men wielding sledgehammers broke into the Hong Kong printing press of a newspaper run by the Falun Gong spiritual movement, which has been designated an "evil cult" by Beijing, the paper reported on its website.

"Four intruders barged into the printing plant of the Hong Kong edition of The Epoch Times in the early hours of April 12, damaging computers and printing equipment," the paper reported, adding that it believed the CCP to be behind the attack.

CCTV screenshots showing intruders dressed in black using sledgehammers to damage printing press equipment at the facility, according to the report.

Cheryl Ng, a spokeswoman for the Hong Kong edition of the paper, said the attack bore the hallmarks of a CCP-backed attack, and had the aim of "silencing an independent outlet from reporting on topics that are taboo to the communist regime," the paper said.

"These thugs moved very fast, coming in and smashing up the machines, and leaving again within two minutes," Ng said.

The attack was the latest in a string of attacks on Epoch Times property in Hong Kong, culminating in an arson attack in November 2019 by black-clad attackers apparently trying to mimic the appearance of pro-democracy protesters.

Reported by Fong Tak Ho, Poon Ka Ching, Leung Kiu Fok and Malik Wang for RFA's Cantonese Service. Translated and edited by Luisetta Mudie.

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