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Hong Kong: Arrests and jail time for pro-democracy councillors and activists

Taiwan has joined the condemnation of the arrest of two pan-democratic Hong Kong district councillors which took place on 22 November. Yuen Long district councillor Henry Wong Pak-yu and Kowloon City councillor Timothy Lee Hin-long were arrested under the controversial national security law imposed by China. Also on 23 November, Hong Kong activists Joshua Wong, Ivan Lam and Agney Chow, pleaded guilty to charges relating to protests outside the police station last year.

Series of arrests

The national security law has given grounds for the Hong Kong police to arbitrarily arrest many politicians, activists, and pro-democracy figures. The law, imposed from June this year, bypassed Hong Kong’s legislature and passed with only the blessing of the government. It criminaises acts of “subversion, succession, foreign collusion and terrorism”, but is vague in its wording and therefore used to quash dissent against the government or control by China. Its critics argue its board definitions allow for the infringement and abuse of human rights, free speech and assembly.

Taiwan’s top agency for China policy-making, the Mainland Affairs Council (MAC), said that

“arbitrary detentions by Hong Kong police on national security grounds have infringed on Hong Kong people’s freedom and human rights”.

The MAC called on all parties concerned to “exercise self-restraint and discontinue their oppression and coercion of opposition activists”.

Three former lawmakers were also arrested on 18 November over an incident in June where liquid was thrown over the territory’s legislative council, identified as Ted Hui, Ray Chan and Eddie Chu. Shatin District Councillor Li Chi-wang was arrested on 17 November for “acting in a disorderly way in a public place” in May, after being previously arrested on 24 May for participating in a rally against the national security law in Causeway Bay.

As well as lawmakers, D100 internet radio channel host Wan Yiu-sing, his wife, and personal assistant were arrested on 21 November for launching a fundraising campaign for young people who fled Hong Kong for Taiwan. In August, Chinese authorities detained a dozen Hong Kong activists, now known as the HK12, who attempted to leave via speedboat and reach Taiwan. Many of those on the boat were also being investigated under the national security law.

Trial of activists

Joshua Wong, Agnes Chow and Ivan Lam, three high profile Hong Kong activists, face up to five years in jail after pleading guilty to protest charges. Their sentencing hearing is scheduled for Wednesday. The three faced multiple charges over an unauthorised protest outside police headquarters last year in June, one of many against China’s increasing control and expedition law.

Chow, who was previously arrested in August under the national security law, pleaded guilty to incitement and participation in the demonstration, and Lam pleaded guilty to incitement. Wong, who said he expects to be jailed, pleaded guilty to organising and inciting the unauthorised assembly, but not for participation as the prosecution offered no evidence.

Wong tweeted a series of messages to his supporters before the court hearing, where he said that the charges he faces are minimal compared to other Hong Kong activists and the HK12.

“Despite possible jail sentences ahead, it is my honour to stand with each of you from the beginning, fight shoulder to shoulder, and bring our voices to the world. Nevertheless, whatever storm we may face, I have faith in my fellow HongKongers,” he tweeted.

Whilst in custody, he tweeted another message on the HK12, urging people to give them more attention. “Today marks the 93rd day of their detention. Their families finally received letters from the dozen, signifying that they are still alive. #SAVE12 campaign managed to pressure China”, he said. He warned that from the content of the letters, it is possible that they might have been tortured into making a confession and stating regret for taking part in activism.

Activists are wary that repressive measures will continue against their efforts, with over 30 people having been arrested under the national security laws since its passing in June. Additionally, the region’s high court ruled on 19 November that the Hong Kong government breached its bill of rights on protection from torture and cruel treatments by failing to provide an independent mechanism for complaints about the police.

The findings emerged after a report by international experts who quit a Hong Kong police brutality inquiry last year said that the officers’ crowd control tactics had “radicalised protestors and worsened perceptions of the force’s legitimacy”. At the height of the protests last year, Hong Kong police acted violently and used tear gas and rubber bullets on protesters. Numerous allegations of police brutality were not dealt with accordingly.

The case was brought by the Hong Kong Journalists Association, and the high court ruled in their favour that the system was inadequate to discharge the government of its obligations under the bill of rights. This was after Hong Kong leader Carrie Lam stated that there was no need for any complaints system outside of the current police complaints department (Capo) which is overseen by the Independent Police Complaints Council (IPCC). According to judge Anderson Chow, the IPCC lacks the power to investigate and cannot overturn any decisions by Capo. The court ruling means the government is duty-bound to establish a new complaints system which is independent of this.

The ruling also found that the failure of some Hong Kong police officers to display their ID badges, most likely to avoid complaints against them, is a violation of the bill of rights by preventing investigations into their conduct. It breaches the “absolute and non-derogable” protections against torture or cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment”, said Chow. IPCC chair Anthony Neoh disputes the ruling, claiming that Capo is independent and maintains that police officers are clear of any wrongdoing.


UPDATE:  As of 2 December 2020, pro-democracy activists Joshua Wong, Agnes Chow and Ivan Lam have been sentenced for their involvement in mass protests last year.

Wong has received a sentence of 13.5 months in jail, while Chow and Lam will be imprisoned for 10 and seven months respectively, with the government using the politically-motivated charge of “inciting others to protest” to prosecute the trio.

Yamini Mishra, Amnesty International’s Asia-Pacific Regional Director, called the sentencing a “violation of their rights to freedom of expression and peaceful assembly”, going on to say that:

“Their convictions should be overturned without delay and they must be released immediately and unconditionally.”

The Chinese government’s sustained persecution of those who speak out and protest peacefully is another example of the repressive and tyrannous measures it continues to employ against its own citizens. The international community must do more to ensure that these flagrant violations of human rights come to an end. 


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