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Hong Kong: First person charged under new law appears in court as pro-democracy books removed from libraries

The new controversial security law in Hong Kong targets secession, subversion and terrorism. It came into force at midnight on the 1st July with punishments up to life in prison. Immediate protests to the introduction of the law resulted in the first person out of ten to be charged under the new security law, Tong Ying-kit, appeared in court today on Monday 6th July. Ironically it is also the first day of UN’s 2020 Virtual Counter-Terrorism Week.

10 arrested under new law

On Wednesday 1st July, just a day after the law came into effect, it was the anniversary of Hong Kong’s return to China from British rule. Most years, that holiday draws large pro-democracy rallies but this time they were banned. Protests were scattered, and the police swept in and arrested hundreds. Ten people, including a 15-year-old girl, were accused of “inciting subversion,” a vaguely defined crime under the new law; some had merely waved flags, bearing slogans that had never been explicitly outlawed. They can be jailed for up to ten years under the new law.

On Monday 6th July, the first person to be charged under the new law appeared in court. Tong Ying-kit, 23, was one of the ten arrested during the protest on Wednesday and charged with inciting secession for allegedly carrying a “Liberate Hong Kong” banner, now grounds for prosecution. He is also prosecuted on terrorism charges and accused of ramming his motorbike into a group of police officers, injuring at least three. He was denied bail after appearing at the West Kowloon Magistrates Court in a wheelchair. 

The police have also admitted to having collected DNA samples and searched the homes of the 10 people arrested on suspicion of inciting subversion – measures that seemed excessive when applied to people accused only of possessing pamphlets, said Janet Pang, a lawyer who is helping some of them.

“You’re supposed to only use power that is necessary, and that’s how the law should be,” she told New York Times.

Pro-democracy books removed

Meanwhile, the Hong Kong authorities announced that nine books, including two by Joshua Wong, the 23-year-old student who emerged as one of the leaders of the pro-democracy protests that shook the territory last year and one of the ten arrested on Wednesday, were under review for “compliance” with the new law and would no longer be available to the public. Six books by Horace Chin, dubbed the “godfather” of Hong Kong’s autonomy movement, were also removed, as was one by the pro-democracy legislative councillor Tanya Chan.

The removal of the books coincided with a notice issued by the city’s education bureau ordering that children in nurseries, schools and special education establishments be taught to obey the new law. All employees and pupils should know, and be reminded, that they were subject to the legislation, it added.

Speaking outside the court today 6 July 2020, Mr Wong appealed to international allies. He told reporters: 

“We still have to let the world know that now is the time to stand with Hong Kong.” 

The young activist is being prosecuted for his involvement in the protests. A month ago, the group he led filed a complaint with the United Nations over what it described as abuse of anti-government protesters held in custody. He said the inmates’ treatment fell under the definition of “torture” as laid out in the UN Convention Against Torture, and the complaint had been sent to the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights.

On Saturday, Mr Wong tweeted that the new law “imposes a mainland-style censorship regime” on Hong Kong, calling it “one step away from … actual book banning”.

Since the security law came into effect on Tuesday, several leading pro-democracy activists have stepped down from their roles. One of them – one-time student leader and local legislator Nathan Law – has fled the territory. The new legislation is the most radical shift in how the semi-autonomous city is run since it was handed back to China by Britain in 1997.

Beijing has dismissed criticism of the law, saying it is necessary to stop the type of mass pro-democracy protests seen in Hong Kong during much of 2019, which at times exploded into very violent clashes between protesters and police.

Valerie Peay, Director of the International Observatory of Human Rights (IOHR), said:

As China tries to muzzle, silence and threaten Hong Kong with draconian laws how soon will history be completely re-engineered in Hong Kong as it has been post Tiananmen Sq in China? Universities have already been made to remove exam questions which cast China in a poor light and now in the first week of the security law the first library books are banned and self-censorship begins. The rest of the free world owes it to the Hong Kong people to take up their voices and support their human rights and those enshrined under the treaty agreement.

In September 2019, IOHR spoke exclusively to a Hong Kong protestor.

 

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