National security police in Hong Kong look set to bring subversion charges against more than 50 opposition politicians and activists in a city-wide crackdown on dissent under a draconian law imposed by the ruling Chinese Communist Party (CCP).
Some of the 53 activists said they expect to be charged on Sunday after being asked to report to their local police stations weeks ahead of their next scheduled check-in under bail arrangements.
The activists were arrested on suspicion of “subverting state power” after they took part in a democratic primary election in July 2020, that the authorities said was part of a deliberate attempt to block government bills in the city’s Legislative Council (LegCo).
Soon after the primary, chief executive Carrie Lam postponed LegCo elections that should have taken place in early September, citing safety concerns amid the coronavirus pandemic.
Former Hong Kong University law professor Benny Tai and founder of the 2014 Occupy Central pro-democracy movement and former Democratic Party chairman Wu Chi-wai were among those arrested.
Several former opposition lawmakers were also among the arrestees, including Eddie Chu, James To, Andrew Wan, Jeremy Tam, Gary Fan, Kwok Ka-ki, Helena Wong, Lam Cheuk-ting, Au Nok-hin, and Alvin Yeung, along with Yuen Long District Councillor and primary candidate Ng Kin-wai and District Councillor Tiffany Yuen.
Lam posted a video clip of police officers requesting he attend his local police station on Feb. 28 at 2.00 p.m.
Democracy activist Joshua Wong, who is currently in jail on a separate charge, was also among the group.
Some of the arrestees said they are making mental preparation to be taken into custody, as the chances of being granted bail for charges brought under the national security law are slim.
Pro-democracy media mogul Jimmy Lai, who is in a maximum-security jail awaiting trial for “collusion with foreign forces” under the law, has been repeatedly denied bail.
‘Nothing going on is reasonable’
Arrestee Lau Hoi-man, an officer for the Hong Kong Allied Health Professionals and Nurse Association, told RFA he had been summoned to Wanchai police station for “further investigation,” and that he was “mentally prepared” to be charged.
“Nothing that is going on right now is reasonable,” Lau said. “It’s all just based on something they said you did.”
“All I can do now is meet up with friends, something I don’t have much time to do normally,” he said. “If I am held on remand, I am highly unlikely to get bail under the national security law.”
But Lau said he had no regrets.
“Of course I don’t regret taking part; I did take part and it all forms a part of my life journey,” he said.
Former democratic primary candidate and disability campaigner Lee Chi-yung said he had no idea what would happen when he reported to police on Sunday, but that he would face it calmly.
“It’s important for me just to keep going now, without worrying too much or getting depressed about it,” Lee told RFA. “I want to minimize the negative impact on other people.”
“That’s helpful, both to me and to others — I don’t want to spread an atmosphere of doom and gloom: that would not be helpful,” he said.
A test of US reaction
Current affairs commentator Sang Pu said the CCP is likely pushing ahead with the cases in a bid to test the reaction of the Biden administration.
“The first test is the reaction from the U.S. and the E.U.,” he said.
But he said he didn’t see much likelihood that the authorities would slow down.
“The CCP is only going to accelerate its crackdown in Hong Kong from now on,” he said.
Police have said the primaries were considered “subversive” because their stated aim was to secure at least 35 seats in LegCo for opposition candidates, so the pro-democracy camp could veto the government’s budgets.
Such an action is regarded as “subversion of state power” under Article 22 of the national security law.
The arrests come after the primaries were criticized in state-run Chinese media as an attempt to foment a “color revolution.”
After the elections were postponed, the entire pro-democracy camp resigned from LegCo en masse in November 2020, in protest at the ouster of four opposition lawmakers following a decree from the National People’s Congress (NPC) standing committee in Beijing.
Beijing has since repeatedly warned that only “patriots” who love China and the CCP will be allowed to hold public office in Hong Kong.
Reported by Man Hoi Yan for RFA’s Cantonese Service. Translated and edited by Luisetta Mudie.