Peaceful moderates rounded up . . .
Hong Kong police arrested 15 veteran democracy activists on charges of illegal assembly on Saturday. Media tycoon Jimmy Lai and the founder of Hong Kong’s Democratic Party, Martin Lee, were among those arrested. Many of the arrested are considered moderates who advocate for democracy via peaceful means, not frontline protesters. The police accused the activists of organizing and participating in unauthorized protests from August to October last year. The weekend arrests invited criticism from other countries. The U.S. State Department issued a statement condemning the arrests, while the British Foreign Office urged Hong Kong authorities to “focus on rebuilding trust through a process of meaningful political dialogue.”
Move comes amidst ‘Basic Law ’controversy . . .
The arrests came amidst accusations by pro-democracy legislators that the Chinese central government has interfered in Hong Kong’s affairs. Last week, Hong Kong and Macau Affairs Office (HKMAO), an administrative agency of the State Council of the People’s Republic of China, accused a pro-democratic legislator Dennis Kwok of deliberately stalling the election of the chairperson of the Legislative Council House Committee, which Kwok has presided over since last October. Kwok, in turn, accused the HKMAO of violating the Basic Law, the city’s mini constitution that bars central government agencies from interfering in Hong Kong’s affairs. Meanwhile, the Hong Kong Liaison Office, a sister organization of the HKMAO, says that the Office and HKMAO are not bound by the Basic Law, and that they can “supervise” affairs in Hong Kong.
Leveraging COVID social distancing . . .
The outbreak of COVID-19 has complicated the ongoing tug-of-war between Beijing and Hong Kong’s democratic opposition. Since the outbreak, protests in the city have subsided. But the government has also instituted a social distancing rule by banning groups of more than four. Some activists claim that the police are abusing these social distancing measures to crack down on protests. In one instance, the police ordered Café Seasons, a popular restaurant owned by the son of the arrested media tycoon, to close its doors. “Such acts by police are an intimidation of pro-democracy businesses under the pretext of epidemic prevention,” an opposition legislator commented.
- The Guardian: Hong Kong using Covid-19 crisis as ‘golden opportunity’ for crackdown, says arrested leader
- South China Morning Post: Beijing’s liaison office says it has right to handle Hong Kong affairs, as provided by constitution and Basic Law
- South China Morning Post: Coronavirus: Hong Kong police put social-distancing rules to test at protesters’ monthly gathering