Pro-Beijing lawmaker Junius Ho has claimed an early success in his campaign for the enactment of Hong Kong’s national security law, after thousands of people signed a petition at street booths on Sunday. An accompanying online petition appeared to have garnered over one million signatories in favour of legislating Basic Law Article 23, but only 23 per cent of them were based in the city.
Led by Ho and formed by the Politihk Social Strategic and New Territories Concern Group, the Alliance 23 staged its first street campaign over the weekend. More than 30 counters were set up across the city, collecting at least 50,000 signatures according to an estimate given by Ho in a Facebook video.
Ho said the number of signatures collected had “exceeded expectations,” adding that the alliance would be close to fulfilling its goal of gathering two million signatures if it had the manpower to set up more street booths.
“We had 36 counters and around 1,400 signatures were collected at each one. Imagine if we had 300 stations, and we set up the booths for two days, then there will be more than one million signatures. Plus the ones we collected online, we would have surpassed two million,” Ho said on Sunday.
“This figure is really exciting and encouraging. It shows that people support the passing of Article 23 from the bottom of their hearts, it is very different from what it was like in 2003,” he added.
Article 23 of the Basic Law stipulates that the Hong Kong government shall enact laws on its own to prohibit any act of treason, secession, sedition, subversion against the central government. Its legislation failed in 2003 following mass protests. The government has always had enough votes to pass the law, but it has never been raised since the 2003 debacle. Pro-democracy advocates fear it could have a negative effect on civil liberties.
While the alliance claimed more than one million people had supported its campaign for Article 23 online, Innes Tang – chair of Politihk Social Strategic – revealed only 23 per cent of signatories reported their living location to be Hong Kong. According to Tang, 140,000 people said they were from Mainland China, while the rest of the signatories were from “overseas.” However, the alliance said they believed many were Hongkongers living abroad.
“Many of them gave us a Hong Kong telephone number and registered with their Chinese names, so we believe there were more than 230,000 Hongkongers who supported the petition,” Tang said at a press conference last Friday.
The alliance stands accused of gathering signatures for their campaign by distributing sought-after protective items such as face masks and bottles of sanitising spray in return. Sai Kung District Councillor Ricky Or told Stand News on Sunday that one of his team members saw almost 100 citizens lined up at the alliance’s street booth in Shau Kei Wan, where bottles of sanitising sprays were put on the counter and given out to those who signed.
“If they are giving out protective items in exchange for signatures, how is it different from fraud?” Or asked, adding that the alliance should make their demands clear to the signatories.
In Tsuen Wan, a woman who held a petition signboard had several packs of face masks in her other hand, leading to speculation that face masks were given out in exchange for signatures, according to a photo posted on Facebook.
The alliance did not comment on whether it was distributing masks, but it criticised a netizen who accused them of apparently distributing stained face masks at their Yuen Long street booth. The group said the netizen had used an old image and a fake account to “vilify” their campaign.
‘Celebrity’ cop spotted
Meanwhile, Sergeant Lau Chak-kei – nicknamed “Bald Lau Sir” – was spotted in Tai Po near where the alliance was collecting signatures. Lau became famous after he pointed a beanbag round Remington shotgun at protesters outside Kwai Chung Police Station on July 30 during the recent pro-democracy protests.
According to photos shared on Facebook, Lau took photos with citizens while dressed in riot police gear. It was unclear whether Lau was on duty.
Aside from Lau, other pro-police figures including Man Shek, a former cop and convener of the Hong Kong Forces of Peace, appeared to support the alliance’s campaign as well.
Calls for Article 23 to be enacted have increased since protests erupted last June over a now-axed extradition bill. They escalated into sometimes violent displays of dissent against police behaviour, amid calls for democracy and anger over Beijing’s encroachment.