Chief Executive Carrie Lam on Tuesday accused foreign governments which criticised the arrest of dozens of Hong Kong democrats of holding “double standards” about national security, citing a “very different approach” to the riot at the US Capitol.

At a press conference she urged overseas politicians to respect the city’s autonomy in handling its internal matters, following widespread criticism of last Wednesday’s mass arrests under the Beijing-imposed national security law.

Carrie Lam
Carrie Lam at a press conference on January 12, 2021. Photo: RTHK screenshot.

More than 50 local pro-democracy figures were rounded up for alleged “subversion” over their organisation or participation last July in an unofficial primary election to choose pro-democracy candidates for the now-postponed 2020 Legislative Council election. Authorities cited a plan to use strategic voting to win a majority in the legislature, block budget bills and force the government into a shutdown.

The democrats were later released on bail and have not yet been charged.

Countries including the US, UK, Canada and Australia condemned the arrests, with British Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab calling them a “grievous attack” on the rights and freedoms of Hongkongers. US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo described the detentions as an “outrage” and said Washington would consider imposing further sanctions.

arrested democrats Jan 6
Some of the democrats arrested on January 6, 2021. From L to R: Wu Chi-Wai, Lester Shum, Gwyneth Ho, Alvin Yeung, James To, Kwok Ka-ki, Lam Cheuk-ting, Eddie Chu, Ventus Lau, Benny Tai, Raymond Chan, Leung Kwok-hung.

Their statements were dismissed as “erroneous” by the Hong Kong government, which said it seemed to suggest that “people with certain political beliefs should be immune from legal sanctions.”

Lam said foreign governments had “double standards” on the importance of national security, the rule of law and respect for the judicial system, citing “recent incidents” in the United States. She said jurisdictions worldwide had legislation to safeguard national security.

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“The first double standard that they have adopted is they uphold they own national security, but at the same time belittle the need for national security in the People’s Republic of China, especially in the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region,” she said.

The city’s leader said some overseas officials “sort of condoned or encouraged” the actions of Hong Kong protesters during months of unrest in 2019 but treated similar events in their own countries very differently.

“When the same thing seems [to] happen in their own country, they immediately took a very different approach, to condemn the violence, and some said that this was verging on sedition in American society,” she said.

US Capitol protest
Protesters clash with police at the US Capitol Hill on January 6, 2021. Photo: Alex Gakos, via Shutterstock.

Lam was referring to the chaos at the Capitol Building in Washington DC last Wednesday, when tear gas and live rounds were fired as supporters of US President Donald Trump stormed the building to try to block certification of Joe Biden’s presidential victory.

Some local pro-Beijing politicians and commentators, as well as those on the mainland, have compared the incident to the storming of LegCo in Hong Kong on July 1, 2019.

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Kelly Ho has an interest in local politics, education and sports. She formerly worked at South China Morning Post Young Post, where she specialised in reporting on issues related to Hong Kong youth. She has a bachelor's degree in Journalism from the University of Hong Kong, with a second major in Politics and Public Administration.