Supporters of Hong Kong’s pro-democracy movement, including activists in self-exile abroad, have been calling attention to the dozens of pro-democracy figures behind bars ahead of Sunday’s “patriots only” Legislative Council elections.
In response to a campaign by UK-based advocacy group Hong Kong Watch, “#ReleaseMyCandidate,” activists posted photos on social media of themselves with the hashtag and condemning the newly restricted election.
“The election taking place in Hong Kong next week is illegitimate,” Joey Siu, an activist who is in self-exile in the US, tweeted on Tuesday.
The 22-year-old said she was “sending a strong and clear message to the international community that this selection does not reflect the true voices and choices of Hongkongers.”
Glacier Kwong, an activist who moved to Germany in 2018, tweeted: “The candidates I voted for, worked with, or wanted to vote for in 2020 are behind bars now for exercising their human rights. I see no point of “voting” on Sunday because it’s a selection, not an election.”
Activist Brian Leung, in self-exile in the US, shared a photo of himself holding up the hashtag on Thursday calling for an election boycott. “Release all opposition leaders arrested under the Beijing-imposed National Security Law,” he tweeted.
The city amended its election laws in May, making it illegal to incite the casting of invalid votes and obstruct others from voting.
The campaign has been targeted by pro-Beijing actors. Activist Ray Wong and the co-founder of Hong Kong Watch Benedict Rogers both shared photoshopped pictures of themselves, edited to show them holding up signs supporting a candidate running in the elections and encouraging the public to vote.
Overseas-based activists such as Nathan Law have come under fire for speaking out abroad.
“Hong Kong’s election is China’s internal affair,” Pan Yundong, the deputy commissioner of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in Hong Kong, said on Wednesday. “We will not allow any foreign forces to make irresponsible remarks with their ulterior motives.”
Sunday’s Legislative Council elections are the first under a revamped system decreed by Beijing in which only “patriotic” candidates are allowed to stand. Dozens of pro-democracy figures will be in custody as the polls take place.
A majority of the 47 activists who were arrested in February and charged with subversion under the national security law have been detained since then pending trial.
They were arrested over a primary election intended to pick opposition candidates for a legislative vote which was meant to take place last year but delayed on the grounds of Covid-19.
The activists will spend Christmas and the New Year in remand, as a court adjourned their case to next year with no clear trial date. Under the national security law, they could face a maximum sentence of life imprisonment.
Hong Kong’s elections traditionally saw pro-democracy hopefuls – known usually for their colourful and vocal campaigns – among the mix of candidates.
Election canvassing has been comparatively muted this year, with far less competition and a low voter turnout expected. All candidates were subjected to a multilayer vetting mechanism led by government officials to ensure that they are “patriots.” Most major pro-democracy figures are in any case behind bars or in self-exile abroad, or have quit politics.
In a statement announcing the “#ReleaseMyCandidate” campaign, Hong Kong Watch described the vote as “sham elections.”
Beijing. however, says the system brings stability, prosperity, ensures “patriots” rule Hong Kong and prevents anti-China elements from holding power or filibustering.
But the UK advocacy group said that “almost all of the candidates running in the elections are supportive of the establishment and aligned with the Chinese Communist Party in Beijing.”
David Alton, a British politician and former member of the UK parliament, also showed his support for the group’s campaign.
“I support their #ReleaseMyCandidate campaign, calling for the release of all pro-democracy candidates and former legislators currently in jail ahead of #HongKong’s sham elections for the Legislative Council,” Alton, who is a patron of Hong Kong Watch, tweeted on Tuesday.
A number of candidates who proclaim themselves as non-pro-establishment are running in the elections, though they have not been endorsed by any traditional opposition parties.
Arrest warrants issued
Sunday’s elections are taking place against the backdrop of arrests and prosecutions over calls for Hongkongers to protest the elections by boycotting or casting blank votes.
Five activists, all of them in self-exile abroad, were dealt arrest warrants by the Independent Commission Against Corruption (ICAC) on Saturday after they issued social media posts urging Hong Kong people not to vote in the race.
“The ICAC will continue to take resolute enforcement actions to combat conduct manipulating or undermining the election to ensure that it will be held in a fair and just manner,” the anti-corruption agency wrote in a statement.
Among the group who are wanted are Nathan Law, who was granted political asylum in the UK earlier this year, and activist Sunny Cheung, who is in the US. Two other self-exiled democrats, ex-lawmaker Ted Hui and former district councillor Yau Man-chun, were issued arrest warrants last month over the same offence.
10 others in Hong Kong have been arrested for allegedly inciting protest votes or a boycott, two of whom were charged on Wednesday.
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