In July, Hong Kong’s last active pro-democracy protest group came under fire. Activists who had been in hiding for almost two years were arrested. Former leaders of a defunct pro-democracy group pleaded not guilty to charges under the national security law. An independent book fair was axed. A UN committee urged Hong Kong to scrap the national security law.
Attacks on League of Social Democrats
One of Hong Kong’s last active pro-democracy groups, the League of Social Democrats (LSD) came under fire from Beijing-backed media, which printed full-page attacks on them, accusing members of having a “guilty conscience.”
The attacks came around a week after the group said it was “forced to delete online posts that were allegedly violating the national security law,” adding that “the details cannot be disclosed.”
In an earlier interview with HKFP, members of the LSD said that legal risks were becoming harder to assess. But its chairwoman, Chan Po-ying said the LSD would continue to advocate for democracy and human rights.
“We don’t want there to be only one narrative in society, singing praise and papering over the cracks,” Chan told HKFP.
Dishevelled activists in hideouts rounded up
Four pro-democracy activists who have been in hiding for almost two years were arrested, including 21-year-old Tsang Chi-kin, who was shot by police during the 2019 protests and unrest. National security police took over the case, citing “potential national security risks.”
Authorities said the four fugitives were arrested in Sai Kung and that they had planned to leave Hong Kong. They had been living in hideouts for almost two years and displayed “poor mental health” when apprehended, the police said.
Police said the four had paid HK$400,000 to an unidentified group to secure passage out of the city. Two Hong Kong YouTubers later claimed to have given HK$1 million to help the fugitives pay for food and rent for the safehouses.
Student Politicism case
Four former leaders of the defunct pro-democracy group Student Politicism pleaded guilty to conspiring to incite subversion under the Beijing-imposed national security law.
Ex-convenor Wong Yat-chin, ex-secretary general Chan Chi-sum, and former spokespersons Jessica Chu and Alice Wong were said to have set up street booths and spread messages about resisting the government.
The prosecution said that Wong Yat-chin “invited others to take part in ‘the resistance’ against those in power,” and told the public to remember “liberate Hong Kong, revolution of our times.” He also allegedly incite others to build a “Hong Kong nation” in his speeches.
The group was also accused of urging the public not to use the government’s contact-tracing LeaveHomeSafe app.
Speech therapists trial
Five speech therapists pleaded not guilty to inciting hatred by publishing children’s picture books which allegedly depicted Hongkongers as sheep and mainland Chinese as wolves.
Lorie Lai, Melody Yeung, Sidney Ng, Samuel Chan and Fong Tsz-ho, ex-committee members of the General Union of Hong Kong Speech Therapists, were accused of conspiring to print, publish, distribute and display three books between June 2020 and July last year with seditious intent.
The children’s publications purportedly alluded to the 2019 protests and unrest, the detention of 12 Hong Kong fugitives by the mainland Chinese authorities, and a strike staged by Hong Kong medics at the start of the Covid-19 outbreak.
The defendants were said to have “indoctrinated” readers with separatism, incited “anti-Chinese sentiment,” “degraded” lawful arrests and prosecution and “intensified” Hong Kong-China conflicts.
The prosecution said sedition was a “very serious offence” that was “like treason,” while the defence lawyers argued sedition should not be used to impose “political censorship.”
Independent book fair axed
An independent book fair was forced to cancel before its official launch, after organisers were accused by the venue’s owner of breaching the property lease. The violations included subletting the premises to other publishers and endangering visitors.
The Hongkongers’ Book Fair was set to feature independent publishers such as Hillway Press, which was known for publishing politically sensitive books and was rejected from taking part in this year’s Hong Kong Book Fair. The annual fair called in the police last year over exhibits that were thought to potentially breach the national security law.
UN rights committee: scrap NSL
The United Nations Human Rights Committee urged Hong Kong to scrap the national security law, citing the “overly broad interpretation” of its provisions and the subsequent violations of free expression in the city.
Over three days of virtual meetings, rights experts expressed concerns over issues such as the crackdown against press freedom and the decline in democratic representation in the Legislative Council under an overhauled “patriots-only” electoral system, which, like the security legislation, was imposed by Beijing.
The Hong Kong delegation, led by Secretary for Constitutional and Mainland Affairs Erick Tsang, repeatedly said the law had restored stability and peace to the city. The authorities also did not address whether groups which made submissions to the committee could be punished under the national security law for their involvement in the sessions.
The Hong Kong government later slammed the “unsubstantiated criticism,” saying the UN panel should view the security law “in the proper context” with regard to the “background of the violent social unrests” in 2019.
As of July 22, a total of 208 people had been arrested over national security-related offences since the law came into force on June 30, 2020. So far, 127 individuals and five companies have been charged, and 13 people have been convicted.
The figures cover both people arrested under the national security law and those held under a separate law covering sedition. The Security Bureau did not provide separate figures for sedition offences, despite having done so previously. It was unclear whether there was a policy change. HKFP has reached out to seek an explanation.