Hong Kong’s free spirit is being extinguished!
Hong Kong’s free society is being destroyed by China’s National Security Laws. With the election of John Lee as Chief Executive, a nightmare has come true for Hong Kong’s democracy movement. As security minister, he was responsible for the crackdown against the 2019 protests.
When thousands of people in Hong Kong took to the streets for democracy and freedom in 2019, they also chanted “Down with John Lee!”. The security minister and former police officer responded with tear gas, rubber bullets and arrests. On Sunday, Lee was elected as Hong Kong’s new chief executive — a blow to the city state’s democracy movement, which has been almost completely intimidated and stifled over the past two years.
This amounts to a nightmare come true for Hong Kong’s democracy activists: As security secretary, John Lee violently crushed the 2019 protests. Now he was confirmed as the new chief executive in a mock election on Sunday. The hardline Beijing loyalist will continue to expand and apply the Chinese Security Law for Hong Kong. Since 2020, 150 people have been arrested under that law and any criticism of Beijing has been suppressed. Experts warn that the creeping erasure of Hong Kong’s liberal spirit shows what communist parties are capable of in free societies worldwide. Hongkongers say that the law renders them “stateless” and enables “cultural genocide”.
“I look forward to all of us starting a new chapter together and building a caring, open and vibrant Hong Kong, a Hong Kong full of opportunity and harmony,” Lee said in his victory speech on Sunday. He was the only candidate and won with more than 99 per cent of the vote. The committee that elected him had been handpicked by Beijing to ensure that only “patriots” could take office. The European Union’s foreign policy chief Josep Borrell said that the election violated “Hong Kong’s democratic principles and political pluralism”. Lee will replace his predecessor Carrie Lam on 1 July.
Lam’s five-year term cannot be described as “harmonious and open”. After the government announced an extradition law in 2019, thousands called for Lam’s resignation in large protests. Hong Kongers, who inherited a free democratic society from the former British occupation, saw Lam as an agent of Beijing who would take away their rights. The “Chinese Security Act”, passed the following year, confirmed this fear.
More than 150 people have been arrested since 2020 under this law, which bans “secession, subversion, terrorism and collusion with foreign forces”. Almost all prominent pro-democracy activists have been detained, others fled abroad or were silenced through intimidation. Local free media like “Apple Daily” were shut down, its prominent publisher Jimmy Lai arrested on John Lee’s orders. “Reporters Without Borders ranked Hong Kong 148th out of 180 in its Press Freedom Index this year, 60 places lower than last year.
Thousands of residents have left the city of 7.4 million following the 2019 protests and subsequent draconian restrictions during the pandemic. In 2021 alone, nearly 100,000 Hongkongers applied for a special exit visa to the UK.
“The people who attach their identity particularly strongly to Hong Kong do not recognise their city. Their reality and values have been erased,” says Evan Fowler. He has written a book with one of the leading figures of the democracy movement, Nathan Law. Already in 2018, Fowler fled to London, partly because he no longer felt safe as head of the “Hong Kong Identity Project”. He and other critics call the “mainlandisation of Hong Kong” by China’s powerful neighbour “cultural genocide”. Many people have no choice but to flee. They see themselves as “stateless”. “A liberal, open and in many ways free nation, once home to a burgeoning civil society, has been destroyed,” says Fowler. Today, Chinese patriotism is instilled in schoolchildren, who are taught that “it is the greatest privilege to be Chinese”. Eurasian families, on the other hand, are criticized for not being “Chinese enough”.
“What is happening in Hong Kong shows the threat of China and the Communist Party to open, liberal and free societies around the world,” says Fowler. The National Security Act undermines liberal values, democratic institutions and the rule of law. It is a Chinese law that has been introduced into Hong Kong’s common law system and this can happen in other legal systems. In Hong Kong, it violates the 1984 Sino-British Declaration. The freedom of expression and assembly and the high degree of autonomy that were promised for 50 years in 1997 to Hong Kong when it was handed over to China have already been dismantled.
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