Hong Kong’s free spirit is being extinguished!

Imago

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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