Six pro-democracy activists charged for “unlawful assembly” as China’s crackdown extends to Hong Kong
Leung Kwok-hung, who by the name ‘Long Hair’ is one of Hong Kong’s best-known political figures, was arrested at his home today, 11 March, and charged over his attendance at a demonstration on 25 December 2009 to protest against the 11-year jail sentence imposed on Chinese dissident Liu Xiaobo. Liu’s Christmas Day trial for “inciting subversion of state power” has attracted attention and protests around the world.
Together with five other pro-democracy campaigners including trade union leader Lee Cheuk-yan (General Secretary of the Hong Kong Confederation of Trade Unions), Long Hair has been charged with “taking part in an unlawful assembly”. The others charged are Leung Kwok-wah, Li Yiu-kee, Koo Sze-yiu and Tsoi Yiu-cheong. The charge relates to the 25 December protest outside the Central Government Liaison Office, which is the office of the Beijing regime inside the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region. Long Hair and the other accused were released on bail to appear in court on 18 March. Two other arrests are likely to be made today in connection with the same demonstration.
“It’s political persecution, that’s very clear,” Long Hair told chinaworker.info. “The police suddenly press charges after two months? The logical thing would have been to make arrests a long time ago. It is obviously a political act. It is because we dare to protest against the imprisonment of Liu Xiaobo. It is also clearly connected to the struggle for democracy in Hong Kong.”
Long Hair believes this attack is linked to the annual meeting of China’s pseudo-parliament, the National People’s Congress (NPC), and pseudo-consultative parliament, the Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference (CPPCC), which is now underway in Beijing. Thirty-four Hong Kong delegates are in attendance, including Chief Executive Donald Tsang, who heads Hong Kong’s unelected administration. He is joined by a clutch of local billionaires and luminaries who are also appointed by Beijing to ‘represent’ Hong Kong. In Beijing these ‘representatives’ have been holding discussions with senior spokespersons for the Chinese dictatorship, discussing the upturn in radical protest in Hong Kong and the threat posed by pro-democracy byelections due to be held on 16 May. Long Hair is one of five members of the fig-leaf parliament, the Legislative Council, who resigned in January to trigger city-wide byelections to demand an immediate transition to universal suffrage.
While discussions at the NPC between the Hong Kong side and the central government are not public, there are plenty of signs that Beijing’s irritation is growing over Hong Kongers’ increasing readiness to take to the streets. In the past 12 months hundreds of thousands have taken part in various manifestations for greater democratic rights. On 10 March, Beijing upgraded its warning over the May byelections from “blatant challenge” (its verdict in January) to “fundamentally in breach of Basic Law” (the title of Hong Kong’s mini-constitution signed by China and Britain before the handover). This latest warning came from Li Fei, who is deputy director of the Legal Affairs Commission of the NPC. He said people in Hong Kong were wrong to assume the referendum (i.e. simultaneous byelections) exercise was legal. “It goes against Hong Kong’s current legal status,” he said.
The arrest of Long Hair and the other pro-democracy activists is a transparently political act – reflecting the Hong Kong government’s desire to please its masters in Beijing. It is a show of firmness ahead of the May byelections and to deter protests that explicitly target the Chinese regime. Most of those arrested are committee members of the Hong Kong Alliance in Support of Patriotic Democratic Movements of China, the broad umbrella group that organises Hong Kong’s annual torch-lit vigil to commemorate the victims of the 4 June massacre in Beijing in 1989. Last year’s 20th anniversary vigil attracted a record 200,000 people. Roughly a quarter of the alliance’s committee, which includes Long Hair, were arrested today and charged for the 25 December demonstration. “It’s a semi-crackdown,” commented Long Hair. “It is a clear sign the Hong Kong government is feeling the pressure from Beijing. It’s also like in a chess game. Beijing wants to test the reaction from the broader pan-democratic movement, to see how they respond to this.”
‘Pan-democratic’ is the generic term for all groups and parties in Hong Kong that campaign against the current undemocratic electoral system for a system based on one-person-one-vote. The ‘pan-democrats’ have become increasingly divided especially in the last year. A more radical wing has emerged, which includes Long Hair’s left-leaning League of Social Democrats (LSD), which together with the liberal-leaning Civic Party has spearheaded the byelection tactic.
At the same time a ‘compromise wing’ has also crystallised around the Democratic Party (DPHK), which in terms of seats is the largest pan-democratic party. This wing is pushing hard for negotiations with the central government. The DPHK leaders have indicated they could vote yes to a package of electoral ‘reforms’ proposed by the Hong Kong government for the 2012 elections. This package stops far short of universal suffrage and is actually worse than proposals the Democratic Party voted against in 2005. The only condition of the DPHK leaders is a verbal assurance from Beijing (they know that a written agreement is ruled out) stating that future elections in 2017 and 2020 will take place according to the principles of universal suffrage. The Democratic Party has also opposed the resignation tactic of the LSD/Civic Party.
Beijing feels the heat
On 25 December 2009 around 50 protesters went to the heavily guarded and off-limits Central Government Liaison Office to protest over the 11-year prison sentence upon Liu Xiaobo for co-authoring the manifesto Charter 08. This is an online petition, now signed by around 10,000 people, that calls for greater democratic rights and an end to one-party rule, but also espouses more capitalist reforms and privatisation. While chinaworker.info and other socialists also fight for basic democratic rights such as freedom of association and an end to press censorship, we do not support Charter 08 and its calls for more privatisation and other neo-liberal measures. At the same time we actively protest against the crackdown in China and demand the release of Liu Xiaobo and other political prisoners. It is paradoxical that Liu sees Hong Kong as a model of development for mainland China, while the Hong Kong government and state is attacking those who defend him.
When the 25 December protesters began to tie ribbons on the gates of the Liaison Office building, scuffles broke out as security guards provocatively cut away the ribbons. The Hong Kong police refused to intervene. This raises many questions about the motives behind these arrests now, more than two months later. One week after that demonstration, on 1 January 2010, a much bigger demonstration with 30,000 people also went to the Central Government Liaison Office, staging the biggest ever protest outside its gates. That time too there were scuffles, but arrests were made already the following week.
30,000 demonstrate for democracy and for release of Liu Xiaobo at Central Government Liaison Office, 1 January
The sight of mass angry protests on its doorstep, so to speak, has clearly unsettled the Beijing regime. It has also clearly been taken aback by the scale of the popular backlash, especially from young people in Hong Kong, over the harsh sentence upon Liu Xiaobo. If Beijing is now pressuring the Hong Kong government to take a firmer line, this is a path fraught with risks, and could increase support for what it now calls an “illegal referendum” in May. It will reinforce the popular perception that the Beijing regime’s crackdown on dissent is spreading to Hong Kong, and that the territory’s autonomy as enshrined in the “one country, two systems” formula is being increasingly eroded.
We are calling on socialists, trade unionists and other concerned parties to send protests immediately to the Hong Kong government to demand the dropping of all charges against Long Hair and the other accused. International protests can have a big effect given Hong Kong’s extreme dependence on global trade and its reputation as “Asia’s World City”. A model protest letter is provided below.
Send to: Chief Executive, Sir Donald Tsang,
Government House, Hong Kong Special Administrative Region
Fax: (852) 2509 0577
Send to: Secretary for Justice, Wong Yan Lung,
4th Floor, High Block, QGO
Fax: (852) 2869 0720
Send copies to: email@example.com
[Please note: PRC citizens should not to use real name/address when responding to this appeal].
Dear Chief Executive Donald Tsang,
I am writing to you to protest over the arrest of Legislative Council candidate Leung Kwok-hung, trade union leader Lee Cheuk-yan (General Secretary of HKCTU), and other pro-democracy campaigners who are charged with participating in an “unlawful assembly” on 25 December 2009. That demonstration was against the 11-year prison sentence imposed on Liu Xiaobo, author of Charter 08, by a Beijing court on the same day. The Hong Kong arrests appear to be a politically inspired action by the Hong Kong police at a time when the territory is debating election reforms and facing byelections. These arrests also coincide with growing unease over a marked increase in governmental repression against dissidents in China, an unease that has only been heightened by the harsh sentence upon Liu Xiaobo. It seems that China’s crackdown on dissent is now being extended to Hong Kong. How else can one interpret these arrests – two months after the event – of prominent public figures for showing solidarity with imprisoned Chinese dissidents?
There is widespread concern internationally, as in China and Hong Kong, that the Chinese regime is becoming more not less authoritarian as time passes, and that the Hong Kong government is adapting itself and conforming to this more repressive atmosphere, despite the formula of “one country two systems”. Any attempt to influence by means of trumped up charges, the coming byelections in Hong Kong or public protests against repression by the Chinese state, would be deplorable.
The charges against Leung Kwok-hung and the other accused should be dropped immediately.