On Sunday 28 February 47 participants in Hong Kong’s democratic primaries last June were charged with “conspiracy to commit subversion”, a charge that brings a possible life sentence.
The hearing of bail requests from the 47 slowed down court proceedings. Only six were heard before the normal end of court business. The court continued until 2:30am, when Clarisse Yeung, one of the defendants, collapsed and had to be taken to hospital. Another three were also taken to hospital, including Leung Kwok Hung. It looks as though all bail will be refused and all will be remanded in prison for the next three months.
About 15 Hong Kongers protested at Piccadilly Circus, London, and demonstrators were also out in Reading and Manchester. The Labour Movement Solidarity with Hong Kong (LSHK) campaign is organising for continued solidarity.
The democratic primaries were a long standing tradition in the pro-democracy camp in Hong Kong — never challenged, no arrests. But those taking part are accused this time of (1) planning to win and (2) having a programme of refusing the budget in order to force Chief Executive Carrie Lam to move on the democracy movement’s five demands, which include universal suffrage in the election of Hong Kong’s parliament, the Legislative Council (LegCo).
Among those charged are Carol Ng (chair of the Hong Kong trade union confederation, HKCTU); Winnie Yu (leader of the health workers’ union HAEA); Joshua Wong; all of the successful radical candidates in the democratic primaries; and almost all of the generally more moderate losing candidates.
One of those detained and brought into court to face the subversion charge under the new National Security Law is Leung Kwok Hung, nicknamed Long Hair. He is also currently on trial (under old British colonial law) along with Lee Cheuk Yan and other Civil Front leaders for organising an “unauthorised assembly” on 18 August 2019. Because of the overlap, that trial had to be delayed to 5 March.
The prosecution in the “subversion” trial immediately requested a delay of three months before proceedings start, saying they were not yet ready.
It appears that the subversion charges may have been brought forward so that the Hong Kong authorities can remove as many figureheads of the movement as they can or because fear the reactions if the charges are brought later, when Covid rates may be lower.
The unexpected timing did not stop nearly 1,000 activists congregating outside the court in solidarity as well as a handful of people supporting the authorities and the prosecution.
The protest outside the court was the largest seen since the National Security Law (NSL) was introduced on 30 June 2020. The police raised banners threatening all attending that they could face arrest as an illegal gathering and for being in breach of the NSL. Many wore the “protest uniforms” not seen on the streets for a year, i.e. dressed in black.
The very day the charges were lodged, Xia Baolong, chair of an agency set up by the Chinese state to act in their interests, the Hong Kong and Macau Affairs Office, made Beijing’s intentions clear. He accused some of those facing trial such as Jimmy Lai, Benny Tai, and Joshua Wong of “extremely notorious acts”, and called for them “to be punished severely in accordance with the law.” Sub judice was clearly no problem for him.
Meanwhile, the recently (and overwhelmingly) elected Student Union officers at the Chinese University of Hong Kong have all been barred from taking office and have defiantly held a press conference.
Tory Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab has put out a tweet expressing concern, but from the middle of February, the Tories have been downplaying their criticisms of the Chinese regime and of repression in Hong Kong. Boris Johnson held a Downing Street Roundtable on 12 February with businesses operating in Hong Kong and China (many of them led by people with Tory party links), and the Tories are now more concerned about reassuring Xi Jinping and “bringing stability to Hong Kong”, i.e. allowing the National Security Law to continue to terrorise its people.
They haven’t introduced Magnitsky sanctions on any people who are directly party to the repression, let alone taken action against UK-based corporations supporting the repression such as HSBC, Standard Chartered and Jardine Matheson.
Effective international action in support of the battle for democratic and workers rights in Hong Kong will come not from the “anti-communist” Tories, but from the radical trade union and labour movement.