Hong Kong Makes 100th Arrest Using National Security Law
(Bloomberg) -- Hong Kong made its 100th arrest under a national security law imposed on the former British colony by China last year, while a mass bail hearing for dozens of pro-democracy activists was forced into a fourth day.
Former Next Digital Ltd. Executive Director Stephen Ting was detained on fraud allegations, the Oriental Daily newspaper reported, citing people it didn’t identify. Police issued a statement late Tuesday confirming the arrest of a 61-year-old man “after in-depth investigation by national security department.” Police didn’t name the person or his affiliation with Next Digital.
As of Tuesday, 100 people had been arrested on suspicion of activities harming national security, police said in a separate statement Wednesday. The accused include 83 male suspects and 17 female suspects, ages 16 to 79, police said.
One of the most high-profile operations under the security law involved the arrest of 55 opposition figures in January. They were rounded up for taking part in an unofficial primary election and accused of trying to gain a majority in the legislature to paralyze the government.
The arraignment hearings of 47 of those people to decide whether they will receive bail before their subversion trials or remain in custody was set to drag into a fourth day, with the court adjourned until 10 a.m. on Thursday.
The defendants include some of the city’s most prominent activists such as Joshua Wong, Benny Tai and Jimmy Sham, and most have objected to government requests to keep them in jail while also delaying further proceedings until at least May 31.
The case comes before an annual meeting of China’s legislature opens in Beijing on Friday, with senior officials calling for lawmakers to overhaul the former British colony’s election system to further diminish the influence of pro-democracy politicians. Hong Kong Chief Executive Carrie Lam plans to travel to Beijing to attend the opening ceremony of the National People’s Congress.
Before the hearing started Wednesday, the owner of a local diner brought food and drinks to supporters of the defendants outside the courthouse. “I want to support the people here,” said Cheong Wong. “This is the least I can do.”
Amnesty International Hong Kong was critical of Monday’s hearing, which started at 11 a.m. and ended about 3 a.m. the following day when one defendant fainted. Three others went to the hospital after saying they felt unwell, local media reported.
An extended hearing “along with insufficient time to rest could potentially violate the right to a fair trial, and such a violation could warrant legitimate grounds for an appeal,” said Lam Cho Ming, a program manager at the human rights group. “Fair trial rights demand that there must be adequate time and facilities to prepare the defense.”
More than four-fifths of those arrested since the law’s enactment have been accused of participating in some form of political activity, such as displaying banners, posting in support of the city’s independence on social media or organizing primary elections for legislative seats. Some suspects have been arrested more than once. Only one previous arrest involved an allegation of violence.
“The early arrests have inevitably focused on low-hanging fruit,” said Bing Ling, a professor of Chinese law at the University of Sydney. Public expressions of anti-China sentiment are easier to prove in court and detaining high-profile individuals has a bigger deterrent effect, he said.
The law granted broad new powers to authorities to stifle opposition opinion and deter protests, such as the large and sometimes violent demonstrations that shook the Asian financial hub in 2019. Lawyers, activists and Western governments have criticized the legislation for its broadly defined provisions, which bar terrorism, secession, subversion and collusion with foreign forces.
Lam, the city’s Beijing-appointed chief executive, has credited the law with restoring stability to the Asian financial center. Chinese and Hong Kong officials have said since it was announced that it targeted “extremely few” people suspected of endangering the country’s security.
In June, the Hong Kong government said in a statement to Bloomberg News that it would be “irresponsible and scaremongering” to say that the law would provide the government sweeping powers to jail or disqualify opposition figures.
So far, prosecutors have brought charges against 56 of those arrested by police. One of the most prominent is Next Digital founder Jimmy Lai, who has been denied bail while awaiting trial on charges he colluded with foreign powers to impose sanctions or engage in hostile activities against Hong Kong or China. He also faces a fraud charge.
The collusion charges are based on Lai’s social media posts and comments to foreign media outlets, and on donations police say his company made to an advocacy group, according to court filings and local media reports citing police documents. Lai denies the allegations.
The 47 opposition figures are being prosecuted over their roles in helping organize a primary that drew more than 600,000 voters in July last year to choose candidates for Legislative Council elections that were later postponed. Authorities say the primary and plans to force the resignation of Carrie Lam using a provision of the mini-constitution were an illegal attempt to paralyze the government.
The efforts by authorities to rein in opposition appear set to continue, even though protests have mostly ended. In January, Secretary for Security John Lee said the government would strengthen intelligence gathering because behavior that endangered national security may be “driven underground.”
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