When a twenty-year old, pro-democracy protester in Hong Kong, fights for a future in the eroding democracy, Beijing comes with a deliberate tactic to subvert it. This has been the reality for many in Hong Kong who strive for a complete democracy but sadly, that has seen less of bright days especially after August 2014, when Beijing tried to encroach over the elections for the new leader in Hong Kong which led to infamous Umbrella Movement; later in 2019, an extradition bill to incriminate certain categories of persons in mainland China, sparked a series of violent protests across the city. However, this time around, just when the protesters and citizens were trying to figure out how to continue the movement for complete democracy admits the global pandemic, China set forth the newest development in the region – the National Security Law passed on 30Th June, 2020, which is said to truly sabotage the whole movement and disrupt the autonomous institutions in Hong Kong.
— UK in Hong Kong 🇬🇧 (@UKinHongKong) August 9, 2020
In order to understand how Hong Kong came to be on such ‘uneven political and economic pedestal’, it becomes vital to understand where it all started.
RETURN OF THE ISLAND BACK TO CHINA:
In 1842, the Qing Dynasty ceded Hong Kong island to the British crown after facing defeat in the First Opium War. However, in 1997, after a century and half of colonial rule, the British government handed over the territory of Hong Kong back to Chinese government on basis of ‘one nation, two systems’, a policy developed by Deng Xiaoping in 1980s. The return was not free, as certain terms were covered in the Sino-British Joint Declaration along with the ‘Basic Law’ that allowed high degree of autonomy to independent government of Hong Kong in legislative, executive and judicial powers, but only for 50 years i.e. till 2047, after lapse of this duration the control would be in hands of Chinese government.
INSIDE THE ‘BASIC LAW’
Although the law has been set forth to protect the autonomous parts of governing, there are some tragic loopholes in the law that led to miscarriage of the political scenario in Hong Kong, we will read about them later in the article, for now the basic outline of the law stands as below:
- It provides for FREEDOMS of press, expression, assembly, religion, while China has the powers to interpret the laws.
- It allows for EXTERNAL RELATIONS led by Hong Kong in trade, communication, culture and tourism, while the diplomacy and defense will be under the watch of the Chinese government.
ENCROACHMENT ON THE ELECTIONS BY CHINA and THE UMBRELLA MOVEMENT, AUGUST 2014:
Since the handover, an election committee composed of 1200 representatives from Hong Kong’s major professional sectors, religious groups and political bodies, selected chief executives, although the changes to political processes have to be approved by the Hong Kong government and China’s National People’s Congress, therefore, On 31
August 2014, the Standing Committee in the National People’s Congress decided that, ‘for the 2017 Chief Executive election, a nominating committee, mirroring the present 1200- member Election Committee be formed to nominate two to three candidates, each of whom must receive the support of more than half of the members of the nominating committee’, from which the public will be allowed to choose their leader.
The same night, thousands took to streets to raise concerns about the blatant decision. Again in September, they led a week of class boycotts, which later grew into full-scale city- wide protests aka the Umbrella Movement. Tens of thousands camped in the streets for weeks, holding their ground despite clashes with police. But in late November and December the protests petered out – the camps were gradually dismantled by police.
Despite talks between the students and high-level officials, the protests ended with no concessions from government.
THE EXTRACTION BILL, APRIL, 2019:
The ever growing tensions with China escalated again in summer of 2019 when Beijing came up with the another tactic to silence the pro-democratic movement, it was proposed to ‘extradite criminal suspects to mainland China under certain circumstances’, on the flip side it was argued that it will expose protesters and members of public to unfair trials and violent treatment and give China greater influence over Hong Kong and could be used to target activists and journalists. This led to protests that continued for months, with demonstrators storming the Legislative Council building and occupying Hong Kong International Airport , with the motto of fulfilling ‘Five Demands and nothing less’, That are:
- For the protests not to be characterised as a “riot”
- Amnesty for arrested protesters
- An independent inquiry into alleged police brutality
- Implementation of complete universal suffrage
- the withdrawal of the bill
Not so surprisingly the protesters were met with police brutality, including excessive use of tear gas and rubber bullets, further aggravating the issue to an alarming level. Therefore, as a step to resolve the protests to some extent, the Chief Executive Carrie Lam withdrew the Beijing-endorsed bill in September, however protesters said this was “too little, too late”, while demanding electoral reforms and an independent investigation into police violence.
THE NATIONAL SECURITY LAW, JUNE, 2020:
As discussed earlier, lets understand the ‘mini-constitution’ called the ‘Basic Law’ under which, Hong Kong had to enact its own national security law – as set out in Article 23 of the Basic Law , but that never happened because of its unpopularity. So China, as notorious as it
can be, steps in to ensure the city has a legal framework, but how you ask?, again thanks to The Basic Law that says Chinese laws can’t be applied in Hong Kong unless they are listed in a section called Annex III, these laws can be introduced by decree – which means they bypass the city’s parliament. As a consequence Hong Kong now has a law that criminalises any act of:
- Secession – breaking away from the country
- Subversion – undermining the power or authority of the central government
- Terrorism – using violence or intimidation against people
- Collusion – with foreign or external forces
Also important to mention is, it criminalises some specific offences that include damaging government buildings and lobbying against the Chinese government while allowing the National Security Committee to investigate and prosecute violators. Even the Hong Kong Police are given extensive new controls to censor Internet content, track people online, and seize electronic records and they can investigate Internet platforms and their data as well as order its deletion, and penalties for the companies include fines up to nearly $13,000 and six months jail time.
To quote US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, who is calling it an “Orwellian move” and an assault “on the rights and freedoms of the people of Hong Kong”.
The only thing transparent here is that the law will have a severe impact on freedom of expression, while many are also afraid that Hong Kong’s judicial independence will be eroded and its judicial system will look increasingly similar to mainland China’s.
With fundamental rights of seven and a half million at stake, the people of Hong Kong who are fighting to save their homeland and its future, are urging the world and its political leaders to step in and put the charge of the democracy where it truly belongs, ‘with the people’. Afterall, ‘ the world is our home and through solidarity, we run it’ – Eva Garg