How can that be possible?! Hong Kong police have shocked democracies around the world by arresting more than 50 participants in the pro-democracy camp’s primaries held last year, on grounds that they allegedly subverted state power. With that Hong Kong has sunk to a new low. If opposition parties’ coming together to try to gain the majority at a parliament and defeat the pro-establishment camp through an election is tantamount to subversion, why would Donald Trump bother to compete with Joe Biden? He could have just arrested, detained and prosecuted Biden and all his supporters, and remanded them in custody until the election day is over. Why bother to run in a fair election? Since post-handover Hong Kong’s first election - albeit a partially democratic one - the government has repeatedly changed the election rules so as to maintain the pro-establishment camp’s majority. It is a strategy that has been working for more than 20 years. Yet the government still has its concerns. A few years ago, it came up with the tactic of disqualifying candidates. Later, it disqualified lawmakers who had been elected. These days, it is contemplating disqualifying district councilors. It is basically a sin for anyone from the opposition to be elected. And now, the government has gone one big step further - anyone running in elections would be violating the law if they attempt to stop the government’s dictatorial acts. If all the rivals are rounded up, face a charge which is punishable by life imprisonment and is as serious as murder, and are not granted bail, then the regime’s power can be solidified and the pro-establishment camp can secure a landslide victory in the next election. Manipulating election results by arresting the authorities’ rivals is a common practice adopted by totalitarian regimes. It is just that this has never happened in Hong Kong and previously no one dared to do such a thing blatantly.
If the authorities want to purge someone, no excuse whatsoever is needed. In the primaries, none of the steps taken by the candidates was in violation of the Basic Law or Hong Kong law. They were all lawful, and the police should not have abused their power and arrested the candidates en masse, calling the campaign they joined an “evil plot”. Even in the National Security Law, the provisions on subversion (as a barrister, I am used to reading ordinances) state that for acts to be guilty of subversion, they should involve the use of “force, threat of force or other unlawful means”. Does the National Security Law override the Basic Law? Does a law passed by the Standing Committee of the National People’s Congress override a national law passed by the National People’s Congress? I know I will be ridiculed for asking these questions. One may retort by asking why I am still talking about the provisions of laws and of the National Security Law, when the National Security Law is basically a “universal key”. When this key is struck, anything can be achieved. Indeed, Hong Kong has come down to this. But I still insist on asking those questions even if people think it is futile to do so.
But one must not stop at talking. Everyone can see what is wrong. Actions are needed. What has to be done right away is for us to support those who have been arrested. We should do that regardless of where we stand in the political spectrum. We need to make it clear that oppression is only making us more united. We can make our voices heard via Facebook or other channels. Taking out an advertisement in Apple Daily is even better. It doesn’t matter whether it is a joint statement or a collection of comments. We need to show to the oppressor that we are standing together. The arrestees have spoken for us and now we have to speak for them. We should also raise funds for the arrestees who may be prosecuted at any time. None of them is rich and many are young people. None of them has enough money to fight a legal battle with the government, which has access to public money. If each of the 610,000 voters donates $10, $6.1 million can be raised.
We must not think the arrest has nothing to do with us. If taking part in the primaries constitutes an “evil plot”, voters can also be deemed accomplices and are equally guilty. So will all members of the election campaign teams. We are in the same boat in the fight for democracy. We must stand firm.
(Margaret Ng Ngoi-yee is a barrister, writer and columnist in Hong Kong. She was a member of the Legislative Council of Hong Kong from 1995-1997; 1998-2012.)
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