Hong Kong government stifles political dissent amid rise in coronavirus infections

Hong Kong government stifles political dissent amid rise in coronavirus infections

Over the last month, pro-democracy lawmakers and activists have continued to adapt and find new ways to express opposition to Beijing after its imposition of a sweeping national security law in the city. The law prohibits crimes broadly defined as secession, subversion of state power, terrorism and collusion with foreign forces to endanger national security.

While street protests have died down since the imposition of the law, local lawmakers have shifted their focus to try to secure seats in the Hong Kong legislative council, while other activists continue to lend their voices to the movement, both locally and overseas.

In their latest attempts to restore stability to the city, the Hong Kong government has put into place new measures to restrain political dissent.

Hong Kong authorities issue arrest warrants for six democracy activists

On Friday, Chinese state television broadcast that Hong Kong authorities had issued arrest warrants for six pro-democracy activists who had fled the city after the national security law came into effect in July.

The six activists named are suspected of breaking the new national security law and have been accused of crimes such as inciting secession, and colluding with foreign and external forces to endanger national security.

This would be the first time the extraterritorial provision of the law is being used to target people outside of the city.

However, it is unlikely that any of these individuals will be arrested, as multiple countries have moved or are moving to end extradition agreements with Hong Kong, including the United Kingdom, Australia, Canada, New Zealand and Germany.

Some believe warrants issued against them are an attempt by Beijing to both place pressure on them and isolate them from Hong Kong.

“I think they want to cut off our connection with people in Hong Kong … it will make people fear that they may violate the national security law by contacting us,” said activist Ray Wong, who is currently in the UK.

Samuel Chu of the Washington-based Hong Kong Democracy Council is a US citizen believed to be the first non-Chinese citizen to be targeted by the law.

“The Hong Kong police is issuing an arrest warrant against an American citizen for advocating and lobbying my own government,” he said.

“Let me be very clear – I might be the first non-Chinese citizen to be targeted, but I will not be the last. If I am targeted, any American and any citizen of any nation who speaks out for Hong Kong can, and will be, too,” Chu continued.

Hong Kong legislative elections delayed by one year

The Hong Kong government has also decided to postpone the city’s legislative council elections by one year, citing public health concerns over rising coronavirus infection rates.

Hong Kong Chief Executive Carrie Lam said she would invoke an emergency ordinance to reschedule the elections to September 2021, and has the support of the Chinese government.

“The announcement I have to make today is the most difficult decision I’ve had to make in the past seven months,” Lam said at a news conference.

“Hong Kong’s epidemic situation has entered the most severe stage since January, as the community outbreak is expected to continue,” she went on to say. “Voting, which involves mass gatherings and social contacts, could pose a very serious risk to public health.”

Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Wang Wenbin expressed his support for the decision at a press meeting on Friday, stressing that the legislative elections are an “internal affair.”

“It is the responsibility of the Hong Kong SAR government to ensure that the elections for the 7th Legislative Council are held in a safe, orderly, fair and just environment,” he said.

“We believe that the Hong Kong SAR government will proceed from the current anti-epidemic situation and handle relevant matters in accordance with the law.”

The cancellation of this year’s election delivered a huge blow to an opposition anticipating a majority win at the polls based on the forecast from unofficial primary polls, which received a turnout of around 600,000 voters.

However, the decision to delay the election comes shortly after 12 pro-democracy election candidates were disqualified from running on Thursday for allegedly failing to comply with the Basic Law.

“Beyond any doubt, this is the most scandalous election ever in Hong Kong history,” said prominent democracy activist and now-disqualified candidate Joshua Wong at a news conference. “I wish to emphasize that no reasonable man would think that this election ban is not politically driven.

“Beijing has staged multiple acts to prevent the opposition bloc from taking the majority in the Hong Kong legislature.”

China sends team to assist in mass coronavirus testing

Although some have accused the government of using public health concerns as an excuse to crack down on opposition movements, it remains a fact that Hong Kong is experiencing its worst stretch of the pandemic so far.

As the infection rate surpasses 3,500 cases and the city reaches its 12th consecutive day of triple-digit infections, Hong Kong is struggling to suppress the virus. With local hospitals nearing capacity, makeshift hospitals were set up at the AsiaWorld-Expo in convention halls to treat patients with mild symptoms.

Medical experts from Wuhan and other mainland regions are due to arrive in Hong Kong to assist with mass testing efforts against the “really worrying” surge of infections.

Hong Kong Financial Secretary Paul Chan Mo-po welcomed the mainland medical assistance in handling the health crisis.

“The mainland’s epidemic control and prevention strategies have achieved remarkable results,” Chan said. “Many cities have ‘cleared’ all confirmed cases, asymptomatic infections and close contacts requiring medical supervision, allowing people to resume their daily lives.”

However, skeptics fear DNA samples from patients would also be collected and sent to the mainland for surveillance purposes.

Chan dismissed these fears, saying, “We condemn those who deliberately spread false rumours to attack the government’s anti-epidemic work. As to whether it would constitute a crime for spreading false rumours, relevant government departments will carefully study and collect evidence for follow-up.”

Lam also said the government was considering whether it would be possible to test the whole Hong Kong population.

While testing efforts are still underway, Hong Kongers are currently required to wear face masks in all public spaces and are prohibited from gathering in groups of more than two people and dining out after 6pm.

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