The Hong Kong authorities charged 47 opposition activists with violating the city’s national security legislation on Sunday, in the biggest application of the law since it was imposed by Beijing last year. If found guilty of “conspiracy to commit subversion” they could face a maximum sentence of life in prison.
Those charged were among 53 people — many prominent former lawmakers, activists and district councilors — who were arrested last month for organizing, planning and participating in a primary election for the city’s democratic opposition last July.
That event was designed to identify the strongest pro-democracy candidates to field in legislative council elections planned for last September, when the opposition camp hoped to win an historic majority.
However, those elections were eventually postponed due to the coronavirus pandemic, but not before multiple democracy candidates were disqualified — and warnings made that those participating in the primary could be in breach of the then weeks-old security law.
The 39 men and eight women charged Sunday, aged between 23 and 64, are being detained and will appear at West Kowloon Magistrates’ Courts on Monday. Under their original bail agreements, they weren’t required to check in with police until early April. But earlier this week, the group was asked to report to police on Sunday.
The charges on Sunday mark a sweeping escalation in the application of the national security law, under which previously only a handful of people had been charged and taken to court.
The law criminalizes secession, subversion, terrorism, and collusion with foreign powers, and cases under the legislation can be handled by a dedicated branch of the Hong Kong police and national security courts.
When dozens of former lawmakers and opposition activists were arrested in January, Anthony Blinken, now the US Secretary of State, said “the sweeping arrests of pro-democracy demonstrators are an assault on those bravely advocating for universal rights.””The Biden-Harris administration will stand with the people of Hong Kong and against Beijing’s crackdown on democracy,” Blinken added.
UK Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab warned in January that the British government “will not look the other way when the rights and the autonomy of the people of Hong Kong are trashed.”
“When China first imposed the national security legislation, they said it was to bring some stability to Hong Kong. What is clear from these actions is that actually it is designed to crush political dissent,” Raab told CNN during an interview in London.
Source – CNN