People have the right to peaceful protest
Updated: Dec 8, 2020
Sadly the right to peaceful protest is under threat globally. When anxious governments, fiery politicians, angry protesters, motivated pressure groups and civil disobedience campaigns are thrown into the mix, something has to give!
In Hong Kong (HK), that WTPOHK steadfastly support, human rights protection is enshrined in the Basic Law and the city's Bill of Rights Ordinance. By virtue of the Bill of Rights Ordinance and Basic Law Article 39, the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights is put into effect in the city. This includes the right to peaceful assembly. Wikipedia
How different things would be in HK today if the authorities, especially the police force allowed people to demonstrate, to protest the issues they were concerned about, and if there was genuine and meaningful dialogue between government and ordinary citizens.
The HK Police Force (HKPF) need to adhere to the rule OF law and allow peaceful protests to take place. It is right to give people the space they need to express themselves. Turning the SAR into a police state backed up by a draconian National Security Law (NSL) is not a solution!
Pro-democracy activists Joshua Wong, Agnes Chow, and Ivan Lam, were sentenced on December 2, 2020, to 13-and-a-half months, 10 months, and 7 months respectively for inciting, organizing, and participating in an unauthorized assembly, an offense under HK’s Public Order Ordinance (POO). The charges stem from speeches the trio made to crowds at the HK Police Headquarters on June 21, 2019, early in the six-month pro-democracy protests last year.
WTPOHK note that that June 2019 peaceful protest was an expression of discontent, and that it came about because the HK Police Force (HKPF) had 1) fired tear gas at peaceful protesters 2) carried out arbitrary arrests 3) termed peaceful protesters "rioters". We are not alone in making our assertions that the HKPF brought this protest upon themself through their own lack of professionalism, and by playing task master for a government that refused to bend to the will of the people.
There has been widespread condemnation of the harsh sentencing of the three activists, but especially from within the U.S.
“Hong Kong is descending at a dizzying pace from a city of freedoms to a mainland Chinese city that criminalizes peaceful protests,” said Maya Wang, senior China researcher with Human Rights Watch. “The Hong Kong authorities should quash the convictions of these activists immediately and drop all further cases involving peaceful political activity.”
U.S. Secretary of State Michael Pompeo, in a media statement, accused Hong Kong of using the courts to engage in “political persecution”.
Pompeo said in a statement that the decisions to sentence activists including Joshua Wong to jail while denying bail to billionaire media mogul Jimmy Lai violated fundamental rights guaranteed by the treaty allowing the former British colony’s return to China in 1997. He said the U.S. would work with its allies to defend such freedoms, something the incoming administration of Joe Biden has also pledged to do.
“The United States is appalled by the Hong Kong government’s political persecution of Hong Kong’s courageous pro-democracy advocates,” Pompeo said. “The use of courts to silence peaceful dissent is a hallmark of authoritarian regimes and underscores once again that the Chinese Communist Party’s greatest fear is the free speech and free thinking of its own people.”
One of America's most influential politicians spoke out against China's imprisonment of the three HK pro-democracy leaders. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi described the sentencing of Joshua Wong, Agnes Chow, and Ivan Lam as "appalling".
"This injustice is clear proof that Beijing will stop at nothing to stamp out dissent and to destroy the freedoms and real autonomy guaranteed to the people of Hong Kong," Pelosi said in a statement.
Republican Senator Marco Rubio of Florida said the ruling sends a clear signal to the world.
“Beijing completely controls Hong Kong,” said Rubio, chairman of the Senate Committee on Small Business and Entrepreneurship. “American and other companies should get out while they can.”
He added that the sentences show that the Hong Kong government has failed to keep its promise of a One Country, Two Systems framework, which was meant to give Hong Kong greater autonomy than other Chinese cities.
Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., asks a question to Secretary of State Mike Pompeo during a Senate Foreign Relations committee hearing on the State Department's 2021 budget, July 30, 2020, in Washington.
“If this is how Hong Kong treats prominent pro-democracy activists, then the international community must watch closely for how Hong Kong treats the thousands awaiting their day in court and those charged under the National Security Law,” Rubio said in a statement. “I stand in solidarity with all Hong Kongers who are watching as their long-cherished freedoms are robbed by a corrupt and cruel regime in Beijing.”
UK's Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab said:
As 3 Hong Kong activists begin prison sentences, I urge the Hong Kong and Beijing authorities to bring an end to their campaign to stifle opposition. Prosecution decisions must be fair and impartial, and the rights and freedoms of people in Hong Kong must be upheld.
Though they are grateful for such words of support, many in HK feel that more needs to be done to keep up the pressure of CCP and the HK government, not least of all to keep the HK situation in the international court of public attention.
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This latest imprisonment of HK pro-democracy activists has to be seen in the broader context of democracy movements in China.
For instance, the events that took place in Tiananmen Square and elsewhere in mainland China in June 1989 have not been forgotten by Hongkongers. In fact, each year until this one, a candlelight vigil is held in HK as a memorial for its victims. It was claimed by HK government and health authorities that under the current pandemic, such a mass gathering posed a grave health risk.
Pro-China figures are also accusing the HK Alliance in Support of the Patriotic Democratic Movement in China, which organizes the annual candlelight vigil in the SAR, of violating the draconian National Security Law (NSL) imposed on HK by CCP since July 1.
Chung Kim-wah, former assistant social science professor at Hong Kong's Polytechnic University, has said the authorities will continue to step up suppression of all forms of peaceful dissent or opposition to the party line. (17 November 2020, RFA)
"Given the situation, it is natural that the Alliance is in the line of fire, because it has called for decades for a reappraisal of the 1989 Tiananmen protests [styled a 'counterrevolutionary riot' by the CCP]," Chung told RFA.
He said an op-ed article published this week in the pro-China Commercial Daily newspaper by mainland Chinese scholar Tian Feilong was clearly a warning shot to the group under the new national security regime.
"Tian Feilong basically accused it of accepting overseas donations to foment a color revolution, among other things," he said. "He doesn't need to present evidence -- just saying these things is enough."
The NSL for HK outlaws words and deeds deemed by the authorities to constitute separatism, subversion or terrorism, or collusion with a foreign power, including any speech likely to turn people against the CCP or the HK government.
Its implementation prompted a number of countries to end their extradition agreements with HK, with the United States warning its citizens they could be at risk of arbitrary arrest, while rights groups say the definitions are vague enough to allow the city's newly established national security police to target peaceful political activity.
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The fact is this suppression of dissent, and of peaceful protest is not something new in HK. It's been going on for years in a number of different forms. The POO is routinely manipulated by the HKPF that basically pits protesters' wit again that of the authorities - it's a form of warfare we have termed "lawfare". It's not possible, for instance, for the organisers of any protest action to widely publicise in advance any public demonstration until consent for it is legally granted by the HKPF. And then the HKPF can impose things like a change of route, or other restrictions that hamstring the organisers and make consequences tougher should things go awry.
In May 2016 the HKPF kept the normally bustling Wan Chai district under lockdown as top Chinese official Zhang Dejiang entered his second day of economic-policy talks in the SAR— an occasion many political activists here used to decry China’s increasing encroachment on the semiautonomous territory.
After a small pro-democracy march early in the morning, protesters were confined to designated demonstration zones, where they were outnumbered by police and media, and kept apart from a larger political gathering organized by Beijing loyalists, who brandished the Chinese flag.
Conspicuously absent were Hong Kong’s pro-democracy activists, whose plans of protesting Zhang’s arrival that day and the day before were quashed by extreme security measures that effectively rendered Wan Chai — a commercial district where Zhang was both staying and attending meetings — a no-go zone.
Nathan Law, a young dissident who headed the outspoken anti-China political party Demosistō, told TIME at the time that his group was considering a protest on Thursday morning.
A day earlier, Law, who like his party colleague Joshua Wong came to local prominence during the 2014 pro-democracy Umbrella Revolution here, was slammed to the ground by a swarm of police officers for apparently stepping out of bounds in the protest area.
In 2020, we see similar tactics in operation, honed during the 2019 protests. Nowadays swarms of uniformed HKPF officers infiltrate areas where ever and whenever protests are likely to break out, restricting anyone moving into and out of the area, carrying out random and arbitrary searches and arrests. People are frequently slapped with tickets or charges under the social distancing restrictions imposed by the government. It's one law for the HKPF, and another for ordinary citizens. It's quite fair to describe HK in 2020 as a Police State!
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Another attack on peaceful political activism in HK has taken shape in the form of targetting those who speak out, whomsoever make their presence known to the HKPF and wider authorities.
Interviewed by Fox News in November 2019, Nathan Law had much to say about his experience in HK politics:
In 2016, Law was the youngest person ever elected to serve in Hong Kong's Legislative Council, but he alleged that the pro-Beijing government conspired to oust him.
"My personal experience is actually demonstrating how the encroachment of Hong Kong had been ongoing for the past five years. And that is the reason why we've got a huge accumulated rage with this particular government," said Law on Fox Nation's "Deep Dive." [programme].
"I was elected at the age of 23, which makes me the youngest lawmaker in Hong Kong," Law said. "I took the oath and the president of the Legislative Council actually approved that. So I served the council for nine months."
However, in a controversial move, pro-democracy members of the council had their oaths invalidated and they were disqualified from serving.
"After that, I was locked in jail because of my participation in the 2014 very peaceful demonstration," said Law. "And that was seen as one of the reasons why the ongoing  protests became a bit more violent than before because they thought that, 'Oh, if you express in a peaceful manner, this is the price for that.'"
Fastforward to 2020, and Nathan Law has now chosen to live in exile in London.
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After the June 2019 protests began, UN special rapporteurs wrote a letter to China in which they raised several concerns about policing in HK. (See our blog: Mandates of the UN Special Rapporteur 28 June 2019). It has been CCP's choice, and also that of the Lam Government, to ignore this and subsequent letters sent in an official capacity.
The fact that there has never been any response to the UN correspondence may be because the action of HKPF cannot be defended - they are guilty as charged!
The irony is that the government's attempt to quash protests with violence and bullying has generally backfired, and until covid arrived, instead increased frequency of protests, the number of protesters, and the engagement of more violent and retaliatory protest methods.
In various media Lam and pro-CCP people have relentlessly portrayed all protesters as violent criminals responsible for destabilising the SAR - never looking in the mirror at the systemic failings of HK governance, the havoc they themselves have created, and the string of broken promises, lies and deception which they are party to.
SCMP 4 September 2019 CCP announced “The Hong Kong government, including the executive, legislative and judiciary branches, as well as all sectors of society must take ‘bridling turmoil and curbing violence’ as the city’s most pressing task and the overwhelming priority,” Hong Kong and Macau Affairs Office (HKMAO) spokesman Yang Guang said on Tuesday. “Especially to those key violent criminals and their backstage masterminds, organisers and agitators, [we] must show no mercy and pursue till the end.”
A number of analyses of the HK crisis - and it still has not gone away - apportion blame with the HKPF. The force has not in recent years been subject to a proper, independent, wide-reaching review. One is needed now more than ever. The force's own flawed pretense at an 'investigation' will never do, will never uncover the truth or move the city towards any kind of reconciliation.
In a report published by The Organization for World Peace, titled "A Chronicle Of The Hong Kong Protests, its writer concludes "...the Hong Kong protests have uncovered several layers of corruption and abuse of power, both by local and central governments. The will of the vocal majority is apparent as well as the obstacles they face in achieving it. Nevertheless, the protests will be continuing during the foreseeable future, unless their demands are somehow addressed. The best course of action on either side would be to minimise the violence, at the very least. Human rights ought to be protected, regardless of how much they are being breached by the opposing side." (Faidra, 7 April 2020)
HK fundamentally has a POLITICAL problem - one that the HK government is loathe to solve. The HKPF, we repeat, must abide the rule OF law and allow peaceful protests to take place. People need to express themselves, even during a pandemic!
In our own review of protests in HK that stretch from WWII to current day (see our blog : People of Hong Kong make the place!) we see the current crisis having its roots in 2014. Then it was CCP who trashed the 2007 agreement it had with the Democratic Party (i.e. Martin Lee who was leader at the time): basically the democrats would leave CCP alone to get HK sorted out as long as in there would be universal and equal suffrage elections for LegCo in 2017.
On 31 August 2014 CCP reneged on its 2007 promise to HK people of universal and equal suffrage starting with these two elections - this is why students protested then and why so many still feel aggrieved!
No one could say that protest art is physically violent, could they? However, even Lennon Walls that sprung up across the SAR in 2019 promoting human rights and greater democracy while condemning the corrupt forces that deny protesters' their right, have long been erased by the authorities. The NSL has furthered the governments' aim of muzzling and censoring the HK democracy movement.
The fight for Universal and Equal Suffrage in HK goes on, and CCP is unlikely to snuff that burning desire out, to erase that yearning and dream of freedom from our collective memories.
Interview: UK expert says Hong Kong police lost credibility during protests due to ‘completely inept’ decisions
Please read these other relevant blogs from WTHPOHK and share them widely in support of HK and its democratic freedom fighters: