Stanley Lubman writes: A trio of recent repressive actions by the Chinese party-state represents a disturbing three-pronged attack that treats legality as an unnecessary burden on governance over society, and illustrates how far China is willing to go to snuff out dissent.
The actions include the arrest of seven lawyers accused of “subversion” and four others charged with lesser offenses; the televised “confession” of a China-based Swedish citizen who worked for a rights NGO and has been charged with “endangering state security;” and the disappearance of five Hong Kong booksellers and publishers One reemerged on CCTV to confess to a prior crime years earlier, and a second has written to his wife from Shenzhen to say that he has been “assisting in an investigation.”
Arrests for “subversion of state power”
The lawyers who have been arrested have all been in the forefront of defending controversial activists. Seven are accused of “subversion of state power,” an offense that has been on the books since 1997 but infrequently used. More commonly, activists such as Pu Zhiqiang have been convicted for the lesser charges of “inciting ethnic hatred” and “picking quarrels.” (Pu received a three-year sentence that was simultaneously suspended for the same length of time; however, because of his conviction, Pu is barred from practicing law.) Conviction for subversion can lead to a sentence of anywhere from three years to life in prison.
Three of the other lawyers were charged with the lesser offense of “inciting subversion against state power” which, according to a recent posting by Chinese Human Rights Defenders, is used against individuals who “express criticism of the government” and is punishable by a sentence of up to five years. One other person, a paralegal, has been charged with “assisting in destruction of evidence; other lawyers have been detained incommunicado or forcibly disappeared for at least six months.
The arrests raise the severity of the charges by aiming at speech related to “subversion” — rather than acts. Foreign experts are dismayed; Eva Pils (Kings College London) comments that the situation “is basically about as serious as it gets for human rights advocacy.”
The arrest of the human rights lawyers is a continuation of the crackdown that exploded in July, but the rise of the accusation of “subversion” raises the odds of harsher punishment.
Arrest and televised “confession” of Swedish citizen affiliated with a human rights NGO
A Swedish man in his 30s, Peter Dahlin, a co-founder of the Chinese Urgent Action Working Group (China Action) that organizes training programs for human rights defenders, was detained in early January, on a charge of “endangering state security.” On Wednesday, he was paraded on China Central Television and shown admitting to have broken Chinese laws, in a televised “confession” that has been denounced by rights advocates as coerced.
According to a statement from China Action, the NGO focuses on land law and administrative law and trains non-lawyers to provide pro-bono legal aid to victims of rights violations. Dahlin is in need of daily medication due to affliction by a rare disease; Chinese state media reports say he is receiving it, but no other information has been available. China’s Foreign Ministry says it is granting Swedish consular officials access to him, although no information has been available on his whereabouts. Read the rest of this entry »
A fifth person affiliated with a bookstore that sells books critical of China’s government went missing last week, raising concerns over Hong Kong’s freedoms.
Fiona Law reports: Hong Kong police are investigating the disappearance of the co-owner of a bookstore specializing in works critical of the Chinese government, that has prompted local lawmakers to voice fears that mainland Chinese law-enforcement agencies crossed the border to detain him.
Hong Kong and foreign media have reported that the wife of Lee Bo, a shareholder of Causeway Bay Books, told police on Friday that Mr. Lee had gone missing and that four people who worked for the bookstore or a publisher affiliated with it have gone missing in recent months, including one who disappeared in Thailand.
“It is terrifying,” said Albert Ho, a pro-democracy lawmaker. “So the mainland police can publicly arrest people in Hong Kong?”
On Sunday, a group of lawmakers and activists marched to the central Chinese government’s liaison office in Hong Kong, demanding answers about the missing people. Read the rest of this entry »
The average area per capita dropped 29.3% from 2013 to 47.8 square feet in 2015 – not much bigger than a king-size bed.
Isabella Steger reports: For some of Hong Kong’s poorest residents, the tiny subdivided apartments they call home are shrinking– and becoming less affordable.
With the city’s real estate among the most expensive in the world, many low-income Hong Kong residents — sometimes entire families — have been forced to live in so-called subdivided units. These apartments have been modified by landlords to fit multiple tenants and aren’t strictly illegal, but are subject to different structural and fire-safety requirements.
According to a study jointly conducted by the Chinese University of Hong Kong’s Institute of Future Cities and a concern group for people living in subdivided units, tenants of subdivided units now pay on average around 41% of their income towards rent, compared to 29% two years ago. The average rent is about HK$3,924 (US$506) a month, the study said.
Rents in more central areas of Hong Kong Island and Kowloon far exceed those of the New Territories, where many poor families are forced to live despite long and expensive commutes.
According to the study, a 90-square-foot subdivided unit in the downtown Tsim Sha Tsui district could command HK$5,500 (US$710) a month, which works out to be about HK$61(US$7.87) a square foot a month. In a 2011 Wall Street Journal story, a family of four paid HK$4,000 (US$516) a month to live in a 150-square-foot subdivided unit in the low-income district of Sham Shui Po in Kowloon. The unit housed a stove, desk, fridge and bunk bed.
Spaces are also getting tinier in subdivided units, according to the study. The average area per capita dropped 29.3% from 2013 to 47.8 square feet in 2015 – not much bigger than a king-size bed. Read the rest of this entry »
Isabella Steger reports: Beijing is striving to present a united front with its supporters in Hong Kong’s legislature, even as the pro-establishment camp is rocked by a series of leaked online conversations related to last week’s failed vote on a 2017 election overhaul.
“According to the leaked conversations published by the Oriental Daily, participants in the online chat included Jasper Tsang, a veteran pro-Beijing politician who is also the president of the legislature. The conversation shows Mr. Tsang was involved in the discussion last Thursday morning to orchestrate the timing of the vote.”
On Thursday, Hong Kong’s Oriental Daily newspaper published a series of conversations among a group of pro-Beijing lawmakers on the popular mobile messaging service Whatsapp, showing the internal debate before the vote took place and the politicians’ reactions afterwards.
“That compromised Mr. Tsang’s obligation to remain neutral as president of the Legislative Council, opposition lawmakers said, with some demanding that he step down.”
Pro-Beijing lawmakers last week attempted to stage a walkout of Hong Kong’s Legislative Council to delay a vote on the election plan. Yet the tactic backfired: The vote was not postponed, and the package – which had been expected to narrowly fall short of passage – met a resounding defeat. In the wake of the vote, pro-Beijing lawmakers such as Regina Ip, a former security secretary, and Jeffrey Lam, who initiated the walkout, delivered emotional public apologies over the blunder.
“Everyone who could be a potential defector in the opposition has already spoken, it doesn’t look like there will be a change to the final result.”
— Mr. Tsang wrote in the chat, according to the leaked transcripts
The election plan, which for the first time would grant the public the right to vote for the city’s top leader, is opposed by pro-democracy lawmakers because it only allows pre-screened candidates to run. While pro-Beijing lawmakers hold a majority in Hong Kong’s legislature, the pro-democracy camp’s opposition to the measure denied it the two-thirds majority required for passage. Read the rest of this entry »
Isabella Steger reports: Hong Kong’s legislature is expected to vote down a proposal that would let the public directly elect the city’s chief executive in 2017 — but only from a prescreened slate of candidates. The showdown follows city-wide protests and a year and a half of efforts by Hong Kong’s leaders to sell the Beijing-backed election plan. Here are five things to know about the vote.
1. The Legislature Will Vote This Week
The proposal currently on the table will be put to a vote this Wednesday and Thursday. This is arguably the most critical of five stages in the election overhaul blueprint, laid down by Beijing and in accordance with the Basic Law, Hong Kong’s mini-constitution
2. Pro-Democracy Lawmakers Oppose the Package
The package lays out the rules for electing Hong Kong’s chief executive in 2017 within a framework formulated by Chinese authorities, in which all candidates must be nominated by a 1,200-member committee that is heavily pro-Beijing. After slight tweaks announced in April, the opposition maintains that the system is not democratic enough to allow one of their own candidates to stand.
3. The Plan Is Not Likely to Pass
27 pro-democracy lawmakers — who control a little more than one-third of the city’s legislature –say they will vote against the package, as has one lawmaker who isn’t part of the opposition camp. Read the rest of this entry »
Hong Kong’s electoral reform proposal can at times resemble a complicated math problem.
Real Time China‘s Isabella Steger writes: On Wednesday, the government unveiled an updated package for the 2017 chief executive election following a second round of public consultation. The gist of it? The government says their reform package now makes it easier for people to participate in the election. The opposition says in reality, the vote is still one rigged in favor of pro-Beijing candidates.
The government has repeatedly said that Beijing’s Aug. 31 decision that any candidate running in the election must be pre-screened by a nominating committee cannot be amended. The decision, simply referred to as “831” in Hong Kong, sparked last year’s Occupy protests.
“The government says their reform package now makes it easier for people to participate in the election. The opposition says in reality, the vote is still one rigged in favor of pro-Beijing candidates.”
But the government has hinted that tweaks could be possible within the nomination process. And that’s what the Hong Kong public got in the form of concessions on Wednesday.
Under the current electoral system, a nominating committee of 1,200, heavily stacked in favor of pro-Beijing and pro-business interests, nominates candidates for the chief executive position. A candidate requires one-eighth of votes, or support from 150 members of the committee, to be nominated. Read the rest of this entry »
This is not the first time that HKU, among the city’s most prestigious universities, has come under fire from the Hong Kong government and Beijing since the outbreak of student-led protests in September, which followed a decree from Beijing that Hong Kong should elect its leader from a handful of pre-screened candidates.
Isabella Steger reports: A relatively unknown student magazine at the University of Hong Kong may get a surge in readership after Hong Kong’s leader made a reference to the publication, warning that support for ideas it propagates could lead to “anarchy” in the city.
In his annual policy speech, Leung Chun-ying kicked off his address with a series of stern warnings against further attempts by Hong Kong people to challenge Beijing’s authority on the issue of constitutional reform. He specifically named ideas advocating self-determination for Hong Kong published in Undergrad, a monthly Chinese-language magazine published by HKU’s student union.
“The protest showed Beijing that Hong Kong people were not loyal so Beijing ratcheted up interference in Hong Kong, but it also catalyzed a new wave of native ideology.”
— From the article in Undergrad
Saying that Hong Kong problems should be solved by Hong Kong people “violates the constitution,” said Mr. Leung, warning that such slogans could help throw the city into anarchy.
“Regardless of the likelihood of Hong Kong independence…we must fight to the end for the freedom to at least talk about it.”
— Keyvin Wong, a former assistant editor in chief of Undergrad
Under the One Country, Two Systems framework, Hong Kong is supposed to have a high degree of autonomy, but many in the city fear growing encroachment from Beijing. Mr. Leung said Hong Kong’s autonomy is not absolute.
Joshua Wong, the 18 year-old leader of another student protest group Scholarism, called Mr. Leung’s reference to the magazine “stupid” because it will only serve to boost interest in the publication.
This is not the first time that HKU, among the city’s most prestigious universities, has come under fire from the Hong Kong government and Beijing since the outbreak of student-led protests in September, which followed a decree from Beijing that Hong Kong should elect its leader from a handful of pre-screened candidates. Read the rest of this entry »
Police Use Pepper Spray, Batons to Stop Protesters’ Advance
HONG KONG—Isabella Steger, Biman Mukherji and Phred Dvorak reporting: Police deployed pepper spray and used batons to push back thousands of protesters trying to block government offices, the latest escalation of the pro-democracy movement that entered its third month with no signs of resolution.
“We will continue our fight for democracy. We will keep up the pressure on the government.”
— Oscar Lai, a spokesman for Scholarism
The Hong Kong Federation of Students and Scholarism, the two groups leading the demonstrations, called on crowds assembled at a protest site to surround the central government offices and the office of the chief executive, the city’s top official, aiming to block government workers from entering Monday morning. Early Monday, police beat back the crowds and cleared the road outside the chief executive’s office. At least 40 people were arrested, police said.
The HKFS stressed that protesters should stay peaceful and not use force. The student groups asked protesters to bring umbrellas, goggles, masks, food supplies and helmets to Sunday’s assembly, to protect themselves in case police responded with pepper spray or tear gas.
After the call to surround the government offices, protesters filled the roads around the complex where the buildings and Hong Kong legislature are located, skirmishing in some areas with police who used pepper spray and batons to stop their advance. Read the rest of this entry »
HONG KONG — Isabella Steger reports: Members of a student protest group who planned to take their demands for democracy in Hong Kong to the Chinese capital weren’t allowed to board a flight to Beijing on Saturday.
Four members of the Hong Kong Federation of Students, who have been at the forefront of pro-democracy protests that have gone on for more than 40 days in the city, were unable to board their Cathay Pacific flight.
Representatives of the group said the airline denied boarding to Alex Chow, who leads the student group, Nathan Law, Eason Chung and Jeffrey Tsang, because they received notification that the students’ entry permits had been voided.
About 100 pro-democracy protesters went to Hong Kong’s airport to send the students off, carrying yellow umbrellas and singing protest anthems. Read the rest of this entry »
On Sept. 28, organizers of Occupy Central, a civil disobedience movement pushing for universal suffrage in Hong Kong, joined student protesters in calling for democracy in the city. Occupy Central decided to launch its protests early after student protesters attempted to break into the Hong Kong government headquarters, sparking clashes with police.