On February 28, 47 pro-democracy protesters were arrested in Hong Kong on charges of conspiracy to commit subversion, The Associated Press reports. The news comes as yet another chapter in China’s quest to exert legal control over the former British colony.
Prominent activists on social media, many of whom are in their 20s, have been primary targets for the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) due to their influence over a wide audience. Last month, 55 other activists were arrested.
The Washington Post explains that Hong Kong’s government enacted a law obliging loyalty to the CCP for anyone who seeks to run for political office in Hong Kong. The law, passed last June, criminalizes acts under broad terms such as “secession,” “subversion,” “terrorism,” and “collusion with foreign forces.” This national security law was passed in Beijing without Hong Kong’s consultation, signifying Mainland China’s ever-increasing dominance over the island city.
A Beijing-controlled election committee will not only have the power decide who is allowed to hold positions of power, but also directly-appoint “a large proportion” of the Legislative Council, BBC News reports. This makes it virtually impossible for any pro-democracy candidate to be elected to the Hong Kong legislature. The Wall Street Journal recorded Xia Baolong, Chief of Beijing office on Hong Kong affairs, as stating, “Those who violate Hong Kong’s national security law aren’t patriots.”
Over the past year, China has been systematically overhauling democratic institutions and freedom of speech in the city. While Hong Kong’s independence is officially lasts until 2047, security laws and crackdowns by mainland China demonstrate Hong Kong’s weakening sovereignty.
According to Al Jazeera, the arrest of 47 protesters displays the widest use of the China-imposed national security law to date, and those convicted of charges are often denied bail and face life in prison. Such large crackdowns demonstrate that no matter the age or social standing, pro-democracy activists remain in danger of increasingly powerful Chinese authority.
Many of those arrested for subversion were targeted for participating in an unofficial primary election last June. Many sought to elect a majority of pro-democratic candidates to Hong Kong’s legislature, but many of those candidates were eventually disqualified from running for office. The elections were ultimately postponed under pressure from Beijing, citing the COVID-19 pandemic as the reason for the delay.
China and Hong Kong called the attempt to fill the legislature with pro-democratic representatives an act meant to “overthrow” and “paralyze” the Hong Kong government, with subsequent arrests following on those deemed guilty on charges of “subversion.”
Reuters reports that Hong Kong has dropped from the rankings of the Heritage Foundation’s Economic Freedom Index, on which it held the number one spot for twenty-five years. The think tank cited Beijing’s control over economic policies as the reason for the decline in the rankings. The Hong Kong Financial Minister responded by calling the decision “unwarranted” and “unjustified,” stating the policies are consistent under the “one country, two systems” rule instated in 1997. He also called the assessment “politically biased.”