China is tightening its grip on Hong Kong

The last embers of Hong Kong’s democratic freedoms are being brutally extinguished.

Georgia L Gilholy

Topics Free Speech Politics World

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The Chinese Communist Party (CCP) has struck yet another blow against the people of Hong Kong.

Last week, seven dissidents were arrested by Hong Kong’s national-security police on charges of ‘offences in connection with seditious intention’. A further six were arrested later the same week for ‘advocating hatred’ against both the Hong Kong government and the CCP, while a seventh was arrested the following day for making ‘seditious’ online posts. An eighth – a 62-year-old man – was arrested this week.

The arrests demonstrate China’s ever-tightening grip on Hong Kong. They are the first known arrests under the newly enacted Article 23 legislation, marking a watershed for the city’s political climate. This new law was passed with terrifying swiftness in March this year, to the alarm of numerous human-rights defenders. It builds on the tyrannical ‘National Security Law’, which was imposed on Hong Kong by the Chinese government in 2020. For the foreseeable future, Hong Kong’s last embers of autonomy have been extinguished.

Among those detained was human-rights advocate Chow Hang-tung, who has been imprisoned since 2021 for organising a peaceful vigil for the 1989 Tiananmen Square massacre. The spiteful targeting of dissidents like Chow sends a clear message: no one is safe from the reach of this draconian law. Critics of the CPP’s takeover of Hong Kong’s can now face up to seven years in prison.

The rapid enactment of Article 23, which progressed from public consultation into law in just 48 days, epitomises the Hong Kong government’s contempt for democracy. The new legislation is designed to squash dissent far more comprehensively than the 2020 National Security Law, which criminalised anything the government considered ‘sedition’, ‘subversion’ or ‘terrorism’. Article 23 expands this to cover ‘treason’, ‘state secrets’ and ‘foreign collusion’. As well as providing harsher sentences, it allows trials to take place behind closed doors. These broadly defined and deliberately ambiguous terms can be used to criminalise a vast range of dissenting views.

Hong Kong’s descent into tyranny began with the crackdown on pro-democracy protesters in 2019. Since then, it has nosedived down global human-rights rankings, with some measurements putting it on par with Saudi Arabia. In 2016, Hong Kong’s prisons held zero political prisoners. Today, over 1,500 individuals are incarcerated for their political beliefs – including high-profile, pro-democracy activists like Jimmy Lai.

The global response to Article 23 has been notably muted. In the lead-up to the law’s passage, UK foreign secretary David Cameron urged Hong Kong’s government to reconsider its proposals and undertake a ‘genuine and meaningful consultation with the people of Hong Kong’. Meanwhile, the US has offered only tepid sanctions against individuals responsible for undermining Hong Kong’s democracy. None of this is likely to give Beijing or its puppet government in Hong Kong pause for thought.

The Committee for Freedom in Hong Kong (CFHK) Foundation, a human-rights charity, has stressed that both the US and UK must take decisive action to support Hong Kong’s ailing democracy movement. The CFHK’s Mark Clifford aptly terms Article 23 a ‘symbolic death blow to Hong Kong’s former freedoms’, enacted by inept politicians who are ‘more concerned with pleasing Beijing than reflecting and channelling Hong Kongers’ legitimate aspirations’.

Millions of Hong Kongers have consistently and peacefully protested against Chinese authoritarianism since Britain rescinded control of it in 1997. At that time, the people of Hong Kong were promised fundamental democratic freedoms. The international community cannot just stand by as those rights are eroded.

Now is the time for us to help Hong Kongers reclaim their future. It is never too late to try to stem the tide of tyranny.

Georgia Gilholy is a freelance journalist and media consultant.

Picture by: Getty.

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Topics Free Speech Politics World


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