Dozens of anti-govt figures in HK charged, sounding deterrence ahead of reform
Published: Feb 28, 2021 09:26 PM
Photo taken on July 1, 2020 shows the Golden Bauhinia Square after a flag-raising ceremony held by the government of the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region in Hong Kong, south China.(Photo: Xinhua)

Photo taken on July 1, 2020 shows the Golden Bauhinia Square after a flag-raising ceremony held by the government of the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region in Hong Kong. (Photo: Xinhua)

 On Sunday, 47 anti-government figures in Hong Kong including local scholar Benny Tai Yiu-ting were formally charged with conspiring to subvert state power, as the imminent electoral reform in Hong Kong to ensure the city's political system meets the principle that only patriots govern Hong Kong is expected to become a major focus of the upcoming two sessions. The reform will fix the loopholes in the city's political system.

Some experts said the move sends a clear signal that those who intend to challenge the constitutional order of Hong Kong will always be held accountable and it will put an end to similar attempts to take over the power of authority and endanger national security. 

The Hong Kong Police Force on Sunday formally laid a charge against 47 people involved in illegal primaries, including Tai, former professor at the University of Hong Kong, who was arrested on January 6, with one count of conspiracy to commit subversion, according to an official statement and local media reports. All the individuals charged were detained and they will appear in West Kowloon Magistrates' Courts Monday morning. 

Besides Tai, those charged include anti-government group Civil Human Rights Front convener Jimmy Sham Tsz-kit, disqualified legislator Leung Kwok-hung, former lawmaker Lam Cheuk-ting and anti-government legislator Jeremy Tam Man-ho, according to local media reports. 

"Being formally charged also means that their political careers are over," Tang Fei, a member of the Chinese Association of Hong Kong and Macao Studies, told the Global Times on Sunday.  

It will lead to some seats being replaced in the upcoming Legislative Council (LegCo) and chief executive elections, as central and local authorities are mulling electoral reform plans with the aim of ensuring the fundamental principle that patriots must govern Hong Kong, which are likely to be unveiled at this year's two sessions that will convene on March 4, according to people familiar with the matter. 

Fundamentals of HK governance 

Police arrested 53 anti-government figures on charges of subversion, including some who were involved in organizing and planning the so-called "35-plus" political strategy in 2020. Some who were arrested but released on bail were told to report to police on Sunday. 

Top authorities on Hong Kong affairs, including the Liaison Office of the Central People's Government in Hong Kong, all voiced support previously for the arrests in January, calling the operation "necessary and a must" as the so-called political strategy aimed to take control of the LegCo, paralyze the HKSAR government, ask for international sanctions on Hong Kong and damage the overall interests of the country. 

"From a legal perspective, there's no such 'primary election' in Hong Kong, which has no legal basis and was led by Tai with his so-called 10 steps of 'true lam chau,'" Tian Feilong, a Hong Kong affairs expert at Beihang University in Beijing, told the Global Times on Sunday.

"Lam chau," which roughly means "self-destruct together," has become a commonly used slogan among anti-government groups in Hong Kong to pursue their radical political goals. 

In an article published by a Hong Kong news outlet last year, Tai mentioned how to realize the goal of "lam chau" step by step. This includes LegCo rejecting all applications for allocating funds from the HKSAR government so the government could only maintain general operations, LegCo vetoing the government budget plan, the chief executive dismissing LegCo, the chief executive resigning and then the HKSAR government would be paralyzed, the central government declares Hong Kong entering status of emergency, and so on.  

"The real intention of their 'primaries' was explained clearly in those 10 steps, and this has become a key factor in proceeding with the prosecutions," Tang said. 

It also came about a week after top policymakers in China detailed standards and fundamentals for Hong Kong political reforms, insisting on "patriots governing Hong Kong" with those who violated the national security law for Hong Kong being excluded. 

"Police formally charging those anti-government figures also means the political careers of those people are over. After they are prosecuted, they can't take part in upcoming LegCo elections or the Election Committee election," Tang added. 

Hong Kong File photo

Hong Kong File photo

Focus of annual political event 

A draft decision for conducting electoral reform in Hong Kong is expected to be unveiled during the Fourth Plenary Session of the 13th National People's Congress (NPC) and the Chinese People's Political Consultative Conference (CPPCC). 

The decision is likely to be voted on and passed around mid-March, Kennedy Wong Ying-ho, solicitor of the Supreme Court of Hong Kong, told the Global Times on Sunday. 

A senior official from the Chinese central government on Hong Kong affairs joined a two-day seminar in Shenzhen, South China's Guangdong Province on Sunday and Monday, to listen to various opinions on the reform before the annual plenary talks of the country's top legislature and top political advisory body.  

Xia Baolong, head of the State Council's Hong Kong and Macao Affairs Office, is attending the meeting for collecting mass opinions from various sectors, while prominent political figures in Hong Kong, for example, former head of LegCo Rita Fan Hsu Lai-tai, came up with some suggestions such as axing five legislative 'super seats' and breaking up the current five constituencies into at least 10, which were applauded by some pro-establishment representatives. 

Some experts have previously suggested that a political scrutiny mechanism led by a government department over the candidates is necessary to bar those who are against Chinese central government and who want to stir up trouble. 

Lau Siu-kai, vice-president of the Chinese Association of Hong Kong and Macao Studies, said earlier that the department could be led by high-level government officials, including the office for safeguarding national security of the central government in Hong Kong by following detailed principles and procedures to conduct political scrutiny of candidates.

"It should be a full-scale comprehensive improvement [of the electoral system] with all options considered, to approach the issue from two likely options," Chan Yung, a Hong Kong deputy to the NPC, told the Global Times on Sunday.