Hong Kong is coming off a health crisis from COVID-19, adding to a bleak mood still hanging over Hong Kong following the pro-democracy protests in 2014 and 2019, as well as subsequent government repression against political dissidents and organizers via the National Security Law 2020. In 2020, Beijing passed a national security law and arrested scores of pro-democracy activists and lawmakers, reducing hopes that Hong Kong would ever be a fully fledged democracy. In addition, police arrested scores of Hong Kongs best-known pro-democracy activists and former lawmakers, and Beijing has begun prosecuting them.
And once again, through the year 2021, Hong Kong authorities and Beijings central government have suppressed almost all that the Hong Kong pro-democracy movement has stood for. The teachers unions and the largest independent labor unions in Hong Kong were dissolved in 2021, as was the civil rights front, which had organized some of the biggest pro-democracy demonstrations. Protests began in June 2019, with millions turning out in opposition to the controversial Bill, which would allow the surrender of Hong Kong residents to China.
This is the first time that the government has banned both of these annual protests. Authorities had barred democracy-supporting candidates from running in a legislative election for 2020, which was eventually delayed, and removed elected lawmakers who had spoken out against Beijings control over Hong Kong. Then, earlier in 2021, Beijings central government announced new electoral laws reducing the share of seats that are directly elected to below one-quarter, and requiring that all candidates must have loyalty to the Beijing-based central government.
In 2021, Hong Kong and Chinese authorities required elected officials and candidates to promise their loyalty, not only to the laws of Hong Kong and China, but also to Beijing. Over the years, Beijings attempts to exert greater control on Hong Kongs residents has led to widespread protests, in turn leading to the Chinese governments crackdown on the issue. The EU, which has expressed serious concerns over Hong Kongs Basic Law, has restricted exports of equipment that Beijing can use to repress, and has promised to relax visa and asylum policies for Hong Kong residents.
Since the introduction of the National Security Law, both chanting in Hong Kong and pro-democracy protests were banned by the authorities. Reuters In 2003, thousands rallied in opposition to proposed Article 23 of the Basic Law, which would allow Hong Kongs authorities to pass laws protecting the citys national security.
On 18 April, authorities arrested 15 leading democracy advocates and activists for violating the Public Order Ordinance, a law often used to ban and shut down largely peaceful protests. On Wednesday, one vocal pro-democracy media outlet – one of the citys last outspoken critics – closed down following the police raid. In the final weeks of December, hundreds of police officers raided Stand News, an independent pro-democracy site; seven editors, board members, and a reporter were arrested, and Stand News said the site was being taken offline.
Other pro-democracy activists were also arrested over their participation in unauthorised protests and in an annual candlelight vigil in Tiananmen Square, both banned in consecutive years. Several of her friends are still imprisoned, either already sentenced or waiting to hear their case, under national security laws the government has used against political dissidents, activists, and journalists over the last two years.
On June 19, after six months of incommunicado detention, legal scholars Xu Zhiyong and Ding Jiaxi were formally arrested for inciting subversion of state power and placed under residential surveillance at a designated location, without access to their families and lawyers of their choice.1,2 On February 24, Hong Kong bookseller Gui Minhai was sentenced to 10 years imprisonment on charges of illegally providing intelligence to foreign entities, following his secret trial.3 Anti-discrimination activists Cheng Yuan, Liu Yongze, and Wu Gejianxiong were tried in secret between August 31 and September 4 on charges of subversion of state power after more than a year of incommunicado detention. Given the authorities new grounds to prosecute peaceful activities, the law has a chilling effect on freedom of expression.11 By the end of the year, the authorities had arrested 34 people for displaying political slogans, forming overseas organizations to call for Hong Kong independence, or supporting various political groups.
Chinese authorities were beheading pro-democracy movements, arresting leading leaders, pressing Hong Kongers–including schoolchildren–to publicly declare their allegiance to the Chinese government and the Communist Party, and increasingly turning police and judicial bodies into tools of Chinese state control, rather than independent, impartial enforcers of the rule of law. The Chinese government is systematically eliminating the civil and political rights that people have long enjoyed, including the freedoms of expression, association, and peaceful assembly, access to information, and academic freedom. Democracy, rule of law, civil rights, and personal liberty are all important – democracy is under threat, both here at home and abroad.
Without leaders willing to speak up, without venues for publishing or airing independent journalism, without access to an independent judiciary, without fundamental rights and liberties guaranteed and protected by the government in Hong Kong, the people of Hong Kong have no means to hold their ground against an encroaching mainland overlord. Where once Hong Kong allowed foropen opposition and questions about core government policies and legitimacy…any meaningful debate on policies now will be between a tiny circle of government loyalists, says Kurt Tonge, a partner in The Asia Group and a former US consul-general to Hong Kong and Macao. The policy groups are tapping a phenomenon where increasingly more people identify themselves as Hong Kongers, or Hong Kongers-in-Beijing, rather than as Chinese nationals.