By Elaine Dunn | January 2022
As 2021 wraps up, China has effectively brought Hong Kong’s pro-democracy movement to its knees.
Hong Kong pro-democracy activists 73-year-old media magnate Jimmy Lai, rights lawyer Chow Hang-tung and former opposition politician, and journalist Gwyneth Ho, were convicted on Dec. 2 for participating in a Tiananmen Square Massacre vigil in June 2020.
Hong Kong had, for 32 years, been the site for holding the largest vigil around the world to commemorate the numerous lives lost in Beijing on June 3 and 4, 1989 -- an event to which Beijing had never acknowledged.
For decades, the Chinese government had actively censored any mention of the student-led protests. However, on June 4, 2021, a U.S. News and World Report’s headline read “China brazenly boasts of ‘aborted’ revolution” to mark the 32nd anniversary of the massacre. The article described the Chinese government compared the massacre to successfully quelling a revolution akin to “the uprisings in Eastern Europe and that it has been vindicated by its subsequent economic progress.”
The Beijing statements were targeted at English-language media in the Western world, outside of China and not for its own mainland citizens. It is China’s attempt to “distract Western media attention away from credible testimony from those who witnessed or endured the atrocities that took place in 1989 and those who are still oppressed.”
Under the guise of COVID-19 restrictions, all Tiananmen Massacre vigils were banned in Hong Kong and Macau. Despite the ban, thousands of locals gathered on June 4, 2020.
The three Hong Kong activists, Lai, Chow and Ho, all pleaded not guilty to inciting others to participate in the vigil. They had already been jailed (together with dozens of other activists) for separate charges under the new Hong Kong national security law imposed by Beijing in the summer of 2020. Lai had been arrested in August 2020.
Lai, who was still the owner of Apply Daily at the time of his arrest on allegations of violating the national security law, is probably a targeted figure because of his paper, which is known for its criticism of the Chinese Communist Party. The paper was forced to cease publication in June 2021 after many police raids. Lai received the Freedom of the Press Award by Reporters Without Borders in December 2020.
Both Chow and Ho, along with 52 other pro-democracy activists, were arrested and charged with “subversion” under the national security law. Ho, who was arrested in January 2021, was further charged with participating in the July 2020 pro-democracy primaries. Chow was arrested in June 2021 and further charged with her role in organizing the Tiananmen vigil.
The Wash., D.C.-based Hong Kong Democracy Council Executive Director Brian Leung issued the following statement on Dec. 9, 2021:
“Commemorating the Tiananmen Massacre and holding candlelights in the June 4 vigil have been practiced by Hong Kongers for three decades; speaking truth to power is the lifeblood of our civil society. What Mr. Lai, Ms. Chow, and Ms. Ho did was simply continue that proud tradition with other Hong Kongers who needed no ‘incitement’ and mobilized themselves.”
Just 24 years after the Handover back to China, meaningful elections, freedom of assembly and expression are no more. Independent (read not pro-Beijing) news outlets are being raided and shut down - Stand News, the last pro-democracy news outlet in Hong Kong, collapsed Dec. 29 when police raided the premises, arrested staff and seized assets.
Beijing, through the Hong Kong Security Bureau, claimed these government actions “are based on evidence, strictly according to the law” and have nothing to do with an individual’s political stance, background or occupation.
The Hong Kong Journalists Association is planning for the worst. Chinese state-media outlets have accused it of being “anti-China and bringing chaos to Hong Kong.”
One of the last “arms” of pro-democracy activism is overseas activism. However, history bears out that performance of groups working outside of China and Hong Kong “has not been impressive,” said a former professor of politics at the City University of Hong Kong. Everyone working for democracy “will feel the threat,” he said.
A member of the League of Social Democrats pessimistically added, “If they (Chinese government) want to get rid of you, they will, and they can.”
Hong Kong, once considered the bastion of freedom, is fast fading away.
Keyword: Hong Kong activism, HK activists, HK pro-democracy, Jimmy Lai, press freedom, Tiananmen Massacre vigil, press freedom
Past Tiananmen vigil in Hong Kong