Pro-democracy activists clash with Hong Kong police

Written by Staff Writer by Andreas Nilsson, CNN Hong Kong

On July 4, two days before Hong Kong’s popular art fair Galerie Premier took place, around 100 pro-democracy activists held a “Our City Is Different” rally to highlight a recent government decision that could have forced lawyers to openly disclose their political views.

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The issue was whether or not Hong Kong lawyers can share photos of speeches by elected politicians on the social media platform Facebook, which they could previously not do.

The organizers said lawyers had been threatened with jail sentences under the national security law, after a lawyer posted online the news of the National People’s Congress Standing Committee’s decision that restrictions on pro-democracy activists be “implemented on the spot.”

Local Chinese national and one of the leaders of the 2017 Umbrella Revolution movement Joshua Wong was not among the activists at the protest.

With echoes of the protests that followed China’s decision to hold its first-ever direct election for the city’s chief executive, the public outcry grew rapidly in the days after the National People’s Congress Standing Committee’s announcement, with calls for Hong Kong’s relationship with China to be improved.

Correspondence before last week’s ruling showed the NPCSC had demanded that lawyers, journalists and civil servants share the general information about speeches that they knew would be connected to national security, said Youngspiration, a civil society organization advocating greater democracy in Hong Kong.

The letter only referred to speeches by “relevant people” — a term Wong claims is heavily slanted.

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The issue was raised by two lawyers associated with the Hong Kong Bar Association at a July 4 media briefing, asking why criminal penalties still existed under Hong Kong’s criminal code and national security law.

The two lawyers, Professor Tony Ho and Frances Ho, filed a complaint with Hong Kong’s Independent Commission Against Corruption, who said they “find it necessary to exercise its powers to investigate the alleged breaches,” according to a statement issued by the Legal Services Board, which is the watchdog for the legal profession.

On the same day, the two were summoned by investigators from the local police, who took the police officers and witnesses to the protest.

“We stand firmly opposed to the unlawful action taken against our colleagues and friends. The demand made by the National People’s Congress Standing Committee is a clear warning to our legal profession to uphold their duty of loyalty to the Central People’s Government of China,” said Junior Wong, a lawyer from the Centre for Social and Economic Research, in a Facebook post on July 6.

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The next day, Hong Kong’s Chief Secretary Carrie Lam said local government had arrested two individuals who held signs at the pro-democracy rally, and that the two were now under investigation.

According to Kwok Kin-ya, chairperson of the Hong Kong Bar Association, the group “believes the alleged national security breaches have serious implications for all legal practitioners.”

She added, “The National People’s Congress Standing Committee’s proposal for certain lawyers to be prosecuted will seriously interfere with Hong Kong’s key functions and independence.”

It is likely to add fuel to the anger of young democrats, as the Wong case proves that many are willing to risk anything to be heard, local reports said.

Hong Kong’s national security laws, which are inconsistent with mainland China’s own legislation, can be used as an excuse to target the pro-democracy movement, where 15,000 people occupied the city’s central business district last year.

“Hong Kong has threefold democracy. Number one, it’s our right to associate, number two, it’s our right to demonstrate peacefully and number three, it’s our right to petition the Government, to get our way without extrajudicial measures,” said Youngspiration’s Yung.

Two days after Yung’s arrest, the activist is due to appear in court, where local media reported that police had attached security cameras to the entrance of the judge’s chambers, as well as monitors to monitor the hearing.

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