THE SWEEPING ARRESTS in Hong Kong this week for alleged offences under the repressive national security law imposed by Beijing last June is the most blatant move yet to silence the city’s dissident voices.
Some 1,000 police were involved in an operation to detain 53 people including former opposition lawmakers, opposition district councillors, two academics and a US human rights lawyer who became the first foreign citizen to be arrested under the security law.
All participated in one way or another in unofficial primary elections last July to select opposition candidates to stand in the legislative election that was due to be held in September but postponed for a year, purportedly because of the Covid-19 pandemic.
The crackdown may have the narrow objective of deterring unofficial elections, even primaries. These do confer a popular mandate on opposition representatives and thus pose a legitimacy challenge the chief executive and the legislature.
However, the point is somewhat moot considering nearly all opposition members of the Legislative Council resigned en mass in November.
More broadly, the fact that the operation was the most extensive set of arrests of activists to date in a single day suggests that Beijing is feeling evermore comfortable cracking down on dissent without fear of international recriminations.
Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying brushed off US. criticism of the arrests, with the usual line about no other countries having the right to make wanton comments or interfere in China’s affairs, adding:
Laws must be complied with and offences must be prosecuted. This is the basic connotation of rule of law. We firmly support relevant authorities of the Hong Kong SAR in cracking down on criminal offenses according to law. We stand firmly against interference in Hong Kong affairs and disruption of Hong Kong’s rule of law by any country, organization or individual in any means.
The democracy protests that roiled the city in 2019 seem a distant memory now.