THE CONVICTION OF two of Hong Kong’s most prominent pro-democracy advocates, octogenarian pro-democracy politician Martin Lee and media billionaire Jimmy Lai, is another step in the ordered dismantling of the city’s freedoms.
They were convicted of unlawful assembly during the massive 2019 street demonstrations along with five other former lawmakers. A district court upheld the prosecution’s argument that the constitutional guarantee of freedom of assembly is not an absolute right in Hong Kong.
All seven had pleaded not guilty. They are out on bail and due back in court on April 16 for sentence hearings. Two others who had pleaded guilty to the same charges have been handed five-year prison terms. Lai, who remains in jail, faces separate charges under the National Security Law that carry much longer prison sentences. Some 100 people have been arrested under the law since it was enacted last June.
Earlier this week, the National People’s Congress Standing Committee enacted sweeping changes to the city’s electoral rules intended to ensure that Hong Kong’s Legislative Council (LegCo) is run by ‘patriots’.
The new rules cut the number of LegCo seats elected by popular vote to 20 from 35 while increasing the total number of seats to 90 from 70. A police national security unit will vet all candidates. The new rules also embed an overwhelming Beijing-affiliated majority on the committee that selects the chief executive.
These changes will let Beijing swap out the current political elite in Hong Kong, in which it clearly has lost faith. Whether they will throw up a new leadership establishment for the city that is more competent as well as more compliantly pro-Beijing, is uncertain.
The twin goals of putting Hong Kong’s formal political institutions under the firm control of the Party (via electoral reform) and of ending the deadlock seen in the city’s politics and the dissent seen on its streets over the past decade (via the National Security Law) have now been all but secured.
Most of Hong Kong’s outspoken activists are now in jail or self-exile abroad, the latter not being an option for the seven most recently convicted as their bail conditions include not leaving Hong Kong.