The unbridled cynicism of Hong Kong and Chinese authorities’ latest effort to clamp down on critics of their rule once again showed Chinese President Xi Jinping’s (習近平) contempt for civil rule, the rule of law and the territory’s Basic Law.
Which is really something, given Beijing’s increasingly blatant abuse of its powers over Hong Kong under Xi — from the Standing Committee of the Chinese National People’s Congress’ decision in August 2014 to change the ground rules for the territory’s chief executive elections, to the December 2015 abduction of Causeway Bay Books shareholder Lee Bo (李波), to the removal of two pro-independence politicians from the Hong Kong Legislative Council in November last year, to the abduction of billionaire tycoon Xiao Jianhua (肖建華) in January.
On Monday, just one day after former chief secretary for administration Carrie Lam (林鄭月娥) was “chosen” as Hong Kong chief executive, police telephoned nine organizers of the pro-democracy “Umbrella movement” to tell them that they were being charged in connection with the Occupy Central protests in the fall of 2014.
The three main organizers of the Occupy movement have been charged with causing a public nuisance or inciting others to do so, while Legislative Council member Tanya Chan (陳淑莊) and others face public nuisance charges, all of whom could be sentenced to several years in prison if convicted.
One has to ask why it took prosecutors almost two-and-a-half years to decide to bring charges, when others, such as democracy activists Joshua Wong (黃之鋒), Alex Chow (周永康) and Nathan Law (羅冠聰), have already been tried and convicted — although in the trio’s case, they avoided jail time.
The timing of the indictments was clearly delayed to avoid increasing Lam’s unpopularity in the sham election on Sunday last week, while giving her the chance to do the Pontius Pilate washing-of-the-hands routine by declaring it had nothing to do with her and the rule of law must not be compromised.
Her stance is no surprise considering that she spearheaded the push for a controversial political reform bill that triggered the Occupy protests and Umbrella movement; she has stayed mum on the cross-border abductions and has defended Beijing’s desire for the passage of anti-subversion legislation.
The timing also reflects Xi’s efforts to quash any challenge to his authority or the diktats of the Chinese Communist Party in the run-up to the 19th National Congress this fall, and to extend his repression of pro-democracy and human rights activists from China to Hong Kong — or, in the detentions of Taiwanese Lee Ming-che (李明哲) and University of Technology Sydney associate professor Feng Chongyi (馮崇義), people who live and work outside of China.
Yet Xi has consistently failed where it counts the most: in Taiwan. Taiwanese voters are unswayed by Beijing’s veiled threats, and have resoundingly demonstrated their disdain for the Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) and its efforts to chain Taiwan to China.
Although another sign of the difference between China and Taiwan is hardly needed, one was delivered yesterday by the Taipei District Court, which ruled that 22 defendants, including now-New Power Party Executive Chairman Huang Kuo-chang (黃國昌) and then-students Lin Fei-fan (林飛帆) and Chen Wei-ting (陳為廷), were not guilty of inciting others to commit a crime, nor of obstruction of official business or other crimes for breaking into the Legislative Yuan on March 18, 2014.
The verdict said that the defendants’ expression of their “political views on public affairs” and their actions were in line with civil disobedience rights.
While the verdict was a first ruling, meaning that prosecutors could appeal, hopefully they will decide against it, because it would send a message to Hong Kong and China that everyone has a right to their political views, and civil disobedience is also a right.
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