Sat, Apr 27, 2019 - Page 8 News List

EDITORIAL: China will not stamp out opposition

The sentencing of eight democracy activists in Hong Kong on Wednesday is a sign of how determined the government is to punish the organizers of the 2014 protests that rocked the territory and spooked Beijing.

While the nine defendants could have received up to seven years in prison, the longest terms — 16 months — were handed down to the three cofounders of the “Occupy Central” movement, Benny Tai (戴耀廷), Chan Kin-man (陳健民) and Chu Yiu-ming (朱耀明), although the latter had his term suspended on account of him being 75 years old and his decades of public service.

Two people received eight months, three had their terms suspended or were given community service and one had her sentencing postponed because she needs brain surgery.

It was the first time Hong Kong has used a charge of “inciting others to cause a public nuisance” or “conspiring to cause a public nuisance” against peaceful protesters, and some legal experts have questioned whether “inciting others” actually exists in law or if a charge of public nuisance should be used to prosecute peaceful protesters.

If that was not troubling enough, the judge, when he convicted nine people earlier this month and again on Wednesday, was dismissive of the defendants’ reasons for launching the movement and their aim of having peaceful protests, and seemed obsessed by their lack of regret for “the inconveniences and sufferings caused to ordinary people.”

However, the movement’s leadership trio did apologize for the upheavals in October 2014, with Tai and Chan saying sorry to residents and shop owners near the protests. The protests also drew tens of thousands of people, which showed that many Hong Kongers were willing to put up with inconveniences and disruptions to their daily routine to support the call for a say in their future.

The Occupy Central movement was a potent rejection of the idea that the territory’s administration speaks for those that it governs, or that Beijing has made headway in converting Hong Kongers into “ordinary Chinese.”

The concern is that the prosecution of the nine will lead to more widespread abuse of the judiciary to stifle peaceful protests and the debate over greater democracy for the territory.

Yet while much has been made of the fact that since Beijing took control of the territory, it has chipped away at the guarantees it made about keeping Hong Kong’s system for 50 years, the truth is that the ossified leadership of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) hiding behind the walls of Zhongnanhai are incapable of recognizing that they will never be able to stamp out opposition.

In the 60 years since the Dalai Lama fled Lhasa, the CCP has been unable to eradicate Tibetans’ attachment to him or to their Buddhist religion.

Its efforts to stamp out other religions have also failed, as the survival and growth of Catholic and Protestant churches attest, or its efforts to get Uighurs and other Muslims in Xinjiang to renounce their religion and cultural traditions.

It has been almost 30 years since the Tiananmen Square Massacre, and yet the CCP has been unable to eradicate the call for democracy and the rule of law.

Thursday was 20 years to the day that more than 10,000 Falun Gong followers encircled Zhongnanhai in a silent protest against the detention of some of their comrades, a show of peaceful opposition that freaked the CCP out and led to the outlawing of the movement, and the arrest, torture, imprisonment and deaths of many of its followers. Yet Falun Gong continues to exist in China and has spread around the world.

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