Press release April 2, 2021
Hong Kong: Freedom House Condemns Convictions of Prodemocracy Figures, Worsening Crackdown
In response to the convictions of seven prodemocracy figures in Hong Kong, following months of worsening repression, Freedom House issued the following statement:
“The convictions of seven of Hong Kong’s most ardent protectors of rights and democracy is another crushing blow to the people of Hong Kong, and shows how Beijing’s pressure has weaponized the judiciary to target democrats and dismantle the rule of law,” said Michael J. Abramowitz, president of Freedom House.
“That these convictions come on the heels of Beijing’s move to eliminate free and fair elections in Hong Kong only further confirms the Chinese Communist Party’s intention to violate the law and clamp down on rights in Hong Kong, just as it does in the mainland. As freedom deteriorates in Hong Kong, and the CCP continues to export its repression abroad, governments and businesses should speak out, and financial and diplomatic consequences should be imposed.”
On April 1, a Hong Kong judge convicted seven of Hong Kong’s most prominent democracy advocates of organizing and knowingly taking part in an unauthorized assembly on August 18, 2019, when nearly 1.7 million Hong Kongers defied a police ban to peacefully demonstrate. They are: Martin Lee, 82; Jimmy Lai, 72; Lee Cheuk-yan, 64; Margaret Ng, 73; Leung “Long Hair” Kwok Hung, 65; Cyd Ho, 66; and Albert Ho, 69. Two others in the case—Au Nok Hin, 33; and Leung Yiu-chung, 67—pled guilty before the trial. The judge granted bail to five of the defendants ahead of sentencing hearing on April 16, and they face a maximum prison sentence of five years. Jimmy Lai and Leung Kwok-hung face separate charges under the National Security Law (NSL), and remain in jail.
Of the defendants, Martin Lee is known as Hong Kong’s “father of democracy,” and helped draft the territory’s local constitution, the Basic Law; the others include several former Legislative Council (Legco) members; while Jimmy Lai is a media tycoon who founded Hong Kong’s biggest prodemocracy newspaper. Hong Kong police arrested the group during the first major police crackdown on prodemocracy figures on April 18, 2020, ahead of the announcement of the introduction of the NSL.
The convictions come days after China’s top legislature, the Standing Committee of the National People’s Congress, approved revisions to the Basic Law that impose sweeping electoral changes on Hong Kong on March 30. The changes, which went into effect on March 31, reduce the number of directly elected Legco seats to 20, grant 40 seats to members of the unelected Election Committee, and create a screening test for candidates in all elections, to be conducted by national security police and a new vetting committee and not subject to judicial review or appeal. The changes also alter the composition of the Election Committee, which will be led by a newly created post of “chief convenor,” a position that can only be held by a member who “holds an office of state leadership.” Directly imposing such changes, mirroring the introduction of the National Security Law, bypasses any meaningful consultation with Hong Kong people, and numerous bodies with close or direct ties to the CCP will hold positions in Hong Kong’s electoral system.
On February 28, Hong Kong police charged 47 democrats, including Leung Kwok-hung, with “conspiracy to commit subversion,” in the largest application of the NSL since it came into effect. The charges are linked to a primary held in July 2020 to select candidates who would represent the prodemocracy camp in the Legislative Council election, which was subsequently postponed. Jimmy Lai awaits trial on charges of “colluding with foreign forces” following an August 2020 arrest. In less than a year under the NSL, more than 100 Hong Kongers have been arrested on politicized charges for advocating online and offline for human rights and democracy, with many facing potential life sentences. A Hong Kong court also convicted activists Joshua Wong, Agnes Chow, and Ivan Lam in December 2020 for “unlawful assembly” in connection to the 2019 protests, and sentenced them to between 7 and 13.5 months in prison.
Hong Kong is rated Partly Free in Freedom in the World 2021. China is rated Not Free in Freedom in the World 2021 and Not Free in Freedom on the Net 2020. Freedom House is also following the deteriorating conditions in Hong Kong and their global implications in its monthly China Media Bulletin.