Fighting for Democracy
The ingenuity of the Hong Kong Protesters
Hong Kong’s pro-democracy resistance has found new ways to make its voice heard, writes C.L. Cheang.
2019 was the last year Hongkongers enjoyed the basic freedoms citizens of other countries take for granted. Throughout that year, protests took place against the Hong Kong government’s extradition bill which allowed political dissidents to be arrested and transferred to China for trial. Millions of people took part in demonstrations and thousands of people were arrested in the largest series of protests in the history of Hong Kong. Over the course of the summer, the protests turned increasingly violent.
On September 4th, Hong Kong’s Chief Executive, Carrie Lam, announced the bill would be officially withdrawn. But it was too late. Confrontation between the police and pro-democracy citizens, and between pro-democracy and pro-Beijing camps raged on. The city was deeply divided. Protesting became a daily routine for many citizens until January 23rd 2020, when Hong Kong had its first Covid-19 case.
National Security Law
Following the introduction of strict social distancing restrictions, brought in to curb the Covid-19 pandemic, the 2019–2020 Hong Kong Protests seemed to decline. Then, the draconian Hong Kong National Security Law passed on 30 June 2020, one hour before the 23rd anniversary of Hong Kong’s handover of sovereignty from Britain. This law criminalised any act of secession, subversion, terrorism, or collusion with foreign or external forces. It was promoted as a means of bringing stability but, in practice, it further diminished basic freedoms.
National security is a concern for all sovereign states and China is no exception. However, in the case of Hong Kong, the National Security law was passed entirely in Beijing without any consultation with the Hong Kong Legislative Council, and the text of the new legislation was only released after the legal document had come into effect.
To understand what the implementation of the National Security Law means for life in Hong Kong, I recommend the highly instructive documentary Hong Kong: Endgame, first broadcast on the Al Jazeera network in September 2021. It features interviews with multiple people across different sectors of Hong Kong society. One person interviewed is Hong Kong’s ‘father of democracy’, Martin Lee. He condemns the Hong Kong National Security Law as unconstitutional. He explains that according to the Basic Law, such sweeping legal changes ‘can only be passed by the Hong Kong legislature’. The new legal regime has received international castigation. Multiple countries, including the UK, US, Taiwan, Australia and Japan have loosened their immigration restrictions or granted refugee status to fleeing activists.