Hong Kong has witnessed the biggest military crackdown against the opposition group after police arrested and detained more than 50 pro-democracy activists on Wednesday, January 6, 2021. The pro-China government in Hong Kong has been actively implementing crackdown measures against protestors since the introduction of the highly controversial security law in June 2020. As reported by local media, the arrest of the pro-democracy activists on Wednesday was conducted as the leaders had started organizing primaries for selecting the key candidates for the Democratic Party. The opposition party once made an attempt to select candidates last July for contesting the upcoming legislative election, which was due in September 2020 but postponed by the authority citing the coronavirus pandemic risks, but failed to constitute its core members. Democratic Party has been seeking to put an independent administration in the state which has 70 legislative members while the Chinese government persisted to hold the status quo of its policy “one country, two systems.”
Biggest Military Crackdown in Hong Kong
Hong Kong Police conducted raids on pro-democracy activists and supporters on suspicion that the action of organizing primaries had subverted the national security law, which was implemented in June. According to the local media report, police also conducted a search operation in several offices of media outlets such as Apple Daily, Stand News, and Inmediahk and a law firm related to the organizers. Several media reported that the police conducted a search operation of the offices of the Hong Kong Public Opinion Research Institute which were associated with organizing the primaries. In response to the mass arrest of the party activists, the Democratic Party condemned the military raids as it curtailed the exercise of freedom and expressed their fear that the city-state might turn into an authoritarian rule.
As confirmed by the party, the arrest of Wednesday included former lawmakers, district councilors, and student activists who were also taking part in the movement against the extradition bill imposed by the Chinese government in March 2019. Local media also mentioned names including James To, Lam Cheuk-ting, Benny Tai, and Lester Shum were among more than 50 detainees. Most notably, John Clancey, an American lawyer working in a law firm who represented the opposition leaders and worked as treasurer of the group, was also arrested during a raid of the firm.
Since the inception of the new security law, many pro-democracy leaders and lawmakers have been arrested or disqualified while several activists have gone into exile or hiding in foreign countries. Nathan Law, an activist who is living in Britain as a political refugee, stated, “The suppression of political freedom and freedom of speech by the national security law has risen to another level.” He recounted, “Hong Kong people must remember this hatred. Anyone who is still defending the national security law and making peace is the enemy of Hong Kong people.”
Wiping Out Opposition Camp?
Condemning the police action, the opposition party expressed their worries over the relentless imposition of despotic policies of the Hong Kong government backed by the Beijing authority. The Democratic Party alleged that police have been actively engaged in various military assaults and have conducted similar crackdowns on numerous occasions against the opposition party. Citing the police’s arrest of their activists who were part of last July’s primaries, the Facebook page of the opposition party stated that organizing primaries were taken as an “act of subversion, in violation of the national security law” by the Hong Kong government and Beijing even though several thousands of people had voted for the primaries. Some local news reports said that the organizers, however, had destroyed the data collected from over 600,000 participants who voted in. Many media speculated that the government action was an attempt to wipe out the entire group of the opposition party as Beijing wanted to remove any anti-government resistance in the city-state.
A Washington DC-based campaign group for the territory’s freedoms and autonomy, the Hong Kong Democracy Council stated, “We strongly condemn the arrests of 52 pro-democracy politicians who ran in the primaries last July that drew 600,000 plus Hong Kongers.” The organization further emphasized, “Make no mistake – this is what authoritarian regimes and dictators do.” A prominent pro-democracy activist, Joshua Wong wrote on Facebook Wednesday that the police entered his house as part of the raid operation. Wong has been a prominent activist in Hong Kong, who actively took part in organizing primaries of the party in 2020 and was arrested last year on the charge of inciting an anti-governmental protest in 2019.
The US Condemns the Crackdown on Democracy
The United States (US) has been opposing the imposition of Beijing’s new security law in Hong Kong and condemning the government’s action of crushing democratic rights and individual freedom of the people. A few experts expressed that the current uneasy relationship between Washington and Beijing might be escalated further due to the China-backed military crackdown on democracy. The White House has not yet released any statement on the recent act of Hong Kong police but the US secretary of state Antony Blinken, chosen by the soon to be President of the US, Joe Biden, wrote on Twitter that the action was “an assault on those bravely advocating for universal rights.” The tweet continued, “The Biden-Harris administration will stand with the people of Hong Kong and against Beijing’s crackdown on democracy.” Earlier, Washington imposed sanctions on Hong Kong and Beijing officials and suspended several treaties in response to the imposition of the new security law.
Reflecting on the suppressive action of the government, a senior researcher at Human Rights Watch, Maya Wang emphasized that the raid showed that the Beijing authority made its ultimate target to “removing the remaining veneer of democracy in the city”. She made a remark, “Beijing has once again failed to learn from its mistakes in Hong Kong: that repression generates resistance, and that millions of Hong Kong people will persist in their struggle for their right to vote and run for office in a democratically elected government.”