As a marathon hearing grouping bail applications from 47 pro-democracy activists and politicians charged with subversion entered its third day on Wednesday, reports indicated that the ruling Chinese Communist Party (CCP) is gearing up to make sure that only its staunchest supporters will be allowed to take part in Hong Kong’s political life.
As a crowd of supporters continued to chant slogans outside West Kowloon Magistrates’ Court, shouting “Hang in there!” and “We all go down together!”, defense attorneys for the 47 defendants continued to argue for their release on bail, despite there being no precedent in any cases brought so far under a draconian national security law imposed on the city from July 1, 2020.
Pro-democracy, or “yellow,” businesses and well-wishers donated free snacks and drinks to supporters, who have remained outside throughout proceedings in fluctuating numbers.
A supporter surnamed Chan said she is currently reading a book about the July 21, 2019 attack by gangsters in white T-shirts on passengers and black-clad protesters at Yuen Long MTR station, at the height of the protest movement.
But she says that if the 47 are found guilty of “subversion” for taking part in a democratic primary in July 2020, then the city’s political life will have sustained a huge blow.
“The political opposition in Hong Kong is a spectrum spanning many different parties, from the more moderate Democratic Party to the localists [who seek to minimize CCP interference in Hong Kong’s affairs],” Chan said.
“Hong Kong has been really proud of our democracy and our right to freedom of speech, but if they are found guilty, then this is going to have a huge negative impact on that,” she said.
Another supporter surnamed Fok said many people in Hong Kong are committed to ongoing resistance regardless of China’s plans for the city.
“This is a hard road to walk, but the people of Hong Kong will keep on walking it together,” Fok said. “We will keep going.”
“Maybe some people will emigrate, but I believe Hongkongers everywhere will want to do all in their power to keep on [resisting],” she said. “I also hope that not everyone will leave.”
Police have said the defendants were charged for their involvement in democratic primaries in July 2020. The primaries were considered “subversive” because their stated aim was to secure at least 35 seats in the city’s Legislative Council (LegCo) for opposition candidates, so the pro-democracy camp could veto the government’s budgets.
Such an action is regarded as “subversion of state power” under Article 22 of the national security law, according to the authorities.
The arrests come after the primaries were criticized in state-run Chinese media as an attempt to foment a “color revolution.”
Another supporter outside the West Kowloon court, who gave only the name Helen, said the defendants hadn’t done anything wrong.
“All they did was take part in the primaries … yet they are being charged with paralyzing LegCo and subverting the government,” she said. “This is totally unreasonable.”
Fighting for democracy
Mung Siu Tat, director-general of the Hong Kong Confederation of Trade Unions, was in court to support the defendants, and sent this message to supporters.
“Today we are fighting for democracy in Hong Kong,” Mung said. “It is no longer possible to say who is moderate and who is radical.”
“As long as you continue to fight for freedom of speech, you will inevitably cross red lines drawn by the [CCP] regime,” he said. “If we keep going, we could be the next to be arrested.”
“We must be mentally prepared to fight a long battle,” Mung said.
The court adjourned later in the day, with the hearing scheduled to reconvene on Thursday.
Meanwhile, signs were emerging that China’s leadership is unhappy even with its loyalists in Hong Kong.
Reuters reported this week that Beijing plans to “dramatically reform” Hong Kong’s electoral system, with plans likely unveiled at the National People’s Congress (NPC) annual session, which opens in Beijing on Friday.
The proposed reform will put further pressure on pro-democracy activists, who are already the subject of a crackdown on dissent, but has also “ruffled the feathers” of some pro-Beijing loyalists, who could be replaced by a new breed of CCP supporters, the agency cited people familiar with the matter as saying.
“It will be an earthquake shaking up local political interests,” one source told Reuters.
Senior Chinese official Xia Baolong said last week that Beijing would introduce systemic changes, so that only people deemed “patriots” by the CCP could hold public office in Hong Kong.
Reported by Lu Xi and Lau Siu Fung for RFA’s Mandarin and Cantonese Services. Translated and edited by Luisetta Mudie.