Photo: Política Exterior

Hong Kong and the obsession with national security

In a place where 1,832 people are already in prison on political grounds, the new law implementing Article 23 only “cloak[s] injustice with a veil of institutional legitimacy,” wrote a few months ago Chow Hang-tung, jailed for remembering the dead in Tiananmen Square. The real answer is not to forget this China behind bars, in Hong Kong and in the People’s Republic.

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Giorgio Bernardelli

(ZENIT News – Asia News / Milan, 04.02.2024).- “An unjust system also needs rules to function and to perpetuate, just as much as a just system needs them. Indeed, rules can often cloak injustice with a veil of institutional legitimacy, facilitating the implementation of evil at scale through bureaucratic efficiency and indifference.”

In Hong Kong, after approval in record time (and strictly unanimously), the local version of the national security law will come into force on Saturday, 23 March, further restricting the room for dissent in the name of Article 23 of the Basic Law.

Recently, many voices have rightly highlighted how much the new law undermines fundamental human rights in the name of “national security.” But the words quoted above explain the essence of the showdown imposed by John Lee, Beijing’s enforcer at the helm of the Hong Kong government.

Smuggled out of prison, they belong to Chow Hang-tung, a lawyer and pro-democracy activist who has been languishing in prison since 2021 for organising in Hong Kong the annual memorial vigil for the dead in Tiananmen Square, on 4 June.

What outrages the world today are the draconian penalties such as life imprisonment for offences like “treason” and “insurrection”, harsher sentences for “sedition”, the possibility of quickly stripping persecuted politicians who found refuge abroad of their citizenship, the legal cruelty of denying people the right to legal counsel within the first 48 hours in police custody.

In the end though, there is very little “new” compared to the wind that has been blowing in Hong Kong for the past four years. About 1,832 people are already behind bars on political grounds in the former British colony.

In the most high-profile trial currently underway in Hong Kong – the one against Jimmy Lai, the Catholic editor of the pro-democracy newspaper Apple Daily, who has also been in prison for more than a thousand days, Andy Li, a young, former pro-democracy activist who was intercepted at sea while trying to reach Taiwan with 11 other companions, is testifying as if nothing had happened.  He spent seven months in jail in the People’s Republic of China, reappearing at a psychiatric facility in Hong Kong, with strong suspicions that he had been tortured.

In the trial, the ordinary interactions between a local newspaper and a local political movement with foreign contacts are presented as “evidence” of a plot against China. No one can run for Hong Kong’s Legislative Council without ironclad “patriotic” credentials of loyalty to what the People’s Republic of China has decided for Hong Kong.

Indeed, no one has had any chance to raise any objections to the law on Article 23, while in 2003 the same attempt to pass a similar piece of legislation brought a million people into the streets, forcing the government of the time to backtrack.

Why, then, was it so important to put in writing and sanction the latest crackdown with the seal of three unanimous votes? For the reason Chow Hang-tung mentioned: Because even for authoritarian regimes it is important to cloak injustice with a veil of legitimacy.

Thus, in today’s painful time, our thoughts can only go to the former trade unionist Lee Cheuk-yan, to the former president of the Democratic Party Albert Ho, and to all those who have been in prison for years simply for asserting the idea that Hong Kong must remain that crossroads of freedom that the history of the 20th century had shaped.

Immediately after the passage of the Article 23 law the other day, John Lee was quick to state that “there must be one country before two systems”, a reference to the “one country two systems” principle that paved the way to Hong Kong’s return to China’s sovereignty in 1997.

Certainly, there is only one China today, behind bars, in Hong Kong as well as in the People’s Republic. It is up to us not to forget it.

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