In Hong Kong, China works to erase memories of Tiananmen,… | WORLD
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In Hong Kong, China works to erase memories of Tiananmen, democracy

Authorities arrest and convict pro-democracy activists

Pro-Beijing market at Victoria Park on the 35th anniversary of the Tiananmen Square massacre in Hong Kong, Tuesday Associated Press/Photo by Chan Long Hei

In Hong Kong, China works to erase memories of Tiananmen, democracy

On Tuesday, 28 pro-Beijing groups held a carnival promoting Chinese culture at Hong Kong’s Victoria Park, replacing for the second consecutive year an annual candlelight vigil that marked the 1989 Tiananmen Square massacre. Outside the park, police patrolled the Causeway Bay area on the 35th anniversary of Beijing’s bloody crackdown on pro-democracy protesters. They stopped people who appeared to commemorate the massacre, including those who turned their cell phone lights on, an act associated with lighting candles at the vigil.

On June 4, 1989, the Chinese government sent troops to clear demonstrators from Beijing’s Tiananmen Square, killing hundreds, possibly thousands, of civilians. Hong Kong, under Beijing’s increasing control, has banned public commemorations of the event, which Chinese Communist Party refuses to acknowledge even happened. Hong Kong police arrested four people on Tuesday after seizing eight others for alleged sedition in connection with a Facebook page that commemorated the day.

As Hong Kong’s pro-Beijing government attempts to suppress citizens’ memory of the massacre, it has also curbed political opposition amid a wider crackdown on dissent.

Last week, three judges on Hong Kong’s High Court, designated by Hong Kong’s chief executive, the city’s top leader, convicted 14 pro-democracy politicians and activists of conspiracy to commit subversion. The judges acquitted two others in Hong Kong’s biggest national security trial involving 47 defendants, known as the Hong Kong 47, who organized or participated in an unofficial primary election for the pro-democracy camp in July 2020.

Those convicted under the national security law that Beijing imposed in June 2020 face up to life in prison. Thirty-one of the defendants have already pleaded guilty prior to last week’s ruling, a move that could lead to a reduced sentence. Among them are prominent Christian pro-democracy leaders Benny Tai and Joshua Wong. Tai is a former law professor, while Wong is the co-founder of the now-defunct Demosisto political party. Authorities have detained most of the 47 defendants for more than three years after initially arresting them in January 2021.

The primary election was for the legislative election originally scheduled for September 2020. Pro-democracy candidates had hoped to claim a majority in Hong Kong’s then-70-seat legislature that has long been dominated by the pro-Beijing camp. Some vowed that if elected, they would veto the government’s annual budget, which would force Hong Kong’s then-Chief Executive Carrie Lam, who was backed by Beijing, out from her position.

Last week, the High Court ruled that the 14 defendants had planned to secure a legislative majority in order to “undermine, destroy or overthrow” the existing political system and Hong Kong’s structure. The judges also said the defendants’ intention to indiscriminately veto the budget could lead to a “constitutional crisis.”

In response to the guilty verdicts, the United States has imposed new visa restrictions on Chinese and Hong Kong officials responsible for implementing the national security law. The U.S. State Department said in a statement that the “defendants were subjected to a politically motivated prosecution and jailed simply for peacefully participating in political activities protected under [Hong Kong’s mini constitution].” Other Western governments and international human rights organizations have also condemned the conviction.

The prosecution of the Hong Kong 47 is “sending a chilling effect” in Hong Kong, as it shows citizens the consequences for pro-democracy activists who spoke up, said Kennedy Wong, a research fellow at the Washington, D.C.-based Hong Kong Democracy Council.

Hong Kong’s Department of Justice has launched an appeal against the acquittal of former district councilors Lawrence Lau and Lee Yue-shun. Nathan Law, a former pro-democracy Hong Kong legislator who was granted political asylum in the United Kingdom, believes the acquittals serve as a “facade of rule of law.” He pointed to the 100 percent conviction rate in previous trials under the Beijing-imposed national security law, as Hong Kong Secretary for Security Chris Tang said last year.

Law, one of the candidates in the unofficial primary election, is among the overseas activists wanted by Hong Kong national security police. He faces protest-related charges including foreign collusion and incitement to secession. “If I were to go back to Hong Kong now, I’d probably spend decades in prison,” said Law.

Tai is among the defendants expected to appear at a mitigation hearing for the Hong Kong 47 case on June 25. The prosecution has called him a “mastermind” of the “conspiracy.” Law said that Tai, an organizer of the primary election, would likely receive a longer sentence than other defendants who only participated in the race. As the national security law punishes instigators more heavily, Tai “may face more than a decade of imprisonment,” said Law.

—with additional reporting from Josh Schumacher

These summarize the news that I could never assemble or discover by myself. —Keith

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