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Roving Periscope: China sitting on twin democratic volcanos of Taiwan and Hong Kong

Roving Periscope: China sitting on twin democratic volcanos of Taiwan and Hong Kong

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Virendra Pandit

New Delhi: Since 1949, Communist China has been trying to crush democracy in its breakaway island territory, Taiwan, almost every week. It has also been attempting to sniff out democracy in Hong Kong, which the British returned to China in 1997 on the promise of retaining its democracy.

It may now be sitting atop these twin volcanos.

On May 20, Taiwan’s newly inaugurated President William Lai called on China to stop threatening the island and accept the existence of its democracy. China responded two days later with the biggest military drill around Taiwan.

Now, on Thursday, a kangaroo court in Hong Kong found 14 pro-democracy activists ‘guilty of subversion’ in the biggest case against pro-democracy campaigners since China imposed a national security law in 2020 to crush dissent.

These 14, along with 31 others who ‘pleaded guilty’, could face life in jail, with sentencing expected later this year, the media reported.
Beijing imposed a national security law on Hong Kong after huge and sometimes violent pro-democracy protests brought the finance hub to a standstill.

Chinese Communist officials then charged 47 people from across the society with subversion, claiming their political activities were aimed at bringing down the government, headed by President-for-Life Xi Jinping.

Sixteen defendants–including activists, former lawmakers, and district councilors — had pleaded not guilty.

Judge Andrew Chan named the 14 defendants found guilty and two former district councilors found not guilty, the media reported.
The court claimed the 14 planned to undermine “the power and authority of both the Government and Chief Executive.”

“In our view… that would create a constitutional crisis for Hong Kong,” it said.

Most of the defendants have been behind bars since first brought to court in March 2021. Their trial was held without a jury and the judges were hand-picked from a pool of pro-Communist jurists selected by Hong Kong’s pro-Beijing leader, John Lee Ka-chiu, a former police officer who is the fifth and current Chief Executive. He is allegedly following a carrot-and-stick policy and dividing the pro-democracy activists.
The 31 who pleaded guilty had done so hoping for lenient sentences.

Lawrence Lau, one of the defendants found not guilty, told reporters as he left the court to keep supporting the rest of the group.
“I hope that everyone will continue to (have) concern for our other friends in the case,” he said.

Prosecutors said the 47 had ‘conspired’ to subvert state power by holding unofficial primary polls, as part of their plan to form a majority in the legislature.

With control of the legislature, they would veto government budgets and force the city’s leader to accede to five key demands raised by protesters in 2019, the court heard.

Defense lawyers argued Hong Kong’s mini-constitution had laid out mechanisms for such a plan and that the matter was “a purely political issue rather than a legal matter.”

Outside the court, Kathy, one of the 610,000 voters who cast their ballots in the unofficial primary election in 2020, said she believed the defendants “never committed any crime.”

“For me, the primary election was simply an occasion to show my support for something I believe in,” she said, declining to provide her full name.

University student Lam said the primary election was a strategy “common in many places around the world.”

“I still can’t figure out how it can subvert the state, so I want to see how the court would rule on that,” he said.

Ahead of the hearing, well-known activist Alexandra Wong, also known as Grandma Wong, attempted to stage a protest before police moved her off across the street to a fenced-off area.

“Immediately release the 47!” she shouted, waving a British flag. “Support democracy, support the 47!”

The case has been closely watched by the international community, with diplomatic officers from the consulates of France, the European Union, and Italy going to the court on Thursday.

The United States and other Western nations have criticized China for cracking down on democracy in Hong Kong and curtailing freedoms promised when the former British colony was handed over to Chinese rule in 1997.

In response to the 2021 arrests of the defendants, the United States had sanctioned six Chinese and Hong Kong officials.

Before Thursday, 114 people had been found guilty of ‘crimes’ related to the national security law since it was introduced.
The case against the group of 47 was the biggest under the law.


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