Hong Kong High Court convicts democracy activists - GulfToday

Hong Kong High Court convicts democracy activists

Lee Yue-shun is escorted by police outside the West Kowloon Magistrates' Courts building after being acquitted of charges under the national security law, in Hong Kong. Reuters

Lee Yue-shun is escorted by police outside the West Kowloon Magistrates' Courts building after being acquitted of charges under the national security law, in Hong Kong. Reuters

Of the 47 democratic activists arrested in 2021 after China imposed a stringent national security law, the Hong Kong High Court held 14 guilty, two were acquitted on Thursday. Thirty-one pleaded guilty, and four of them became prosecution witnesses.

The prosecution charged these democratic activists, some of whom were even lawmakers in Hong Kong, of committing subversion. This referred to a secret ballot they had planned to hold to choose a strong candidate to the election of the provincial assembly. According to Judges Andrew Chan, Alex Lee and Johnny Chan if the accused had held the secret ballot, it would have created a constitutional crisis in Hong Kong, and this would have amounted to “serious interfering in, disrupting or undermining the performance of duties and functions in accordance with the law by the (Hong Kong) government.”

The sentencing is expected to come later, probably in the last week of the month. Beijing believes that the punishment of the dissidents will help strengthen democracy in the territory which was a British colony for 99 years under a lease agreement.

Western countries have expressed concern and apprehension over the verdict, including Australia which is keen to conclude favourable trade agreements with China. Australia’s Foreign Minister Penny Wong said, “Australia has expressed our strong objections to the Hong Kong authorities on the continuing broad application of national security legislation to arrest and pressure pro-democracy figures.”

But there was concern about the legal outcome for the Hong Kong residents who have enjoyed comparatively more freedoms than the mainland Chinese, and Hong Kong remains a vibrant market place. Said Chu, 35, a Hong Kong resident who came to the court early to hear the verdict, “I came because it’s a critical stage and a historic moment.” Amnesty International’s China director Sarah Brooks said, “This unprecedented mass conviction is the most ruthless illustration of how Hong Kong’s national security law is weaponised to silence dissidents.”

The contest over democracy in China has been the bone of contention between China and the West. Western governments insist that Beijing should make way for a multi-party democracy, an independent judiciary and human rights. Beijing’s communist leaders respond that the West cannot impose its version of democracy on other countries. The communist leaders believe that the path they are following is what suits the country.

It will be an unending debate as to which of the two systems is better. Liberal democracy had evolved over centuries in Western Europe and in North America. Countries like China do not have democratic traditions of the kind Europe had. Yet, Chinese leaders and people have realised the tyranny of poverty, and they have rebelled against it.

In many ways, China had broken its age-old traditions of political hierarchy, and there is better education and health facilities for the people, there is no starvation and penury of the old. While modernism has delivered many of its fruits to the Chinese, many in West believe that the people of China are being denied the political fruits of modernism, liberty of the individual.

China has its own structure of rule of law, but the system does not meet the standards that Western critics insist on. The tragedy of the democratic activists of Hong Kong who have been found guilty is they have got accustomed to the Western notions of freedom, and they are confronted with a Chinese state system which believes that security of the state is more important than the liberties of the individual.

These are irreconcilable views, and the two sides passionately hold on their convictions. The 14 who have been found guilty, and who will be sentenced are caught between two value systems, and they are paying a price for it.


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