HK tight­ens grip on dis­sent

Heed­ing China’s call, po­lice are ex­pected to clam­p­down on ac­tivists

The Star Malaysia - - World -

HONG KONG: As Hong Kong’s govern­ment hews closer to Bei­jing, of­fi­cials are tak­ing a tough line on per­ceived na­tional se­cu­rity threats, even de­ploy­ing an elite po­lice unit for po­lit­i­cal mon­i­tor­ing and sur­veil­lance – a sharp es­ca­la­tion in rhetoric and ac­tion.

In just the last few months, the spe­cial ad­min­is­tra­tive re­gion has banned the Hong Kong Na­tional Party, which es­pouses sep­a­ra­tion from China, and barred some ac­tivists from stand­ing in lo­cal elec­tions.

The Ed­u­ca­tion Bu­reau sent all sec­ondary schools in the Spe­cial Ad­min­is­tra­tive Re­gion let­ters on Sept 24 say­ing they must pro­hibit ”the pen­e­tra­tion” of the Na­tional Party or risk prose­cu­tion.

And this month, Hong Kong re­fused to re­new the work visa of Vic­tor Mal­let, Asia news ed­i­tor for the Bri­tish­based Fi­nan­cial Times news­pa­per, af­ter he hosted a speech by an in­de­pen­dence ac­tivist.

“We can see them (the govern­ment) be­ing much more as­sertive in us­ing these pow­ers and in shap­ing their pol­icy de­ci­sions to re­flect the na­tional in­ter­ests,” said Pro­fes­sor Si­mon Young of the Univer­sity of Hong Kong’s law school, say­ing the

courts may be a last line of de­fence against govern­ment over­reach.

Serv­ing and re­tired po­lice of­fi­cers, lawyers and law­mak­ers de­scribe in­ten­si­fy­ing po­lit­i­cal op­er­a­tions by the po­lice force’s Se­cu­rity Wing, an elite unit that of­fi­cially han­dles sen­si­tive tasks in­clud­ing VIP pro­tec­tion and counter­ter­ror­ism in­ves­ti­ga­tions.

Sources fa­mil­iar with the wing’s work say it led sur­veil­lance and mon­i­tor­ing op­er­a­tions against the Na­tional Party and more than a dozen other groups.

The Hong Kong Jour­nal­ists As­so­ci­a­tion re­cently de­scribed the prospect of tougher na­tional se­cu­rity en­force­ment as ”a sword dan­gled above the heads” of re­porters.

The Fi­nan­cial Times said it was ap­peal­ing the de­ci­sion deny­ing Mal­let a work visa. In his role as first vice pres­i­dent of the For­eign Cor­re­spon­dents’ Club of Hong Kong, Mal­let in Au­gust hosted Andy Chan, head of the Na­tional Party.

The party was banned last month as an ”im­mi­nent threat to na­tional se­cu­rity” as the govern­ment in­voked lit­tle­known clauses of a law reg­u­lat­ing pri­vate groups and so­ci­eties.

Au­thor­i­ties have so far re­fused to ex­plain their de­ci­sion on Mal­let, ex­cept to say that no in­de­pen­dence ad­vo­cacy will be tol­er­ated.

Chan, a be­spec­ta­cled 28­year­old in­te­rior dec­o­ra­tor, says that his ide­ol­ogy springs from China’s bro­ken prom­ises to­wards Hong Kong.

But Hong Kong’s govern­ment is treat­ing even the con­sid­er­a­tion of in­de­pen­dence as a vi­tal threat.

“Wor­ry­ingly, they have been par­rot­ing the ide­o­log­i­cal and au­thor­i­tar­ian line of Bei­jing ... ir­repara­bly un­der­min­ing their rep­u­ta­tion,” one diplo­mat said of the city’s govern­ment.

In the let­ter to schools last month, the Ed­u­ca­tion Bu­reau said, ”should stu­dents have er­ro­neous and ex­treme thoughts, prin­ci­pals and teach­ers should cor­rect them with facts.” Some teach­ers de­scribed this as a ”gag­ging or­der.”

That ap­pears to run con­trary to Hong Kong’s mini­con­sti­tu­tion, known as the Ba­sic Law, which stresses free­doms of speech and as­sem­bly.

Some youths who drove the pro­democ­racy ”Um­brella Rev­o­lu­tion” street demon­stra­tions in 2014 say there is a grow­ing sense of de­spair at the pres­sure on civil so­ci­ety and in­di­vid­ual rights.

Daniel Che­ung, a 29­year­old pho­tog­ra­pher who worked on the Chron­i­cle of a Sum­mer, a doc­u­men­tary on ac­tivists such as jailed in­de­pen­dence leader Ed­ward Le­ung, said the sit­u­a­tion was wors­en­ing fast.

“Put sim­ply, if you see Hong Kong as a house built by the Bri­tish, this house is now crum­bling and leak­ing. It has been hit by a ty­phoon and close to top­pling over,” Che­ung said.

We can see them (the govern­ment) be­ing much more as­sertive in us­ing these pow­ers and in shap­ing their pol­icy de­ci­sions to re­flect the na­tion­aln in­ter­ests. Pro­fes­sor Si­mon Young

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