Thunder, lightning, darkness and torrential rain provide a suitably tempestuous backdrop today for Hong Kong’s latest apocalyptic battle: should (or can) people be rounded up for expressing forbidden opinions?
Beijing legal expert, Wang Zhenmin, doesn’t rule it out. He thinks the young radicals calling (more or less) for Hong Kong independence could be prosecuted under long-disused colonial-era legislation on sedition and treason. (Nice to see Wang agreeing with militant youths that the city was better under the Brits!) The laws are still on the books – and their equivalents are still used by the despots who now run Singapore and Malaysia.
Pro-Beijing lawyer Alan Hoo goes further and demands that the government arrests Demosisto and HK National Party members, right now. On the radio this morning he sounded downright angry with Justice Secretary Rimsky Yuen and Co for sitting around and doing nothing.
An alternative view comes from Judge Kemal Bokhary and one Lord Pannick QC, who oppose the banning of political ideas. The South China Morning Post’s comments section includes responses along the lines of ‘Go back to Pakistan/UK’. But pro-dem lawyer Margaret Ng (in the NYT article) is fairly adamant that newer human rights laws would override the old treason/sedition legislation.
Hong Kong officials like Rimsky are keeping their heads down. They have suggested that calls for independence ‘go against’ the Basic Law, hoping we mistakenly interpret the phrase to mean anything more than ‘disagree with’. They know that Margaret Ng is correct, and the courts would throw out any attempt to prosecute someone for expressing their opinions.
That would not be the end of the matter. To Wang Zhenmin and the Chinese leadership in general, national security indisputably overrides anything and anyone, including a Special Administrative Region’s toy laws and courts. (Hence the snatching of Lee Bo and the other book-sellers, whose forthcoming publication presumably threatened Xi Jinping’s image, thus state stability, thus the party’s power – all ‘national security’.)
As it is, Beijing can hardly let things rest. The HK National Party is turning up the trolling by using the word ‘revolutionary’, which is waaaay too close to home for a Communist Party that overthrew the evil oppressors of the people and has now gone on to become a corrupt tyranny in finest Qing/KMT tradition. Chinese officials, with no subtlety or sense of humour, have no option but to freak out about such apparent challenges to one-party rule. Hongkongers will react by baiting their regime and its ideology yet more.