Jasper Tsang, one of Hong Kong’s most prominent pro-Beijing politicians, admits to being shaken by the Tiananmen Square massacre in the Chinese capital on June 4, 1989.
But like many other loyalists who welcomed President Xi Jinping to the former British colony on Thursday, he does not object to the Hong Kong government’s decision to ban an annual candlelight vigil for Tiananmen victims this year. .
“I was very worried at the time that China was falling into a period of darkness, but it wasn’t,” Tsang told the Financial Times last week. “I personally know someone who was hit by a stray bullet that night in 1989 and died. But China must move forward. Do we always have to look back?
Xi has overseen an unprecedented crackdown on Hong Kong over the past two years, which the Chinese Communist Party said was a necessary and appropriate response to the large and sometimes violent anti-government protests that rocked the city in 2019.
But Xi and the party could not have done it alone. They needed the help of supporters such as Tsang, as well as thousands of Hong Kong government officials, police, prosecutors and judges to crush the territory’s pro-democracy movement.
For Beijing, the people doing its bidding in Hong Kong are “patriots”, one of whom – John Lee – will be sworn in by Xi as the city’s new chief executive on Friday. The ceremony also marks the 25th anniversary of China regaining sovereignty over the territory in 1997.
Patriots such as Lee and Chris Tang, security secretary and deputy police commissioner, respectively, at the protests have been richly rewarded for their loyalty. Tang succeeded Lee as security secretary last year.
But for those who lament the rapid demise of the city’s freewheeling political culture and vibrant civil society after Xi imposed a draconian national security law in June 2020, the president’s patriots are collaborators who have helped and encouraged the destruction of “one country, two systems”. . The arrangement was supposed to guarantee Hong Kong’s broad autonomy and civil liberties for at least 50 years.
The National Security Act, for example, revoked the granting of bail to those charged with non-violent crimes. As a result, most of the 47 pro-democracy activists implicated in Hong Kong’s most high-profile national security case, which revolves around their peaceful efforts to win parliamentary seats, have been jailed for more than a year. while awaiting their trial.
This practice of effectively “disappearing” political activists for months – and sometimes years – before they are formally convicted and imprisoned is a common practice in mainland China’s justice system.
A senior lawyer, with decades of experience in Hong Kong courtrooms, said the “reversal of the bail presumption had catastrophic effects” for the defendants.
“[There is] a deterioration in the appreciation of what the ‘rule of law’ means – it seems to me [now] ‘Rule by law,'” said the lawyer, who asked not to be identified due to the sensitivity of the subject.
“It’s much, much worse than 1997. If I had known it would be like this 25 years later, then I would have left Hong Kong.”
In December, Andrew Cheung, a Harvard-trained lawyer and chief judge of Hong Kong’s Court of Final Appeal, along with permanent CFA judges Roberto Ribeiro and Joseph Fok, ruled that bail could also be denied in a case of non-violent sedition that does not fall under national security law.
In HKSAR vs Ng Hau Yi Sidney, a group of speech therapists were charged under Hong Kong’s colonial-era Crime Ordinance with writing three allegedly ‘seditious’ cartoon books that help children learn to read. Each of the books centers on a “sheep village” that is attacked by wolves.
Regina Ip, another prominent pro-Beijing figure and pending cabinet body facilitator who will advise Lee, argued that in such cases, including the recent arrest of 90-year-old Cardinal Joseph Zen for allegedly “collusion with foreign forces. the Hong Kong government was “simply taking law enforcement action against those who harmed national security.”
“If Zen is found guilty, the courts will no doubt consider his age and other mitigating factors before handing down his sentence,” Ip added.
Tian Feilong, the Chinese government’s senior adviser on Hong Kong, applauded how “prosecutors and judges have been able to apply national security law in Hong Kong’s common law judicial processes.”
“The Institutional Integration of National Security Law into the Common Law System of Hong Kong [has helped] the law takes root in Hong Kong society,” he added.
“In the middle of 2019 [protests], Did Hong Kong have the rule of law, democracy or human rights? The Legislative Council was stormed and occupied, the people holding [pro-Beijing] views were beaten and intimidated, police officers and their relatives and children were intimidated, humiliated and assaulted.
Tsang, a soft-spoken former teacher who got along well with his pro-democracy opponents when he served in the territory’s legislature, said “Beijing did not act out of the blue.”
“After [the protests in] 2019, how can you blame the central government for taking a stand to solve Hong Kong’s problems? »
The territory’s pro-democracy activists, he added, have become too “reckless”.
But when asked how he felt seeing so many Hong Kong pro-democracy figures in jail, he struggled to answer.
“How do you want me to answer your question?” How do you want me to answer? he said before pausing to collect his thoughts. “Some of them, I think, made serious mistakes and had to take responsibility for their decisions. To be frank, however, we didn’t see that coming either.
Additional reporting by Emma Zhou in Beijing