We took the habit since a few months now, to wake up every morning and check our social media to know who was arrested this time. This week, we woke up to a big lockup of opposition activists in one fell swoop: 53 members of the pan-democrat camp were arrested and accused of plotting to… basically win the elections, and furthermore to block the adoption of the Legco budget.
The Genesis: an article by Benny Tai
Benny Tai, for those who don’t know him, is a former law professor. In April or May 2020, he penned an article titled “10 steps to a real lam chau”, where he predicted a much slower transition to direct control by Peking over Hong Kong. But in essence, and this would be seized upon to justify the big lockup, Benny predicted that the opposition would grab a majority in Legco, something that seemed about certain before and even after the National Security Law was adopted. You can read a digest of his thinking here:
To ensure the highest chance of victory, the pan-democrats organized primary elections to ensure only viable candidates would be standing in front of the DAB.
The primaries were a resounding success, with 600,000 people participating. China tried to disqualify a couple of candidates (among which three who would ultimately lead to the last incident forcing the Democrats to leave the Legco), before Carrie Lam announced that the elections would be postponed for cause of pandemic.
The National Security Law had just been adopted a few days back. Some disgruntled DAB politicians started stating that these primaries were a violation of the National Security Law, but nobody really paid attention, not expecting Hong Kong to go down such an insane route.
A “crime” in time
It is worth including the bizarre flowchart concocted by the HK police to explain the said “crime”.
In short, if we follow the flowchart, people traveled back in time to April 2020 and then restarted the whole conspiracy, says David Webb, with a biting irony.
The idea of the police is that acts that were not illegal before the law was enacted, inspired and were continued thereafter via the effective carrying out of of a strategy first formulated by Benny Tai. The absurdity of the whole tale was so obvious, the two members of the pro-government party (Ronny Tong and James Tien) who still have some common sense confessed that they could not see how the charges would stand in court.
Bail for most
Despite all the police’s talk on the seriousness of the offences, almost all the arrestees got released on bail, within 48 hrs of their arrest. The two exceptions were Au Nok-Hin who was in quarantine at the moment of his arrest, and Wu Chi-Wai, who was previously arrested and granted bail for a different story (unlawful assembly). The police found one BN(O) passport at his home, while his bail conditions were the surrender of any passport in his possession. He explained that he had just received his renewed BN(O) passport (many hongkongers have been rushing to renew their British National (Overseas) passport, as it allows them to settle in UK after 31st of January 2021). The judge remanded him in detention for violation of the bail conditions.
This is directly related to a previous event, namely the absconding of Ted Hui Chi Fung, who escaped to the UK after obtaining permission to visit Denmark for an alleged parliamentary meeting.
An empty stroke?
The difficulties various representatives of the Hk government and the police have had in justifying the arrests left us wondering if, in responding to Beijing’s demands, the police did not overplay its hand with this big lockup. It sounds difficult to charge politicians with the desire to win an election and even of overthrowing by parliamentary means the government, when all of these possibilities are contained in the Basic law (the mini-constitution of HK). What this might mean in future is however a rewriting of the Basic Law by China, under its binding “interpretations”, which Hong Kong courts have recognized.