19 January 2019
Causeway Bay bookseller Lam Wing-kee, lawmaker Nathan Law, Van Lam, Derek Lam and Lo Tak-cheong are the faces of defiance against Beijing's latest crackdown on dissent. Photos: HKEJ, Facebook/Demosisto
Causeway Bay bookseller Lam Wing-kee, lawmaker Nathan Law, Van Lam, Derek Lam and Lo Tak-cheong are the faces of defiance against Beijing's latest crackdown on dissent. Photos: HKEJ, Facebook/Demosisto

Irony of Hong Kong’s human rights situation

On Wednesday morning, at least seven people were arrested for allegedly taking part in an illegal assembly in November outside the Liaison Office in Sai Wan. 

Demosisto said two of its members were taken from their homes while the League of Social Democrats said at least two of its members are under investigation.

Meanwhile, the activist group Student Fight for Democracy said police visited the home of its convenor, Sammy Ip, but he was not there. He was asked to report to the police station that afternoon.

The activists were arrested for their alleged participation in an unlawful assembly on Nov. 6 last year when hundreds of protesters gathered outside the Liaison Office and clashed with police after a march opposing an impending Basic Law interpretation by Beijing.

The ruling was issued hours later, eventually prompting the disqualification of democratically elected lawmakers Yau Wai-ching and Sixtus Leung.

The protesters were marching against what Beijing did in Hong Kong’s legal system given the interpretation upended the implementation of “one country, two systems”.

The protesters were not involved in any illegal action apart from the fact that they had no police permit. Was this the only reason to arrest them?

On the other hand, pro-Beijing advocates are able to leverage their political status to get concessions from the government and the police.

They enjoy more freedom of protest than their anti-establishment counterparts.

Clearly, in this matter, the police are applying double standard.

So why is it that some people think that Hong Kong’s human rights record has been deteriorating if some sectors of society enjoy preferential treatment in expressing their views through mass actions? 

That’s only one side of the story.

In chaotic scenes at the airport on Sunday night, a group of about 12 pro-Beijing protesters attacked Demosisto lawmaker Nathan Law on his return from a trip to Taiwan.

No arrests were made but two people were held for attacking the media.

As for Law, he suffered bruises and was hounded as a “Hong Kong independence scumbug” by his assailants until he was out of harm’s way.

For many Hong Kong people, street protests are too radical and lead to social instability. But these are part of our freedom of expression which is protected by the Basic Law.

Article 27 of the mini constitution states that “Hong Kong residents shall have freedom of speech, of the press and of publication; freedom of association, of assembly, of procession and of demonstration; and the right and freedom to form and join trade unions, and to strike.”

But it seems these guarantees are no longer enough to protect protesters from arbitrary arrests and police actions.

In most cases, prominent activists are targeted by the police. They typically are granted bail but they would not join any more protests for fear of breaching their bail conditions. It is one way of putting them out commission.

But that rarely happens to pro-Beijing protesters — or paid operatives — who enjoy the backing of the establishment in terms of political and financial support. Such groups enjoy a wider berth.

Which is why the notion that Hong Kong’s human rights situation is deteriorating does not reflect the full picture.

In fact, it is worsening for one group of protesters and improving for the other.

The human rights situation for the opposition is one of suppression from the authorities. It is one of leniency and accommodation for the pro-Beijing loyalists.

On Wednesday, Amnesty International said the human rights condition in Hong Kong last year was the worst since the handover in 1997.

The advocacy group said Beijing’s interpretation of the Basic Law to disqualify democratically elected legislators had damaged the rule of law.

And the disappearances of local booksellers about a year ago had caused people to worry about their freedom of expression.

Amnesty International is correct from the standpoint of the opposition camp. But for pro-Beijing activists, their human rights receive better protection from the authorities.

That is the irony of Hong Kong’s human rights situation.

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EJ Insight writer

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