HONG KONG MONITOR 30 July 2021
The event reporting over the monitoring cycle (23 – 29 July) overwhelmingly focused on legal action against pro-democracy activists and supporters, including two landmark trials. The most high-profile case focused on Tong Ying-kit, a 24-year-old former waiter, the first person to be convicted under the national security law (NSL). On Friday (30 July), he was sentenced to nine years in jail on terrorism and secession charges over allegations that he rode a motorcycle into three police officers in 2020 while holding a banner displaying the protest slogan ‘Liberate Hong Kong, revolution of our times’. Tong pleaded guilty but will appeal the sentence.
There was a further legal case around the use of protest slogans, including ‘Liberate Hong Kong, revolution of our times’. Hong Kong DJ Tam Tak-chi on Thursday (29 July) went on trial for sedition in the first time the colonial-era law had been deployed since the territory’s handover from Britain to China. Much like the case around Tong, the landmark trial will set a precedent in terms of what views are publicly expressible in Hong Kong. However, unlike the NSL, which can include life sentences, sedition is punishable by up to two years’ imprisonment for a first offence.
Other recent legal action against activists includes the announced arrests on Monday (26 July) of prominent figures including Benny Tai You-ting, Ip Kim-Ching and Sek Sau-ching on charges of breaching election laws connected to the 2016 Legislative Council polls. The three had allegedly violated campaign finance laws by advertising a voting platform called ‘ThunderGo’, intended to garner support for pro-democracy candidates, on the now defunct Apple Daily and Ming Pao newspapers despite Ip and Sek being Apple Daily board members.
Media reports on Wednesday (28 July) revealed that the National People's Congress (NPC) Standing Committee, the country’s leading legislative body, is anticipated to add more national laws to the constitutions of Hong Kong and Macau, including China’s new anti-sanctions law enabling Beijing to retaliate against individuals and entities viewed as responsible for planning or imposing sanctions against China, as well as allowing local individuals and entities to seek redress in Chinese courts from those allegedly involved in such measures. The law is likely to add pressure on foreign companies to decide on whether to abide by their home governments’ laws or those of China.
There were very limited substantive developments over the monitoring cycle on geopolitical matters, but we anticipate a resumption of activities in this domain in the week ahead.
Leon Tong Ying-kit, the first defendant to stand trial under China’s imposed national security law (NSL), was convicted and sentenced to nine years in prison after being found gility of terrorism and secession, 30 July 2021 / Voice of America
PUBLIC HEALTH AND SAFETY: COVID-19
On Friday (30 July), the Centre for Health Protection (CHP) reported two further imported COVID-19 infections, one each from Switzerland and the US. Both individuals had been fully inoculated with the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine and were reported to be asymptomatic. In the past 14 days, a total of new 27 coronavirus infections have been reported in Hong Kong, all of them imported. The CHP also reminded the general public that persons who resided or worked within the same building of an infected individual will have to undergo compulsory testing on days 3, 7, 12 and 19 following detection of said infected individual.
As of Friday, 47.0 per cent of Hong Kong’s population has received a first dose of an approved coronavirus vaccine, with 35.3 per cent of the population fully immunised. A further 70,083 vaccines were administered throughout Hong Kong on Friday, with the 7-day average standing at 64,076.
On Friday, the South China Morning Post reported that Hong Kong authorities are considering imposing stricter entry requirements on international arrivals from the US, amid a broader review of the territory’s risk ratings for international travel. This would potentially mean US arrivals having to quarantine for 21 days on arrival, rather than the current 14-day period. Hong Kong health authorities are concerned over the US’s rising COVID-19 caseload and the spread of the Delta variant, which is now dominant in the US. Any decision to increase the mandatory quarantine period on US arrivals, however, could have negative operational and commercial consequences for Cathay Pacific Airways, which is the only airline currently operating direct US-Hong Kong flights.
Crime fell 4.6 per cent during the first half of 2021 compared with 2020, Hong Kong police data released on 27 July revealed, although violent and sexual offenses rose by 3.2 per cent / Shutterstock
LOCAL POLITICAL AND SECURITY DEVELOPMENTS
On Monday (26 July), the Independent Commission against Corruption (ICAC) announced the arrest of three prominent pro-democracy activists, including former law professor Benny Tai You-ting, Ip Kim-Ching and Sek Sau-ching on charges of violating election laws connected to the 2016 Legislative Council polls.
Specifically, the charges relate to campaign finances for advertisements and other endorsements of a voting platform called ‘ThunderGo’. The platform provided advice to the electorate on how to vote for candidates based on a series of questions that identified candidate preferences. The intention of the platform was to drive more of the electorate towards voting for pro-democracy candidates. The legal issue has to do with the advertisement of the platform which they did on the now defunct Apple Daily and the Ming Pao newspaper. ICAC contends that because Ip and Sek were on the boards of the Apple Daily, they violated campaign finance laws. The legal merits of the case are murky, but the optics suggest that it is another government attempt to stifle the pro-democracy movement by targeting the leadership structure. Grassroots activists, however, will undoubtedly add this case to the list of motivations to potentially mobilise. More cases involving arrested pro-democracy figures and activists are in the pipeline, which will garner significant media and public attention. At this juncture, there have been no indications on social media channels for calls to publicly hold any rallies.
On Tuesday (27 July), a panel of judges at Hong Kong’s High Court found the first defendant to stand trial in the territory under China’s imposed national security law guilty of secession and terrorism. Leon Tong Ying-kit was accused of injuring three police officers while riding a motorcycle carrying a banner with the phrase ‘Liberate Hong Kong; revolution of our times’ during a rally on 1 July 2020, the day after the NSL was imposed. The judges, sitting without a jury in line with the NSL, found that Tong had intended to incite separatism by displaying the banner and had deliberately sought to injure the police officers.
The High Court’s verdict is unlikely to come as a surprise to most Hong Kong residents as Tong’s actions were recorded and widely broadcast on mainstream and online media. Of particular concern is the ruling regarding the use of the ‘liberate Hong Kong’ phrase which was widely used by many thousands of protesters on banners and placards or verbally, with many clearly identified on open media and, it must be assumed, by police and other surveillance systems. Further, the timing of the verdict a few days ahead of the 1 August introduction of new immigration laws, viewed by many as strengthening the authorities’ ability to prevent residents from leaving the territory, will add to the concerns of many who were active in the protest movement. It is evident that thousands of people have already left Hong Kong in recent months, many of them young or families with children, and this rate of departure can be expected to increase in the coming months. Foreign companies are certain to find that often key local staff will leave the territory, often with little to no warning, regardless of any incentives that may be offered for them to remain.
Also on 27 July, Hong Kong police statistics revealed an overall decrease in crime of 4.6 per cent during the first half of 2021 compared with 2020, though violent and sexual offenses increased by 3.2 per cent. The crime detection rate, or the measure of reported crimes that are solved, increased by approximately 3.5 per cent, to 35.7 per cent. The overall lowering in crime can be attributed to a considerable drop in robbery cases, namely by 64 per cent to only 67 cases. Burglaries decreased by 35.9 per cent, serious assaults were down by 15.7 per cent, and theft dropped by 13.4 per cent. Conversely, romance scams soared by more than 90 per cent during this period, with total losses marking a doubling from last year and amounting to HKD288 million. Additionally, reports of deception rose by around 7 per cent, to 8,699 cases. Deception includes scams perpetrated by fraudsters.
On Wednesday (28 July), media reports said China’s National People's Congress (NPC) Standing Committee, the country’s leading legislative body, is expected to add more national laws to the constitutions of Hong Kong and Macau, which were negotiated between Beijing and the departing British and Portuguese colonial powers. According to the reports the NPC will discuss these measures, including making anti-sanctions laws applicable to both territories, when it meets in August. Such a move would bring Hong Kong and Macau into line with mainland China, where the NPC introduced an anti-sanctions law in June enabling Beijing to seize the assets of and deny entry to individuals and entities deemed to be responsible for planning or implementing sanctions against the country. It also permits local individuals and companies to seek redress in China’s judicial system from those accused of engaging in such actions.
Foreign companies should assume the NPC will approve the proposed additions to Hong Kong and Macau’s constitutions and that the anti-sanctions law will be quickly implemented. The law could place foreign companies, no doubt as intended, in a position where they would have to decide whether to follow their national governments' policies and legislation or those of China. The measures can also be expected to result in a further response from the US and many of its allies, adding to the high levels of diplomatic and economic tensions between what are now rapidly becoming self-defined blocs. Foreign companies operating in Hong Kong and Macau are unlikely to have any direct influence on either their home governments or China with regard to the impact of such legislation other than to assess how they may be able to mitigate, where possible, the consequences of any further deterioration in ties between their governments and Beijing.
On Thursday (29 July), Hong Kong DJ Tam Tak-chi went on trial for sedition in the first use of the colonial-era law since the territory’s handover from the UK to China. Tam faces eight sedition charges for slogans he either said or wrote in January-July 2020. He also faces other charges including inciting an unlawful assembly and disorderly conduct. The slogans included ‘Liberate Hong Kong, revolution of our times’, ‘Corrupt cops, all of your family go to hell’, ‘Disband Hong Kong police, delay no more’, and ‘Down with the Communist Party of China’. The landmark trial will be crucial in determining the legality of political phrases and views publicly expressible in Hong Kong as Beijing tightens control over the territory. Sedition is punishable by up to two years in prison for a first offence.
A panel of judges in Hong Kong’s High Court on Friday (30 July) announced the first sentencing of a local resident under China’s national security law (NSL) imposed on the territory in June 2020. Tong Ying-kit, a 24-year-old former waiter, was sentenced to a total of nine years’ imprisonment on terrorism and secession charges after he was accused of riding a motorcycle into three police officers in 2020 while carrying a banner with the protest slogan ‘Liberate Hong Kong. Revolution of our times.’ Tong, who pleaded guilty, will appeal the sentence.
The case, verdict, and sentencing have attracted widespread local and international attention as an indicator as to how the NSL will be imposed and the severity of the sentences handed down by judges in trials held without juries. The severity of Tong’s sentence, for what under Hong Kong’s Common Law would have been a case of aggravated assault and driving offences, reflects the NSL’s political emphasis and points towards how the scores of opposition politicians and activists now detained, and others yet to be arrested, may be treated. Such perceptions are certain to accelerate and deepen the concerns of many Hong Kong residents over their future and that of their children in the territory, adding to the already rapidly growing number of people either leaving or preparing to emigrate. Foreign companies operating in Hong Kong, in addition to losing key staff, increasingly risk reputational harm and possible sanction from their home governments if they are viewed as supporting the central and local governments when the trials of non-violent politicians and activists get underway, now expected in early 2022.
THE WEEK AHEAD
It is likely that foreign governments, particularly of Western and Western-allied countries, will condemn the legal clampdown on pro-democracy activists. It is especially probable that the case around Tong Ying-kit will raise geopolitical tensions, given resounding criticism of the NSL and alleged human rights abuses against pro-democracy activists. Any sanctions imposed by countries such as the US would very likely be met with diplomatic and commercial retaliation by Beijing and Hong Kong, including under the anti-sanctions law. Such reprisals will have more of a pronounced local impact once the legislation encompasses the territory.
The Beijing and Hong Kong governments will likely use Tong’s case as a litmus test for international responses towards sentencing of activists under the NSL. Should international responses be deemed relatively muted or lenient, then it is likely that similar sentences will be imposed in other cases involving activists. Legal action against activists will probably be compounded by usage of the de facto ‘exit ban’ law, due to come into effect as of 1 August. The frequency of the law’s use and the nature of its targets will serve as an indicator of how much Hong Kong law has been assimilated to resemble mainland China’s law in this respect. It is possible that the threat of so-called ‘hostage diplomacy’, an alleged long-standing practice in mainland China, will be replicated in Hong Kong. Hostage diplomacy involves the arbitrary detention of foreign nationals as a way of exerting pressure on their home governments. The most recent high-profile case of this involves an Irish national who was reportedly involved in a legal dispute with a local partner and was subsequently barred from leaving China. The case remains unresolved, leaving the individual in question stranded and as of yet unable to exact legal recourse.
Two memorial gatherings are planned over the upcoming monitoring period. See details below.
UPCOMING PROTESTS 30 July – 5 August
Upcoming significant dates in the pro-democracy calendar are likely to draw out small numbers of activists for memorial gatherings:
- 31 July: Memorial for the 31 August 2019 Prince Edward station attack
- 1 August: Memorial for Kin-fai Leung
PROTEST CHRONOLOGY 23 – 29 July
Thursday 29 July
1500: Activists organised a memorial gathering at Fuk Tai House, Ka Fuk Estate, Fanling, New Territories, to mark the death of Hiu-yan Lo, a young anti-extradition bill protester who fell to her death there in June 2019. It is unclear as of the time of compiling this report whether activists appeared for this memorial gathering.