How the HK47 Prepared for Charges Under the National Security Law, and International Reactions

On Sunday, February 28, 47 prominent Hong Kong pro-democracy activists were charged with subversion under the Hong Kong National Security Law. The charges were widely expected after the activists were first arrested in a massive sweep in January 2021. After initially being released on bail after their arrests, they were notified on Friday, February 26th to report to police stations across the city at 2pm on Sunday, giving them just days to prepare.

On social media and with local media outlets, the 47 documented their last days of freedom and their final messages to the public.

On Sunday, February 28th, Stand News published a video after following nine activists in their final last days preparing for prison:

Translator Karen Tse summarized on Twitter how the nine made their preparations:

Lee Chi-yung, who received just 301 votes in the primary election, was one of eight people arrested in January who were not charged on Sunday. 

A number of activists, including Lester Shum and Sam Cheung, rushed to get married following their arrests in January.

Speaking to local magazine Hong Kong Feature, Shum explained why he and his spouse accelerated their wedding plans. Translated by CDT:

“Our plan for the worst case scenario is, if I’m extradited to China, the difference between ‘wife’ and ‘girlfriend’ is significant, because in the case of the Hong Kong 12, the situation for some girlfriends was somewhat uncertain; only immediate family members had special rights.” He said that the function of sharing a surname was one consideration in getting married, but it certainly wasn’t the most important reason. “I actually didn’t want that to be the reason to get married.” Lester held a beer can in his hand, and squeezed it for a second. Nicole was sitting not far away, her left hand touching her cheek, her right hand petting the cat, listening to her newlywed husband’s reasoning.

“I think, if it’s meant to be, it’ll happen, if it isn’t, then it won’t. If you feel you can’t commit, then don’t hold them up, there just isn’t that kind of time to waste.” […] The important thing, he said three times, is: no matter how high the wall, even if it gets in the way our bodies, it cannot get in the way of our earnestness. The courage of two people to run towards each other, after January 6th [when 55 pro-democracy figures were first arrested], was even clearer.

“I think, in the face of totalitarianism, there’s much less room to be a ‘scumbag’,” he said. The two then looked at each other, and laughed. [Chinese]

Other activists left messages on their Facebook pages, or spoke to the media before entering police stations.

Western governments and human rights organizations around the world have condemned the charges against the 47. On Tuesday, Human Rights Watch denounced the charges, calling the National Security Law “abusive”:

Hong Kong should drop the charges against the 47, part of Beijing’s escalating campaign to end competitive elections in Hong Kong and its crackdown on the territory’s freedoms.

“The Hong Kong authorities are using the Beijing-imposed National Security Law to wrongfully charge 47 people who sought peaceful change through the democratic process,” said Maya Wang, senior China researcher at Human Rights Watch. “The Chinese government is showing Hong Kong and the world that it stands in direct opposition to human rights and democracy.” [Source]

The Guardian’s Helen Davidson reported on condemnation from the E.U., U.K., and U.S.: 

Sunday’s charges drew international condemnation and calls for the release of the detainees. The European Union said the charges made clear that “legitimate political pluralism will no longer be tolerated in Hong Kong”.

The US secretary of state, Antony Blinken, condemned the charges. “Political participation and freedom of expression should not be crimes. The US stands with the people of Hong Kong,” he said.

On Sunday, the British foreign secretary, Dominic Raab, described the charges as “deeply disturbing”. [Source]

Local public broadcaster RTHK reported that Hong Kong’s Department of Justice hit back against the criticism on Tuesday:

The department said open demands for the immediate release of defendants also undermine the rule of law.

It is “seen as an attempt to meddle in Hong Kong’s affairs which are internal affairs of the People’s Republic of China.”

The department also said the National Security Law expressly provides that human rights, such as freedom of speech and assembly, are protected. It also provides that legal principles such as presumption of innocence be respected and observed, it said. [Source]

Since Monday, the 47 defendants have had to sit through a marathon bail hearing, which enters into its third consecutive day on Wednesday. Defendants have had to contend with minimal food and sleep, exhaustion, and poor hygiene since they were remanded in custody on Sunday. South China Morning Post’s Brian Wong and Nadia Lam reported on the court proceedings on Tuesday, which defense counsel described as “sheer torment”:

Tsui said the male defendants, for instance, were taken from court at 5am before reaching Lai Chi Kok Reception Centre one hour later, but they left there again at 8am as prison officers brought them back to the dock.

“To my clients, this is sheer torment,” the lawyer said.

Defendant Lawrence Lau Wai-chung, a barrister who has appeared for the defence in various protest-related proceedings, apologised when he made an oral submission on his own bail application: “I am very sorry for my shabby clothes and messy appearance, as I have not bathed, washed my head and changed my clothes for three days.”

He added: “I came to realise that in depriving one’s freedom, they are also deprived of their personal hygiene, their looks and their self-confidence.” [Source]


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