11 January 2021

HKCT Review 2020: April to June 2020

HKCT Review 2020: April to June 2020

As a city that has survived the SARS epidemic of 2003, when COVID-19 first hit the city, there was widespread panic. Following the implementation of social distancing measures and a gradual resumption of facial mask supply in town, citizens somewhat adjusted to the “new normal”. However, things in the political arena continued to heat up as the score-settling from the anti-ELAB movement continued, this time targeting the outspoken activists, teachers, and civil servants. Moreover, the National People’s Congress began its deliberation of a draconian National Security Law for Hong Kong, which weighed heavily on the hearts of not only the Hong Kong people, but also sent shockwaves abroad, prompting even the G7 to voice out its concerns, and the US imposed visa restrictions on CCP officials who are believed to be responsible for, or complicit in, undermining Hong Kong’s high degree of autonomy. Despite the objections of the local people and foreign politicians and governments, the NSL was signed into law on 30 June and came into effect immediately.

Arrest of pro-democracy activists

Besides a draconian law that could quash unrest even before it happened, the scores against protesters was settled by high-profile arrests of pro-democracy activists and leaders on 18 Apr on allegations of unlawful assemblies on 18 Aug, 1 Oct, and 20 Oct 2019 (https://www.facebook.com/hkcolumn/posts/2628376230713093). The arrestees included former lawmaker Au Nok-hin, Martin Lee, NextMedia founder Jimmy Lai, and LSD members Leung Kwok-hung and Raphael Wong, and the pro-democracy camp slammed the arrest as part of a “script written to suppress”, and expressed concern what the actions would be from one day to the day, and how many lawmakers would be arrested after leaving the Legislative Council Chamber (https://www.facebook.com/hkcolumn/posts/2628313624052687). Little did they know at the time that things would take a drastic turn for the worst in less than 6 months from the arrests.

The arrests sent shockwave beyond the borders of the city, as international politicians such as former Hong Kong Governor Chris Patten, rose up to criticise the erosion of the fundamental freedoms and rights enshrined in One Country, Two Systems, and the assault on the values underpinning Hong Kong’s way of life for years (https://www.facebook.com/hkcolumn/posts/2628558117361571). Politicians from the US also voiced their concerns, including US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo (https://www.facebook.com/hkcolumn/posts/2629039563980093), US Attorney General William Barr, US Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi just to name a few (https://www.facebook.com/hkcolumn/posts/2629044587312924). Besides voicing concerns over the stripping away of freedoms and rights of the Hong Kong people, US politicians also took the opportunity to push forth for the US’s administration to implement the HK Human Rights & Democracy Act.

Moreover, even the UN had paid close attention to the high-profile arrests via its office of the human rights commissioner (https://www.facebook.com/hkcolumn/posts/2633983096819073), and reminded the HK government on 24 April of its obligations to international law. Political and social instability was certainly also on the minds of the business sector, and Fitch ratings took the lead on 20 April in downgrading Hong Kong’s credit rating from AA to AA- with a stable outlook (https://www.facebook.com/hkcolumn/posts/2630209863863063), which the Hong Kong government of course responded to with a statement saying that the city still had a solid foundation built on the local economy and financial market. Then on 1 May, the Hong Kong government issued a strongly-worded rebuttal against accusations of foreign politicians and parliaments (https://www.facebook.com/hkcolumn/posts/2638938286323554).

The encroachment of CPG units in Hong Kong

Various representatives and extensions of the Central People’s Government (CPG) have setup bureaus in Hong Kong, and their roles and authority in Hong Kong was brought under the spotlight in April when the Liaison Office of the CPG (LOCPG) and the Hong Kong and Macao Affairs Office (HKMAO) seemed to have become too outspoken. Controversy erupted on 13 April when the HKMAO issued an opinion slamming members of the opposition as reaping political capital for themselves at the expense of citizens, and using various methods to try to bring the legislature to a grinding halt (https://www.facebook.com/hkcolumn/posts/2624671567750226). Civic Party’s Dennis Kwok came under the spotlight this time as the CPG offices targeted him as the chair of the Legislative Council House Committee election. 

Despite drawing ire from politicians and citizens alike, the CPG units in Hong Kong did not stand by, the CPG units deny accusations of “interference” in Hong Kong matters, and the HKMAO vehemently voiced its denial with 3 statements targeting the pan-democratic camp (https://www.facebook.com/hkcolumn/posts/2631071490443567). The Hong Kong government chimes in and explains that the LOCPG is an office setup in Hong Kong in accordance with Article 22(2) of the Basic Law, and is therefore authorised by the CPG to have special responsibility to handle issues relating to Hong Kong (https://www.facebook.com/hkcolumn/posts/2628705410680175). However, the LOCPG did seem to enjoy some special status besides that written into the Basic Law. As now-disbanded Demosistō unveiled at a press conference that the LOCPG had at least 757 properties in Hong Kong over the past 4 decades, and stamp duty had been waived for the LOCPG (https://www.facebook.com/hkcolumn/posts/2629995360551180).

However, it would take more than 3 successive statements from the Hong Kong government to convince everyone. The Hong Kong Bar Association (HKBA) for one, slammed the remarks of the LOCPG and the government for lack of consistency, and thus tarnishing One Country, Two Systems on 20 April (https://www.facebook.com/hkcolumn/posts/2630201607197222). Foreign press on 24 April went so far as to remark that the overbearing presence of the CPG units in Hong Kong in fact heralded the beginning of One Country, One System (https://www.facebook.com/hkcolumn/posts/2634693173414732). On 5 June, Secretary for Constitutional and  Mainland Affairs (SCMA) Erick Tsang refuted HKBA’s accusations that the LOCPG and HKMAO were overbearing, but that the 2 CPG units indeed had supervisory powers over Hong Kong (https://www.facebook.com/hkcolumn/posts/2667344550149594).

Securing the nation with a new law

Seeing that the Anti-ELAB movement managed to go on for months and only happened to quiet down with the outbreak of the COVID-19 epidemic, a long-term solution to unrest and possible threats to the integrity of national sovereignty was needed. To achieve just that, Beijing officials held meetings with Hong Kong delegates to the NPC and Hong Kong CPPCC members frequently in the month before the enactment of the newly proposed legislation of the National Security Law for Hong Kong (NSL) (https://www.facebook.com/hkcolumn/posts/2655673741316675). The chief of the Hong Kong and Macau Affairs Office, Xia Baolong, briefed Hong Kong delegates to the NPC for the first time on 21 May, and he affirmed later that the law would not undermine the freedom of speech. The wording of the legislation was expected to take a harder line than Basic Law’s Article 23, and to be “very broad”, according to political commentator Bruce Lui. In other words, it would allow room for interpretation by the courts. Nevertheless, sensing growing public concern over NSL, the HK government under CE Carrie Lam’s lead held a press conference on 22 May to reiterate that even after the NSL was put in place, Hong Kong would “remain a free society” (https://www.facebook.com/hkcolumn/posts/2656057451278304).

Han Zheng, China’s Vice Premier, received 36 Hong Kong delegates to the National People's Congress (NPC) in Beijing on 24 May to reiterate the importance of national security and Hong Kong’s role in the country’s development. Han also hoped that through the Hong Kong delegates, messages of hope and confidence could be spread to the Hong Kong people that the NPC would support the Chief Executive and the SAR Government would resolve deep-rooted conflicts in the city. Moreover, Han was quoted saying that there was no conflict between the legislation of the NSL and that of Article 23 of the Basic Law (https://www.facebook.com/hkcolumn/posts/2657301511153898). 

During the drafting stage, the NSL had drawn much speculation and attention not only locally, but also abroad. The US State Department issued a statement on 22 May, condemning the PRC’s “disastrous proposal” to unilaterally and arbitrarily impose national security legislation on Hong Kong, while reiterating that the US would continue to monitor Hong Kong’s high degree of autonomy, democratic institutions, and civil liberties to determine whether Hong Kong could retain its special status under US law (https://www.facebook.com/hkcolumn/posts/2656300527920663). On 23 May, a joint statement by the foreign ministers of the UK, Canada, and Australian expressed concern that the devising of the NSL without consultation with the local people, legislature, or judiciary “would clearly undermine the principle of ‘One Country, Two Systems’” (https://www.facebook.com/hkcolumn/posts/2656132794604103). Taiwan President Tsai Ing-wen wrote on 24 May that the NSL seriously threatened the future of Hong Kong (https://www.facebook.com/hkcolumn/posts/2657579051126144). Christians both local and abroad also voiced concerns on 24 May that the passing of the NSL could impair freedom of speech, and maintaining ties between local and foreign churches could be construed as colluding with foreign forces (https://www.facebook.com/hkcolumn/posts/2657820551101994). The Hong Kong Bar Association also issued a statement to voice its concerns over the proposed legislation on 25 May (https://www.facebook.com/hkcolumn/posts/2658231401060909). Legal academic Johannes Chan on 25 May published his opinion that enactment of the NSL will be “followed by a series of prosecutions, suppressions, and restraints, with a view to turning Hong Kong into a submissive society where no one thinks and dares to question authorities” (https://www.facebook.com/hkcolumn/posts/2673352889548760).

Scholars also weighed in on the situation, and Brian Fong, a comparative political scientist, wrote on 25 May that Hong Kong was becoming ground zero for a new cold war. The proposed legislation, Fong argued, would mean that Beijing was no longer satisfied by indirect rule over the territory (https://www.facebook.com/hkcolumn/posts/2658947734322609). Meanwhile, the Hong Kong government stressed on the same day that the NPC was paramount, and that the issue of national security laid outside the limits of the HKSAR’s autonomy (https://www.facebook.com/hkcolumn/posts/2658416307709085). Various Hong Kong government units chimed in to show their support of the draft Decision of the NPC on 25 May (https://www.facebook.com/hkcolumn/posts/2657860704431312, https://www.facebook.com/hkcolumn/posts/2658290584388324). STH Frank Chan, went so far on the same day as to invoke the Bible story "The Judgment of Solomon", describing the foreign powers as “Fake Mother” and Beijing as “True Mother" respectively, in support of the NSL draft (https://www.facebook.com/hkcolumn/posts/2658154881068561). Even 5 heads of universities expressed their understanding that the NSL was needed, and that they fully supported One Country, Two Systems on 1 June (https://www.facebook.com/hkcolumn/posts/2663702110513838). However, on 12 June, academics shared their concerns about the NSL, for matters such as foreign research grants or international collaborations could be interpreted as colluding with foreign forces, and more profoundly, there was a heightened worry over the law to the extent of possible self-censorship, thus stifling academic freedom (https://www.facebook.com/hkcolumn/posts/2672855516265164).

In June, more voices from the legal sector offered their warnings against the NSL after the NPC’s decision on 28 May. Chief Justice Andrew Li expressed his understanding why the NSL is proposed, but he shared his comments on being careful on the details of the law, which he penned in an article on 2 June (https://www.facebook.com/hkcolumn/posts/2664459750438074). On the following day, the Hong Kong Bar Association wrote to the NPC saying that once the NSL was enacted, it would yield far-reaching impact to Hong Kong citizens, and both local and foreign businesses (https://www.facebook.com/hkcolumn/posts/2665359477014768). Non-permanent judge of the Court of Final Appeal, Kemal Bohkary said in an interview on 3 June that the rule-of-law storm was in full swing (https://www.facebook.com/hkcolumn/posts/2665522193665163). On 11 June, Law Society of Hong Kong issued its preliminary observations on the NSL, stating that of course the NPC had the right to legislate on national security, but the Society urged the NPC to exercise restraint, and to maintain confidence in the One Country, Two Systems policy and the rule of law in Hong Kong (https://www.facebook.com/hkcolumn/posts/2672215936329122). Following that, the HKBA issued a new statement on 12 June, which mentions that "if the national security law is to be made and to apply here, it should fully reflect the unique circumstances and the constitutional context of its promulgation" and mentions details of what the national security law should include "in light of the unique circumstances and the constitutional context and in order to protect the integrity of the constitutional design of One Country, Two Systems". Moreover, should national security units of the CPG be setup in Hong Kong, they “should only be done pursuant to Article 22 of the Basic Law. The office and its personnel need to abide by the laws of the HKSAR. They should not have any law enforcement powers, including the power to conduct surveillance, save in accordance with the laws of the HKSAR. They should not be entitled to any civil and criminal immunity under the laws of the HKSAR” (https://www.facebook.com/hkcolumn/posts/2673622609521788). 

Perhaps not quite surprising, UK put an escape in the works at this time, seeing that the CCP was ready to betray what it had promised to the people of the former British colony under the Sino-British Joint Declaration and the subsequently drafted Basic Law. On 24 May, media reported that UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson had a secret plan to allow Hong Kong citizens holding the British Nationals (Overseas) (BNO) passport to move to Britain in the case of further restrictions on rights and freedoms as a result of the impending NSL for Hong Kong (https://www.facebook.com/hkcolumn/posts/2657559891128060). On 12 June, UK Home Secretary asked the Prime Minister to grant Hong Kong BNO passport holders and their family dependents in Hong Kong “leave to enter the UK outside of the Immigration Rules” until a pathway to citizenship is enacted (https://www.facebook.com/hkcolumn/posts/2676358199248229). Taiwan also stepped up to support Hong Kong people seeking to flee uncertainties and dangers, when on 18 June, it announced that an office would be set up to “practically handle humanitarian relief and care” for Hong Kong citizens, though under the precondition of safeguarding Taiwan’s national security (https://www.facebook.com/hkcolumn/posts/2678515159032533).

Although some citizens seemed concerned and even angered at the impending legislation, others took to giving their signatures in support of the NSL. This move made supposedly by 2.9m people struck a chord with Luo Huining, Director of the Liaison Office on 1 June (https://www.facebook.com/hkcolumn/posts/2664048183812564).

Besides finding escape routes in person for those who weren’t so optimistic about the NSL, some in Hong Kong took more immediate steps to avert risk to their capital. On 22 May, Hong Kong bankers noted that their clients who had contemplated or set up in place an escape route for their capital since the Anti-ELAB movement shook the city in 2019 finally put those plans into work upon news of the imminent NSL for Hong Kong (https://www.facebook.com/hkcolumn/posts/2655847274632655). However, after the NPC’s decision on 28 May, major banks including HSBC (https://www.facebook.com/hkcolumn/posts/2665974673619915) and Standard Chartered (https://www.facebook.com/hkcolumn/posts/2665592890324760) threw themselves behind the NSL on 3 Jun, making known their support of the draconian law.

On 15 June, with 2 weeks’ time remaining before the NSL would be enacted, Secretary for Security John Lee stated on a televised interview that there would be 3 requirements on police officers enforcing the NSL (https://www.facebook.com/hkcolumn/posts/2675226576028058). On the same day, legal scholar Johannes Chan worried that if national security organs of the CPG could supervise Hong Kong, then that would be “nationalizing” Hong Kong’s autonomy (https://www.facebook.com/hkcolumn/posts/2675538329330216). On the other hand, Tsinghua University Law professor Wang Zhenmin said that the NPC had exercised restraint in penning the NSL in that there could have been other laws drafted to also been included in Annex 3 to the Basic Law, while Chinese Renmin University's law professor and Basic Law Committee member Han Dayuan said that the NSL guaranteed that everyone would lead a happy, dignified, decent, and free life (https://www.facebook.com/hkcolumn/posts/2675447386005977). On 16 June, however, Philip Dykes, chairman of HKBA, believed Beijing's intention of imposing the NSL on Hong Kong was to take control of the most serious national security cases in Hong Kong in a "reverse engineering" of the failed extradition bill, “Rather than you going to the mainland, the mainland comes to you” (https://www.facebook.com/hkcolumn/posts/2676460459238003). The G7 issued its first joint statement on 17 June on Hong Kong, calling on China to reconsider the NSL (https://www.facebook.com/hkcolumn/posts/2677627515787964). The HKBA issued a new statement on 19 June warning that the enactment of the NSL would “create a parallel law enforcement system where one part - the office of the Mainland security agency - may not be subject to the usual legal scrutiny and accountability that is in place for the law enforcement agencies in the HKSAR” (https://www.facebook.com/hkcolumn/posts/2679344392282943).

In the week leading to the passing of the NSL, those for and against the legislation were eager to make their stances known. On 21 June, media reported that the HKBA, Progressive Lawyers Group and senior lawyers told Reuters their concerns and questions towards the NSL (https://www.facebook.com/hkcolumn/posts/2680461402171242). At night the same day, the Secretary for Justice, Secretary for Security as well as the heads of 6 disciplined forces expressed their staunch support for the safeguarding of national security in HK (https://www.facebook.com/hkcolumn/posts/2680601468823902). However, on the following day, the EU “reiterated its grave concerns at steps taken by China to impose national security legislation from Beijing and considers those steps not in conformity with the Hong Kong Basic Law and China’s international commitments” in advance of a meeting between the EU and China (https://www.facebook.com/hkcolumn/posts/2681472422070140). Also on 23 June, First Chief Justice of Hong Kong Andrew Li published an article citing his concerns over the NSL and its impact to the judiciary, that Beijing’s retention of jurisdiction “on few cases” to be worrying, and that the CE’s possible conflict of interest in selecting NSL designated judges (https://www.facebook.com/hkcolumn/posts/2681789545371761), the last point of which was also echoed by the HKBA (https://www.facebook.com/hkcolumn/posts/2681903715360344, https://www.facebook.com/hkcolumn/posts/2682223968661652).

Having faced criticism of the lack of consultation, especially with the Hong Kong people, who would be most directly affected by the NSL, Beijing arranged some “consultation” with the locals leading up to the passing of the law. On 22 June, it was reported that 7 religious leaders met with the LOCPG, who expressed their understanding and support towards the new law (https://www.facebook.com/hkcolumn/posts/2681967135354002). State mouthpiece People’s Daily reported that Central Government official(s) hosted a number of symposiums in Hong Kong on 23 Jun to continue to collect views and suggestions widely from various sectors of Hong Kong on the NSL (https://www.facebook.com/hkcolumn/posts/2681953058688743). Later, on 25 June, former deputy director of the Basic Law Committee Elsie Leung told the media that there was no problem with not releasing details of the NSL in advance, and that the CE was more suited to designate judges to handle NSL since the CE would have access to confidential information; moreover, Leung remarked that Beijing officials had consulted different people, which the LOCPG website had described as 120 people from various sectors (https://www.facebook.com/hkcolumn/posts/2683571661860216), and it was reported on CCTV on 28 June that views from HK had been fully heard and studied prior to submitting 2nd draft of NSL for deliberation (https://www.facebook.com/hkcolumn/posts/2686356718248377). On 27 June, SCMA Erick Tsang told CCTV in an exclusive interview that he had been “longing for NSL for a long time” (https://www.facebook.com/hkcolumn/posts/2685251545025561), while SCS Patrick Nip told CCTV on the same day that the NSL was the “country’s love and care for HK” (https://www.facebook.com/hkcolumn/posts/2685947114956004).

More reactions arose before the enactment of the NSL. The Foreign Correspondents’ Club in Hong Kong issued an open letter on 24 June seeking CE’s clarification on the NSL and its implications on press freedom (https://www.facebook.com/hkcolumn/posts/2684545348429514). On 25 June, 13 Canadian senators called on Canada to impose sanctions on Chinese and Hong Kong officials for "gross violations of human rights and fundamental freedoms” (https://www.facebook.com/hkcolumn/posts/2683961355154580). In the US on the same day, the Senate unanimously passed a sanctions bill on China over its legislating of the NSL, which the US saw as a threat to the city’s autonomy (https://www.facebook.com/hkcolumn/posts/2684291665121549), and on 26 June, the HKSARG strongly opposed the bill’s passing (https://www.facebook.com/hkcolumn/posts/2684738058410243), which the foreign ministry office in HK “resolutely opposes” on 27 June (https://www.facebook.com/hkcolumn/posts/2685430481674334). HKU legal scholar Eric Cheung on 26 June expressed his worries that the NSL would leave human rights & existing systems unprotected (https://www.facebook.com/hkcolumn/posts/2684520171765365).

The countering measures from abroad came on 27 June when US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo announced visa restrictions on current and former CCP officials who are believed to be responsible for, or complicit in, undermining Hong Kong’s high degree of autonomy, as guaranteed in the 1984 Sino-British Joint Declaration, or undermining human rights and fundamental freedoms in Hong Kong (https://www.facebook.com/hkcolumn/posts/2684772581740124). On 29 June, the Chinese Foreign Ministry said that it would reciprocate the US’s visa restrictions (https://www.facebook.com/hkcolumn/posts/2686963191521063).

On 29 June, the day before the passing of the NSL, state mouthpieces Wen Wei Po and Ta Kung Pao dedicated their headlines to discuss the NSL and to slam the “Liberate HK” slogan and “Glory to HK” song as advocating “HK Independence” (https://www.facebook.com/hkcolumn/posts/2687161491501233). On the same day, the New York Times reported that Japan calls China’s new NSL for Hong Kong “regrettable” and undermined the credibility of One Country, Two Systems (https://www.facebook.com/hkcolumn/posts/2687601521457230).

Convenor of Hong Kong Independence Union Wayne Chan announced on 29 June that he had jumped bail, citing the looming “NSL was the main trigger for my departure” (https://www.facebook.com/hkcolumn/posts/2686639444886771). In mere hours before the voting and passing of the NSL in Beijing, political groups Studentlocalism, and Demosistō announced that they would dissolve immediately, while the Hong Kong National Front said that it would move their members and operations abroad (https://www.facebook.com/hkcolumn/posts/2687694901447892, https://www.facebook.com/hkcolumn/posts/2687679384782777, https://www.facebook.com/hkcolumn/posts/2687599118124137).

Lobbying to the last minute, CE Carrie Lam spoke on 30 June at the UN Human Rights Council that the NSL was necessary for the sake of both the 7.5m HK people and also the 1.4b people in China, that “such a gaping hole in national security” needed to be fixed (https://www.facebook.com/hkcolumn/posts/2687748994775816). In the evening that day, Xinhua News reported that Xi Jinping had signed the Law of the People's Republic of China on the Safeguarding of National Security of the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region into law (https://www.facebook.com/hkcolumn/posts/2687778704772845), followed by statements from CE, Secretary for Justice, Secretary for Security, and 6 heads of disciplined forces welcoming the passage of NSL (https://www.facebook.com/hkcolumn/posts/2687816648102384). Shortly after the signing by Xi Jinping, the LOCPG issued a statement urging people to not underestimate Beijing’s determination to ensure national security, and that the new law would help Hong Kong start afresh (https://www.facebook.com/hkcolumn/posts/2687952381422144). At 23:00 the same night, the NSL was signed by the CE, gazetted, and became effective immediately (https://www.facebook.com/hkcolumn/posts/2687961811421201).

Citizens’ Protests against NSL

On 10 May, it was Mother’s Day, when many families went out to celebrate the occasion, but it was also the same day as the “Sing with You” and “Shop with You on Mother’s Day” protests, which put the police on high alert. With families out and about in celebration, scary scenes both indoor and outdoor were seen that day (https://www.facebook.com/hkcolumn/posts/2646524488898267). Cable News reported that in total, more than 100 had been arrested, and more than 2 dozen people were demanded to face the wall, forming a line waiting to be arrested for unlawful assembly (https://www.facebook.com/hkcolumn/posts/2646664558884260).

It was also a tough day for journalists covering the news, as one of them faced a credible threat of violence from a police officer who aimed their weapon at the journalist (https://www.facebook.com/hkcolumn/posts/2646683358882380). Another journalist, this time from TMHK, was detained by the police for an hour, had his head pressed into pepper spray and left there in extreme pain (https://www.facebook.com/hkcolumn/posts/2647007772183272). On 11 May, the chairman of the Hong Kong Journalists Association (HKJA), Chris Yeung Kin-hing, said that it was “very humiliating” for the police to ask reporters to kneel down, read out their names and organisations to the camera before leaving, describing the situation as "extremely bad" and questioning whether the PDPO had been breached (https://www.facebook.com/hkcolumn/posts/2647167525500630).

Hong Kong citizens on 24 May showed their dismay at the NSL with a march on Hong Kong island around Causeway Bay and Wan Chai. At the same time, CE Carrie Lam seemed to remain in her parallel universe, posting on social media that many users left messages on her account saying how they supported her and the government, asking to enact legislation of Article 23 of the Basic Law ASAP, while she would continue to stand on guard against smearing and attacks of those opposing the NSL (https://www.facebook.com/hkcolumn/posts/2657548454462537). Taking to the streets to protest against the NSL seemed to fall on deaf ears, as the government issued a statement that night saying, ‘The violent acts in Causeway Bay and Wan Chai today show that advocates of "Hong Kong independence" and rioters remain rampant, reinforcing the need and urgency of the legislation on national security’ (https://www.facebook.com/hkcolumn/posts/2657553007795415). 

On 28 June merely days before the NSL would officially be enacted, netizens called for a silent march in Kowloon between Jordan and Mong Kok, which resulted in 53 arrests (https://www.facebook.com/hkcolumn/posts/2686307364919979, https://www.facebook.com/hkcolumn/posts/2686242231593159).

The annual 1 July rally received the police’s notice of objection, but on 30 June, CHRF convenor Figo Chan announced that despite possibility of unsuccessful appeal against the objection, the march would go on even if only he attended (https://www.facebook.com/hkcolumn/posts/2687733508110698).

Protecting the country’s dignity by law

More than a year and a half in the making, the National Anthem Ordinance (NAO) was finally voted into law in June. Designed to regulate the playing of the Chinese national anthem and how the national flag can be used, the legislation entered its 2nd reading after a long hiatus on 28 May, same day as the NPC’s decision was handed down on the NSL, and was passed into law on 4 June after its 3rd reading (https://www.facebook.com/hkcolumn/posts/2666884236862292).

On 11 June, CE Carrie Lam was photographed signing the NAO making it officially part of Hong Kong law. A photo of Lam with Xi Jinping could be seen in the background in her office (https://www.facebook.com/hkcolumn/posts/2672414356309280). Then on 13 June, Ming Pao published the police’s internal guidelines on enforcement of the NAO (https://www.facebook.com/hkcolumn/posts/2673824119501637).

Prelude to mass disqualification of democratic lawmakers

The targeting of Civic Party’s Dennis Kwok by CPG units over his role in hosting the LegCo House Committee election was severe to the point of questioning whether his behaviours were constitutional and legal. However, Kwok was resolute in continuing to serve his role as chair of the House Committee chairman election as stipulated by the regulations as deputy chair of the House Committee, going so far as to say on 23 Apr that “it is an honour to be disqualified for democracy” (https://www.facebook.com/hkcolumn/posts/2633139870236729). As an opinion published in Sing Tao showed, disqualification of Dennis Kwok was certainly on the table as the continued filibustering would cause a huge obstruction to the passing of critical legislation, such as the national anthem law (https://www.facebook.com/hkcolumn/posts/2635986049952111).

Besides procedural and administrative means, there was also a legal attempt to oust Dennis Kwok to pave the way to the election of a pro-Beijing camp member as chair of the House Committee. On 27 May, a businessman filed a private prosecution against Kwok for his alleged stalling of the House Committee chairperson election (https://www.facebook.com/hkcolumn/posts/2660264034190979).

New front to conquer: civil servants

During the Anti-ELAB movement, the government had repeatedly called for civil servants to refrain from taking a political stance and to maintain neutrality. On 20 April, the government decided to table a new requirement for civil servants by introducing an oath of office that would ensure all newly recruited civil servants would swear to support the Basic Law (https://www.facebook.com/hkcolumn/posts/2629954337221949). Then on an interview that aired on 8 May, CS Matthew Cheung told Shenzhen TV that he hoped the civil servant college to be completed in 4-5 years’ time would become Hong Kong’s version of the Chinese Academy of Governance (aka Party School, as the Chinese equivalent currently teaches Xi Jinping Thought and various ideological theories of the CCP) (https://www.facebook.com/hkcolumn/posts/2645358302348219).

On 7 June, SCS Patrick Nip said that it was a matter of course that Hong Kong civil servants not only serve Hong Kong, but under One Country, Two Systems, they would also serve China. Moreover, civil servants are to be dedicated and loyal to the Chief Executive and the Government, regardless of their personal beliefs and political convictions (https://www.facebook.com/hkcolumn/posts/2668752020008847). Several civil servants’ unions expressed concerns over SCS’s assertions (https://www.facebook.com/hkcolumn/posts/2668925136658202).

In June, a civil servants’ union organised a referendum on the NSL, and Patrick Nip issued a letter slamming for the union’s call to civil servants to participate in a so-called "referendum on strike" for opposing the legislation; Nip said that as civil servants, they have the responsibility to implement properly the work concerning the legislation of the NSL under the leadership of the CE, and should not oppose the legislation (https://www.facebook.com/hkcolumn/posts/2678583995692316).

Patrick Nip provided new details on 13 June on the oath-taking arrangements, saying that civil servants would be consulted on the new policy, and again reminded civil servants that they should be careful when expressing their views on social media (https://www.facebook.com/hkcolumn/posts/2673724479511601). On 27 June, at the annual general meeting of the Hong Kong Public Doctors' Association and the Government Doctors' Association, chairpersons of both associations said that it would not be acceptable to require doctors to swear an oath of allegiance to the HKSAR and uphold the Basic Law, per draft of the NSL for Hong Kong (https://www.facebook.com/hkcolumn/posts/2685327975017918).

IPCC report on select incidents of the Anti-ELAB movement in 2019

On 15 May, the long-awaited Independent Police Complaints Council (IPCC) on select incidents of the anti-ELAB movement was published (https://www.facebook.com/hkcolumn/posts/2650288585188524, https://www.facebook.com/hkcolumn/posts/2650394251844624). In the conclusion of the report, much time was spent reflecting on how the incidents of violence and protests not only shook and shocked the city, but also hurt the city’s economy and international reputation, while the true causes of the unrest of course remained unspoken (https://www.facebook.com/hkcolumn/posts/2650398531844196). The Security Bureau responded to the report saying that a task force on the recommendations would be set up to follow-up on the advice (https://www.facebook.com/hkcolumn/posts/2650416978509018).

However, one of the former foreign experts commissioned to conduct the review, Clifford Stott, said on social media that the report would not suffice to allay Hongkongers’ concerns on police’s law enforcement, that “It would seem the release of the IPCC report is part of a wider set of coordinated announcements designed to deliver the new 'truth'.” Stott supported for a truly independent investigation into the incidents so that the public could really be reassured (https://www.facebook.com/hkcolumn/posts/2650437215173661).

Mimi Lau, an SCMP reporter, also refuted the IPCC report on the same day due to its depiction of the

shooting of fellow reporter Veby Indah (https://www.facebook.com/hkcolumn/posts/2650449991839050). Nevertheless, CS Matthew Cheung shook off doubts and dismay towards the IPCC report on 17 May when he openly asserted that critics of the IPCC report to have “bad intentions” (https://www.facebook.com/hkcolumn/posts/2651703355047047). On 11 June, Clifford Stott announced that he would issue his own report on police’s role in the anti-ELAB protests, and blasted the inadequacy in IPCC’s powers (https://www.facebook.com/hkcolumn/posts/2672108196339896).

Education the scapegoat for failures in governance and lack of national identity among youngsters

On 14 May, for the first time ever, the Education Bureau (EDB) blasts a history DSE exam question, stating that the question was biased and highly inappropriate (https://www.facebook.com/hkcolumn/posts/2649703251913724). Soon after, the HKEAA issued a statement saying that it deeply regret possibly harming the sentiments and dignity of nationals who had suffered from Japanese aggression in the past (https://www.facebook.com/hkcolumn/posts/2650062095211173). Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the People's Republic of China in the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region (FMCO) promptly accused Hong Kong education on 14 May of being a “doorless chicken coop” (meaning uncontrolled and chaotic), and requested for the EDB and HKEAA for follow-up on the matter seriously (https://www.facebook.com/hkcolumn/posts/2650109455206437).

In response, the EDB demanded on 15 May that the HKEAA cancel the controversial question from the examination (https://www.facebook.com/hkcolumn/posts/2650222985195084). Meanwhile, state mouthpiece Xinhua News Agency published an article calling for a new education system that would be fitted to One Country, Two Systems, and to eradicate the “hidden dirt” from the current system (https://www.facebook.com/hkcolumn/posts/2650537605163622). People’s Daily, meanwhile, followed suit on 17 May by publishing an article stating that the Hong Kong education was “deeply poisoned” and called for a reform to “remove poison” (https://www.facebook.com/hkcolumn/posts/2651789445038438).

Former education sector legislator Ip Kin-yuen, responded on 15 May to the controversy by saying that cancelling the exam question would harm the reputation and professionalism of the examination and assessment system of Hong Kong (https://www.facebook.com/hkcolumn/posts/2650780578472658).

On 16 May, former Secretary-General of HKEAA, Choi Chee-cheong, pointed out that cancelling the controversial history exam question would have to be based on science, supplemented by professional opinions of subject experts, and that cancelling the question would have big impact (https://www.facebook.com/hkcolumn/posts/2651742235043159). Meanwhile, Curriculum Development Council (CDC)-HKEAA Committee on History chairman Lau Chi-pang said on 18 May that he supported the cancellation of the poorly designed question, since the sources provided were very suggestive and one-sided (https://www.facebook.com/hkcolumn/posts/2652684111615638).

Interesting, on 16 May, Apple Daily reported exclusively that the controversial history exam question drafter now works at the EDB; his name is Kelvin Ip Kai-yiu. The drafter had been a frontline teacher previously, and was invited to participate in question drafting as outside practice (https://www.facebook.com/hkcolumn/posts/2651223691761680). On the same day, media reported that both Hans Yeung (History Subject Officer) and Keith Lo, senior manager of liberal studies, as well as a subordinate manager in Liberal Studies, tendered their resignation from HKEAA (https://www.facebook.com/hkcolumn/posts/2651037021780347).

The controversy did not stop with the cancelling of the history exam question, and on 10 June, SE Kevin Yeung issued a letter to schools asking schools to ensure that students don’t bring politics to the schools (https://www.facebook.com/hkcolumn/posts/2671319699752079). On the same day, Ip Kin-yuen, then education sector legislator, promptly responded to Yeung’s letter saying that the very act of saying “don’t bring politics to the schools” is political in itself, and that Yeung's wordings gave people the perception that schools can only support the national security law without any questions or doubts, which was contrary to the aims of civic education. On 11 June, Kevin Yeung was grilled on an RTHK programme on what constituted political songs and which songs would not be appropriate to be sung in schools, among other things, and things did not turn out well for Yeung, who had clearly not thought through things before opening his mouth (https://www.facebook.com/hkcolumn/posts/2672014373015945).

On 25 June, CE Carrie Lam announced that Liberal Studies would remain a compulsory subject, though its court contents would be reduced or streamlined (https://www.facebook.com/hkcolumn/posts/2684319725118743).

It was reported on 29 June that a pro-Beijing group collected more than 20 cases of teachers supposedly making inappropriate remarks during lessons spreading hatred and using biased teaching materials. The Education Bureau said that it would seriously follow-up on such cases (https://www.facebook.com/hkcolumn/posts/2687235268160522).

Breaking tradition of 4 June (Tian'anmen) vigil due to gathering ban

Each year, thousands flock to Victoria Park to participate in a candlelight vigil commemorating the Tian’anmen Massacre on 4 June, hosted by The Hong Kong Alliance in Support of Patriotic Democratic Movements of China (HKASPDMC). At least that was the case for the past 30 years, but that streak was broken in 2020 as the anti-epidemic measure of group gathering ban (https://www.facebook.com/hkcolumn/posts/2653715888179127).

On 1 June, the police issued a letter of objection to the Alliance’s proposed vigil (https://www.facebook.com/hkcolumn/posts/2663754930508556). However, tens of thousands of people in support of the event defied the ban and continued to gather for the annual event (https://www.facebook.com/hkcolumn/posts/2666737830210266).

Kick-off Legislative Council elections

The government announced on 10 June that the LegCo election would be held on 6 September, and nominations would be accepted between 18-31 July (https://www.facebook.com/hkcolumn/posts/2671166759767373). On 18 June, guidelines for the election were released (https://www.facebook.com/hkcolumn/posts/2677785225772193).

The pan-democratic camp was eager to seize the opportunity of the LegCo election to secure more seats so that they could have more say when it came to voting on various bills. To achieve this end, the pan-democratic camp united to organise a primary election, and on 21 June, a list of candidates who had announced or who were expected to announce that they would run in the Pan-democratic Primary (https://www.facebook.com/hkcolumn/posts/2679752178908831). On 24 June, Power for Democracy announced a total of 52 lists in 5 Geographical Constituencies and 2 Functional Constituencies. It was held in 11-12 July and over 600,000 have voted. On 31 Jul, the LegCo Election 2020 has been called off due to COVID-19.

Stifling RTHK

On 20 May, complaints against RTHK's satirical show Headliner were ruled substantiated, RTHK indicated today that they would have a review after the end of this season (https://www.facebook.com/hkcolumn/posts/2654127591471290). The show officially bid farewell to its viewers on 19 June (https://www.facebook.com/hkcolumn/posts/2678867765663939). Since then, the show indeed had not returned to air on RTHK, and the duo who used to host the show had moved to host a political commentary broadcast on Youtube.

As a publicly-funded broadcaster, RTHK had often been criticised as being biased and not supportive enough of the government. On 10 June, members of the RTHK Programme Advisory Panel urged the Board of Advisors to back off from intervening in programme editorial decisions (https://www.facebook.com/hkcolumn/posts/2671856029698446). Merely 2 days later, news broke out that Deputy Director (Programmes) Kirindi Chan Man-kuen would be stepping down, that together with soon-to-retire Director of Broadcasting Leung Ka-wing, there would be a total of 3 out of 5 management departing from RTHK over the next year (https://www.facebook.com/hkcolumn/posts/2672678749616174).

Police conduct in question

During the 2nd quarter of 2020, the police made some notable headlines, albeit for all the wrong reasons. Rupert Dover, Assistant Commissioner of the force, was suspected on 29 April of violating the Government Land License by exceeding the permitted 2-storey building not exceeding 5.18 metres in height and 37.2 square metres in area per storey. Many residents had previously asked from assistance from the Lands Department and ICAC and reported to police. However, after multiple dealings with people from the Squatter Control Office, they always got the response that investigations were underway, with no conclusion. Obviously reporting to the police would not help since the resident in the property belongs to the HKPF. After the anti-ELAB movement and Dover’s name became more well known, residents finally understood why nothing ever came of the complaints they filed (https://www.facebook.com/hkcolumn/posts/2637472333136816).

Dover later clarified that the licensed structure had been given to his wife to reside in by a relative who had given them permission to renovate and live in the licensed house years ago (https://www.facebook.com/hkcolumn/posts/2637571233126926). As for allegations there being a conflict of interest in Dover’s ownership of shares in an air-conditioning parts company, the police force declined to comment on his case citing that it would not comment on individual cases, but that if the conduct of an officer was in question, the force would conduct fair and impartial investigations and take active follow-up actions in accordance with the established mechanism and will not be biased (https://www.facebook.com/hkcolumn/posts/2637564069794309).

Besides senior force management making the headlines for days, other members of the force drew attention as well. On 20 April, news spread like wildfire on social media of a raid by the police at a flat in Oak House, Kwong Yuen Estate in Sha Tin in a case of a man suspected of possession of firearms. The arrest happened in the late afternoon, and local residents reported sounds of fighting to the district councillor at 17:00. A dozen or so police officers arrived at the scene at around 17:40, and between then and 20:36, a lawyer commissioned by a man arrested and held in the flat by the police was refused to see the man despite repeated requests, with the police saying that it was “unnecessary” for the lawyer to assist in the search of the man’s flat. In total, 8 requests to see the man by the lawyer had been rejected by the police (https://www.facebook.com/hkcolumn/posts/2630358273848222). 

Later, both Principal of the Police Tactical Unit, David John Jordan, and Senior Superintendent of Police, New Territories North Region, Vasco Gareth Llewellyn Williams, were found to have suspected unlawful building structures (UBWs) (https://www.facebook.com/hkcolumn/posts/2659871544230228), and the Lands Department responded on 27 May saying that after inspection, since the UBWs did not pose any immediate danger, immediate demolition would not be ordered.

On 22 April, the UK Parliament received a report on the human rights violations by the Hong Kong Police Force drafted by Civil Rights Observer (https://www.facebook.com/hkcolumn/posts/2631601307057252). The 14-page report detailed blatant abuse of power and violations of protected rights and freedoms of protesters, social workers, first-aiders, and even human rights observers. For example, officers had attempted to instil fear in protesters by asking them, “Do you want to become another ‘floating corpse’?”, delaying access to legal counsel to human rights observers, preventing first-aiders from treating injured persons, and forcing arrestees to choose between meeting a lawyer and getting medical help.

On 28 April, in response to an enquiry by then-legislator Lam Cheuk-ting, the Independent Commission Against Corruption (ICAC) said that as at the end of February this year, it was handling 28 suspected corruption cases involving civil servants in the cases related to anti-ELAB movement, of which 26 involved police officers (https://www.facebook.com/hkcolumn/posts/2636490186568364).

Come May, former legislator Eddie Chu said on social media on 11 May that 2 properties owned by Police Commissioner Chris Tang were suspected of illegal structures. On the following day while attending a Yuen Long District Council meeting, Tang said that he would fully cooperate with any department’s investigation (https://www.facebook.com/hkcolumn/posts/2647866598764056).

Blind lawyer Luk Yiu-fai told Sha Tin District Council on 14 May that she was mocked and insulted by an officer on 1 May when she was monitoring a “Sing with You” event at Sha Tin New Town Plaza in case of police brutality (https://www.facebook.com/hkcolumn/posts/2650825361801513).

On 7 May, the police made the headlines again, also for the wrong reason, in that a police sergeant from the Anti-Triad Unit was arrested for possession of meth, coke, and other drugs at a hotel (https://www.facebook.com/hkcolumn/posts/2643732412510808).

During the anti-ELAB movement in 2019, police were accused of sexually abusing protesters. On 24 June, Elmer Yuan Gongyi posted a video “To the World: The Raping of Hong Kong” in which 5 alleged victims shared their sexual assault trauma conducted by the HKPF (https://www.facebook.com/hkcolumn/posts/2683480505202665).

On 26 June, the police again made it on the news when the court heard in a judicial review of the police not displaying their serial numbers while on duty and thus affected the media’s ability to conduct public monitoring, the government lawyer argued that if there was a complaint, the established mechanism should be used to “give the system a chance” (https://www.facebook.com/hkcolumn/posts/2684815685069147).

Notable court cases

On 24 April, District Court judge Kwok Wai-kin handed down his verdict in a case of a 50yo man who attacked 3 people in a pedestrian tunnel in Tseung Kwan O, sending one of the victims to the ICU. The defendant admitted 3 counts of wounding with intent, but Kwok spent a third of his verdict condemning protesters and the Anti-ELAB movement of 2019, blaming that the case would not have happened if the protests didn’t happen, and so the defendant’s sentence was reduced by a third to serve 45 months in jail. Moreover, more than a few eyebrows were raised when Kwok described the defendant as having “noble sentiments” and acted in a way "rarely seen in other highly educated intellectuals and professionals" (https://www.facebook.com/hkcolumn/posts/2633481996869183).

The first protester of the Anti-ELAB movement who admitted to rioting was sentenced on 15 May to serve 48 months in jail, 3 months longer than the 50yo man who attacked and injured 3 people in a pedestrian tunnel in Tseung Kwan O (https://www.facebook.com/hkcolumn/posts/2650889568461759). The defendant, a 21yo lifeguard, was slammed for waging a “direct attack on the rule of law.”

On 18 June, former legislator now in exile Ted Hui told the press that the Eastern Magistrates’ Courts notified him that the court has granted a hearing in his private prosecution of a police officer who shot a young man in Sai Wan Ho on 11 November 2019 (https://www.facebook.com/hkcolumn/posts/2677883629095686). 

Remembering milestones and anniversaries

8 months after the 31-Aug Incident in Prince Edward, citizens commemorated the event on 30 April not only at the iconic landmark of Exit B1, but at various places in the city. Outside the station, people offered flowers to commemorate the event, while riot police were on high alert, watching from the sidelines and often clearing the flower offerings (https://www.facebook.com/hkcolumn/posts/2638171413066908). In Tin Shui Wai, netizens gathered for a Sing With You in Fortune Malls, which prompted the police to rush in and warn those who gathered that they could be slapped with fines for violating the group gathering ban (https://www.facebook.com/hkcolumn/posts/2638327003051349).

HKUST Student Union on 8 May setup a makeshift altar on 8 May to mark the 6-month anniversary of HKUST student Alex Chow’s death. HKUST sent an email to all its staff and students that day warning that they would report to law enforcement and take disciplinary action for violating the group gathering ban (https://www.facebook.com/hkcolumn/posts/2644814769069239). On 8 June, dozens of citizens mourned the 7-month mark of Chow’s death outside Sheung Tak Car Park, and the police were on hand to warn and disperse the crowd for violating anti-epidemic controls (https://www.facebook.com/hkcolumn/posts/2669983326552383).

On 21 May, the 10-month anniversary of the Yuen Long 21-Jul Incident was commemorated in the atrium of YOHO Mall, Yuen Long (https://www.facebook.com/hkcolumn/posts/2655236504693732). Citizens who gathered had been cordoned off by the police, who demanded them to unlock their phones, and those who had Telegram installed and following anti-ELAB channels were threatened that they would be fined for violating the group gathering ban.

On 9 June, the one-year anniversary of the anti-ELAB protests,  media looked back at how things had changed in Hong Kong since the 1m people march on 9 June 2019 (https://www.facebook.com/hkcolumn/posts/2670761193141263, https://www.facebook.com/hkcolumn/posts/2670449656505750, https://www.facebook.com/hkcolumn/posts/2671000659783983). 

The police asked the Civil Human Rights Front (CHRF) on 9 June not to commemorate the one-year anniversary of the death of protester Marco Leung Ling-kit, whose image wearing a yellow raincoat became an icon in the early stage of the anti-ELAB protests (https://www.facebook.com/hkcolumn/posts/2671312093086173). Then CHRF convenor Jimmy Sham refused to heed the police’s demand not to mourn in public. On 15 June, hundreds gathered outside Pacific Place, where Leung died one year ago, to commemorate him (https://www.facebook.com/hkcolumn/posts/2675559819328067, https://www.facebook.com/hkcolumn/posts/2675586505992065).

On the one-year anniversary of the 12-Jun march, many Hong Kong Alliance in Support of Patriotic Democratic Movements of China (HKASPDMC) members were prosecuted for attending a candlelight vigil at Victoria on 4 June, and many worried that the looming NSL to be enacted in Hong Kong would further restrict civic expressions of dissent (https://www.facebook.com/hkcolumn/posts/2673270276223688). The anniversary was marked by protesters across Hong Kong (https://www.facebook.com/hkcolumn/posts/2673229932894389, https://www.facebook.com/hkcolumn/posts/2673358596214856).

Probably one of the last times to commemorate the anniversary of the 21-Jul Yuen Long Attack this way, citizens gathered in MOKO on 21 June to remember 11 months had passed since the attack, and one black-clad person was seen displaying a flag which read “Liberate Hong Kong, Revolution of Our Times” (https://www.facebook.com/hkcolumn/posts/2680249015525814).

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