Hong Kong targets activists day after vote
HONG KONG (3rd UPDATE) – Police cracked down on Hong Kong democracy activists Monday, March 27, saying they would be charged over the Umbrella Movement mass protests, a day after a pro-Beijing candidate was chosen as the city's new leader.
Carrie Lam was selected as the new chief executive Sunday by a committee dominated by pro-China voters, but promised to try to unify the deeply divided city.
The vote was dismissed as a sham by democracy campaigners who fear Beijing is tightening its grip on semi-autonomous Hong Kong and say Lam will be no different from its unpopular current leader, Leung Chun-ying.
Those concerns were heightened Monday when police informed nine leading campaigners who took part in the Umbrella Movement of 2014 – including student protesters and lawmakers – that they would be charged in connection with the rallies.
The protests saw tens of thousands take to the streets calling for fully free leadership elections, but failed to win concessions from Beijing.
Rights group Amnesty International said the police charges showed the city's freedom of expression and right to peaceful assembly was "under a sustained attack".
All nine activists reported to Wan Chai police station Monday night, with around 200 supporters gathering outside.
Civic Party lawmaker Tanya Chan told Agence France-Presse she had received a call from police Monday morning telling her she would be charged with causing a public nuisance, with a maximum sentence of seven years.
"They said it was related to the 'illegal occupation' of 2014," she said, describing it as a "death kiss" from Leung, who will step down in July.
Chan said she had been arrested at the end of the protests, but had never been charged.
Professor Chan Kin-man, a founding member of Hong Kong's Occupy Central, one of the groups behind the protests, also received a call Monday from police informing him of an impending charge and called the move "ridiculous".
Speaking outside the police station Monday night, Chan said the prosecutions would not deter the fight for democracy.
"We are honored to have participated in the Umbrella Movement," he told supporters.
Young legislator Nathan Law, one of the leaders of the Umbrella Movement, was among the supporters outside the police station and said he expected to be the "next target".
"But for us, the harder you suppress us, the harder we bounce back," he said.
Law was already convicted last year with fellow student leaders Joshua Wong and Alex Chow for taking part in, or inciting others to take part in, an anti-China protest that led up to the major rallies.
They were given community service or suspended sentences.
Lam repeated that she wanted unity Monday, but said her approach "should not compromise the rule of law in Hong Kong".
The department of justice said it had not given prior warning to Lam about the prosecutions and insisted the decision to prosecute was "apolitical".
The crackdown comes less than 4 months ahead of Lam's inauguration on July 1, when China's president Xi Jinping is expected to visit Hong Kong to mark the 20th anniversary of the handover of the city by Britain back to China in 1997.
"It does somehow protect the 20th anniversary ceremony in the sense that it deters the protesters from conducting any radical or violent campaigns," said political analyst Edmund Cheng of Hong Kong Baptist University. – Rappler.com