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March 2, 2024
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Police arrest veteran Hong Kong labor activist for ‘collusion’

Hong Kong police on Thursday arrested a prominent labor activist on suspicion of “collusion with foreign forces” under a draconian national security law that criminalizes public dissent, according to multiple media reports in the city.

Police arrested veteran labor unionist Elizabeth Tang, 65, who is married to jailed opposition politician Lee Cheuk-yan, on suspicion of “colluding with foreign forces to endanger national security,” according to the English-language South China Morning Post.

Officers stopped Tang, who was wearing black clothing in a possible show of solidarity with the 2019 protest movement, outside Hong Kong’s Stanley Prison, where Lee is currently serving time for “unauthorized assembly” in connection with protests in 2019 and 2020, the Beijing-backed Wen Wei Po newspaper reported.

The paper said the charges against Tang were likely linked to her work with the pro-democracy Hong Kong Confederation of Trade Unions she set up alongside Lee and other activists in 1990, which had been in receipt of overseas funding.

Lee is currently also awaiting trial under the national security law for “incitement to subvert state power” in connection with his leadership of the 32-year-old Hong Kong Alliance in Support of Patriotic Democratic Movements of China, which stands accused of acting as the agent of a foreign power alongside its other leaders, barrister Chow Hang-tung and veteran rights lawyer Albert Ho.

The Alliance organized annual vigils for the victims of the 1989 Tiananmen massacre in Hong Kong’s Victoria Park for three decades before the event was banned under the ongoing crackdown on dissent in the city. The group was among several prominent civil society groups to disband following investigation by police under the national security law that took effect from July 1, 2020.

‘They are framing her’

Tang’s arrest came after she set up a news research center affiliated with the Confederation of Trade Unions and after she left for the United Kingdom at the end of September 2022, the Wen Wei Po – which is owned by Beijing’s Central Liaison Office in Hong Kong – reported, without explaining why she had returned.

Current affairs commentator Sang Pu said Tang’s arrest shows that the authorities continue to pursue political opposition figures using the law.

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Pro-democracy activist Lee Cheuk-yan holds placards as he arrives at a court in Hong Kong, April 1, 2021. Credit: Associated Press

“They are framing her, saying she harmed national security,” Sang said. “Basically, they want to wipe out their political opponents.”

“Everything I know of Lee Cheuk-yan and everything I have heard about Elizabeth Tang leads me to believe that they never had overthrowing the People’s Republic of China as their goal,” he said. “This crackdown under the national security law is targeting important figures in the pro-democracy camp and the labor movement.”

Sang said the couple married in 1985 and formed the Confederation of Trade Unions five years later.

“They have devoted a lot of effort to helping workers in Hong Kong, and to the international labor movement,” he said. “What does that have to do with endangering national security?”

“How is helping foreign domestic helpers in labor disputes relevant to national security?”

Lee’s current jail terms are related to his attendance at rallies on Aug. 18 and Aug. 31, 2019, at the height of the protest movement, and to his participation in a Tiananmen massacre vigil on June 4, 2020, after the event had been banned.

He was arrested on Jan. 1, 2021, as he released a balloon bearing a slogan calling for the release of political prisoners near the Legislative Council.

Plunging democracy ranking

Hong Kong recently plummeted to 139th place in a global survey of democracy by the V-Dem research institution at Sweden’s University of Gothenburg.

Hong Kong’s scores relating to electoral democracy, political participation, media censorship and academic freedom had all fallen sharply since the last report in 2012, contributing to the low score, which is now in the bottom 20-30%, the report found.

U.S.-based Hong Kong Democracy Council executive director Anna Kwok welcomed the report.

“The most worrying thing is that Hong Kong has lost so many media organizations that can tell the truth, so it’s hard to get the news of what’s happening in Hong Kong to the rest of the world,” Kwok said.

“The report … also showed us that the winding back of freedom and democracy isn’t only happening in Hong Kong,” she said. “It’s a problem faced by people all over the world.”

Veteran activist and consultant to the Hong Kong Democracy Council Sunny Cheung said the closures of pro-democracy media outlets like the Apple Daily, Stand News and Citizen News under national security probes in recent years had contributed to the rapid decline in the city’s freedoms.

“The media used to be some of the best in the region, but now it has suddenly been suppressed,” Cheung said. “If the government goes ahead with [further national security legislation] and a “fake news” law … and other draconian legislation like an online security law … this is going to increase the sense of fear and turbulence and fear in Hong Kong.”

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Sunny Cheung, activist and consultant to the Hong Kong Democracy Council, says the Hong Kong government “media used to be some of the best in the region, but now it has suddenly been suppressed.” Credit: AFP file photo

The U.S.-based think tank Freedom House said in a survey of global freedoms released on Thursday that the space for dissenting views had greatly diminished in Hong Kong under the national security law.

“In Hong Kong, following Beijing’s imposition of the draconian National Security Law in 2020, authorities began pursuing national security and sedition charges against both political activists and ordinary residents for expressing dissent, for example by playing protest songs, clapping in court, or putting up posters,” the report said.

“Those demanding democracy in places like … Hong Kong … desire … the freedoms and the institutions that will allow them to create a better life and a more just society over time,” it said.

China now ranks eighth from the bottom in the V-Dem study, and is the world’s most populous “closed autocratic” country, according to the definitions in the study.

Translated by Luisetta Mudie. Edited by Malcolm Foster.

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