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Hong Kong

Church group seeks to stop repression of Hong Kong activists

Diocese asks police to stop arresting activists until a probe committee submits its report

UCA News reporter

UCA News reporter

Updated: April 21, 2020 07:16 AM GMT
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Church group seeks to stop repression of Hong Kong activists

Protesters throng central Hong Kong on June 16, 2019, in a protest against an extradition bill. Police have arrested 15 pro-democracy activists over the mass protests that rocked the former British colony last year. (Photo: UCA News)

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The Catholic Church in Hong Kong has demanded an end to a police crackdown on pro-democracy activists, calling it political repression of those demanding democratic rights in the China-administered region.

Hong Kong police on April 18 arrested 15 pro-democracy activists including several former legislators for their alleged role in the mass protests that rocked the former British colony last year. They were all released on bail the same day but face court proceedings on May 18.

The Justice and Peace Commission of Hong Kong Diocese in a statement said the arrests in the city-state, which functions under the Chinese communist regime, was part of "political repression."

It said the administration must stop all arrests until the establishment of an independent commission of inquiry and a report has been issued by this commission.

Police have arrested about 7,000 people in connection with riots and violence since pro-democracy protests began in Hong Kong in June 2019. Most arrested were young students.

However, the latest arrest shocked many as it included 81-year-old Martin Lee, a former Hong Kong legislator and founder of the Democratic Party. 

Lee, a barrister by profession, is known as the founding father of Hong Kong's democratic movement since the former British colony returned to Chinese rule in 1997.

The others included nine other former legislators including Albert Ho, Leung Kwok-hung and Au Nok-hin, who are also charged with unlawful assembly last August and October. 

The Justice and Peace Commission asked the government to repeal the Public Order Ordinance. This colonial-time law considers more than three people gathering without the permission of police as "unauthorized."

The repealing of the 1967 law, which has been amended 26 times, is needed to "restore Hong Kong people's freedom of procession and assembly," the group said.

The diocesan group also wanted police to "return the mobile phones of all arrested persons to ensure their privacy."

The latest police move is considered the biggest crackdown on the pro-democracy movement since the massive anti-government protests started in Asia's financial hub in June last year.

The pro-democracy activists took to the streets against the now-scrapped extradition bill, which proposed sending suspects to mainland China for trial. Democracy activists saw the bill as the latest of a series of moves that were shrinking their democratic rights.

An official of the Security Bureau told media that they acted after an investigation proved that the arrested people had violated the law because they organized and participated in unlawful gatherings.

All people are equal before the law and no one can break the law without facing the consequences, he said.

Political arrests

UK-based rights group Hong Kong Watch said the arrests were "politically motivated."

The arrests "represent a concerted effort by the Chinese Communist Party to use the world's focus on the Covid-19 pandemic to strangle dissent in the city," the group said in an April 18 statement.

The arrests come after several months of relative calm amid a partial coronavirus lockdown.

However, many suspect they were part of the Chinese communist regime's aim to stifle legislative elections in Hong Kong due in September.

Claudia Mo, a Democratic legislator, who was not among those arrested, said the Hong Kong government headed by Chief Executive Carrie Lam was trying to introduce "a ring of terror" in Hong Kong. "They are doing whatever they can to try to silence, to take down, the local opposition," she said.

The latest police move also follows Beijing's effort to assert its role in Hong Kong.

Hong Kong's constitution, called the Basic Law, restricts Beijing from interfering in local affairs. However, Beijing's top office in Hong Kong has maintained that it was not bound by Hong Kong's laws and had the right to "supervise" how the "one country, two systems" principle is being implemented.

China has refused to accept the protesters' demands, which include free polls in the city of more than seven million people.

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