Catholic pro-democracy media tycoon Jimmy Lai (left), facing charges of inciting others to participate in an unauthorised assembly commemorating the 1989 Tiananmen Square crackdown on June 4, looks on as activists demonstrate outside the West Kowloon court in Hong Kong on Nov. 3. (Photo: AFP)
United States Secretary of State Mike Pompeo has denounced Beijing over the arrests of eight opposition pan-democrat politicians in Hong Kong following scuffles in the city’s Legislative Council earlier this year.
Pompeo said the US “strongly condemns” the arrests of the politicians — five are sitting lawmakers — and accused China of seeking to silence dissent.
Democratic Party lawmakers Wu Chi-wai, Andrew Wan and Helena Wong were among those arrested last weekend in connection with the May 8 scuffles sparked by a unilateral takeover of the House Committee chair by pro-Beijing lawmaker Starry Lee.
“The Hong Kong government’s harassment and intimidation of pro-democracy representatives and attempts to stifle dissent are stark examples of its ongoing complicity with the authoritarian Chinese Communist Party, which seeks to dismantle the promised autonomy of Hong Kong and eviscerate respect for human rights,” Pompeo said.
“We call on Beijing and the Hong Kong government to respect the right of the Hong Kong people to air their grievances through their elected representatives. The United States stands with the people of Hong Kong.”
Also arrested were Labour Party lawmaker Fernando Cheung, party chairman Steven Kwok and former lawmakers Ray Chan and Chu Hoi-dick, who declined to serve after chief executive Carrie Lam postponed elections slated for September due to the pandemic.
No pro-China lawmakers were arrested.
Hong Kong authorities said they made the arrests due to protests that erupted into scuffles inside the legislature, where only half the seats are directly elected.
“The arrest of these lawmakers six months after the incident in question is a clear abuse of law enforcement for political purposes,” Pompeo added.
The United States has repeatedly criticized China for its clampdown in Hong Kong, including a tough new security law, and a trail of broken promises made when Beijing assumed control of the territory from Britain in 1997.
“It signifies that Hong Kong has become a complete police state where the police regulate politicians’ and LegCo members’ speech and behavior,” lawmaker Ted Hui told government broadcaster RTHK.
Former LegCo member Emily Lau told Radio Free Asia that legislation protecting LegCo privileges was originally intended as a protection for the right to free speech in the chamber.
“It is really ironic that they are using legislation on privileges ... enacted by the colonial government back in a time before we had direct elections,” she said. “That law was enacted to protect the right of members to speak in the legislature, but now it is being used to arrest them.”