Hong Kong: 'localists' boycott Tiananmen vigil

The annual Hong Kong vigil commemorating the 1989 Tiananmen Square massacre took place June 4 amid a split, with the city's biggest student union boycotting. The Hong Kong Federation of Students (HKFS) broke from the Hong Kong Alliance in Support of Patriotic Democratic Movements in China, to emphasize a "localist" position. An estimated 125,000 attended the vigil in Victoria Park, compared to 135,000 last year. Disturbingly, a localist protester even rushed the stage at the event, seizing a microphone to exhort: "We don't want a democratic China, we want Hong Kong independence!"

The activist was named as Simon Sin, associated with Hong Kong Localism Power—which actually condemned his action. "Everyone has the right to choose to identify with a country, and we will not force Hong Kongers to deny they are Chinese," said chairman Jonathan Ho Chi-kwong in a statement. "We believe that this was a malicious attempt to instigate conflict."

But the prelude to the vigil saw some real ugliness from localist quarters. Ng Kwai-lung, head of Shue Yan University’s student union editorial board, attacked the Alliance as "pimps and bawds in a brothel" (going on to use more offensive sexual imagery) for their slogan of "building a democratic China." Ng questioned why the vigil organizers "imagine the communists would turn good."

Lee Cheuk-yan, chairman of the Alliance, demanded an apology from the editorial board. He stated: "Frankly, I do not see their logic. Why would they think a ruthless China is a matter separable from pursuing a democratic Hong Kong through self-determination?" (HKFP, HKFP, June 5; AP, June 4; SCMP, May 28)

In a seeming effort to restore a sense of commonality to the Hong Kong localist movement and the Chinese pro-democracy struggle, the city's Woofer Ten arts collective held a street-theater event commemorating the "Pitt Street Riot" in the city's Yau Ma Tei that took place on June 7, 1989, three days after the massacre in Beijing.

Meanwhile, Taiwan held its first ever commemoration in parliament of the Tiananmen Square massacre, in a sign of change under new president Tsai Ing-wen. Although she has rejected her party's ostensible pro-independence position, presumed Chinese hackers hit her Democratic Progressive Party's website with a "strategic compromise"—viewers redirected to another site where they could be infected with malware. (AFP, June 4; CNN, June 2)

Presumed state-sponsored hackers have targeted websites in Hong Kong, the Philippines, Australia and even the United States.

Hong Kong student leaders convicted

Former Scholarism leader Joshua Wong Chi-fung, 19, was convicted of "unlawful assembly"—allegedly for storming government headquarters on the eve of the 2014 Occupy movement. Two co-defendants—Demosisto chairman Nathan Law Kwun-chung and former Federation of Students secretary general Alex Chow Yong-kang—were respectively convicted of an incitement charge and unlawful assembly. All three were released on bail, to be sentenced in August. (SCMP, BBC News)

Hong Kong protest leaders avoid prison time

A Hong Kong court on Aug. 15 sentenced three leaders of the 2014 pro-democracy protests who were convicted on charges related to their occupation of a government building. Joshua Wong and Alex Chow, prominent leaders of the Umbrella Revolution, were convicted of unlawful assembly, while a third activist, Nathan Law, was found to have incited others to join that unlawful assembly. The court sentenced Wong and Law to 80 and 120 hours of community service, respectively. Chow was given a three-week suspended prison sentence. (Jurist)

Youth protest leaders win HK council seats

A new generation of pro-democracy activists has won seats on Hong Kong's Legislative Council (LegCo). The young leaders want greater autonomy and changes to the way Hong Kong is governed by China. Voter turnout reached a record high of 58%. Among those elected is Nathan Law, 23, who helped lead the "Umbrella Protests" in 2014. Despite the gains, China's supporters will continue to hold the majority of seats on the 70-seat council.
Law expressed shock at the result, saying it showed people "wanted change." (BBC News)

Pro-independence lawmakers barred from Hong Kong legislature

A court refused the Hong Kong government's request to block two new legislators from taking office, so pro-China legislators walked out to prevent their swearing in. Those two lawmakers, Sixtus Leung and Yau Wai-ching, had been scheduled to be sworn in Oct. 19 after the oaths they took last week were declared invalid. Both had declared allegiance to a "Hong Kong nation" and then replaced the word China with "Shina," apparently considered derogatory. Yau and Leung are the first open advocates for Hong Kong independence to be elected to the legislature. Their party, Youngspiration, was formed after Beijing refused in 2014 to grant Hong Kong greater public participation in the election of its leader, thereby sparking the street protest, known as the Umbrella Movement. (NYT)

Hong Kong may ask Beijing to intervene in political crisis

A meeting of Hong Kong's Legislative Council was adjourned by LegCo president Andrew Leung Kwan-yuen after four security guards were allegedly hurt when they tried to block localist lawmakers Yau Wai-ching and Sixtus Baggio Leung Chung-hang from entering a conference room where the lawmaking body had relocated. Leung barred the pair pending a Hong Kong High Court judicial review to determine if they can be sworn in. (SCMP, WSJ)

Leung said he may consult with Beijing authorities over the interpretation of the Basic Law, the city’s mini-constitution, to determine if young pro-democracy lawmakers can be sworn in to its legislature. (The Guardian)

Beijing bars Hong Kong lawmakers from taking office

Beijing issued a ruling interpreting Hong Kong law to mean any official who does not take the oath properly cannot take office—barring pro-independence Sixtus Leung and Yau Wai-ching, who refused to pledge allegiance to China when being sworn in. Hong Kong's Chief Executive CY Leung said his government will "fully implement" the ruling. The interpretation by the National People's Congress marks Beijing's most far-reaching intervention in Hong Kong since it was handed back by the UK in 1997. (BBC)

Earlier in the day, thousands of protesters clashed with police in Hong Kong. Police used pepper spray as protesters tried to encircle the office of China’s representative in the city. (Reuters)

Hong Kong court bans elected officials from taking office

The Hong Kong High Court on Nov. 30 ruled against two elected pro-independence politicians, blocking them from taking local office. Yau Wai-ching and Sixtus Leung were barred as a result of a political protest launched during their inaugural oaths. The oaths were deemed unfulfilled when the pair pledged their allegiance to the "Hong Kong Nation" as opposed to the People's Republic of China. (Jurist)

Hong Kong's first female chief executive: China's choice

Civil servant Carrie Lam on March 26 became Hong Kong's new leader and first female chief executive after defeating former financial secretary John Tsang by a vote of 777-365. The 7.3 million people living in Hong Kong could not participate in the election. Instead, the new leader was chosen by a 1,200-person election committee. Lam is considered a controversial pick, with Tsang being preferred by more Hong Kong citizens and Lam backed by Beijing. China has promised Hong Kong autonomy to govern on local issues, and the election of Lam is seen by some as China's attempt to keep de facto control of Hong Kong. Lam served for five years as the deputy of former leader CY Leung, who was unpopular due to corruption charges and his close ties to China. Critics have accused Lam of being a "CY 2.0", expecting her to follow in Leung's footsteps. The election of Lam could spark further protests calling for democracy in Hong Kong or even a split from China. Lam is currently scheduled to take office on July 1

In February a Hong Kong Court sentenced Donald Tsang, the former chief executive from 2005 to 2012, to 20 months in prison for his failure to disclose personal conflicts of interest when his cabinet was considering a broadcasting license application. In January 5,000 people protested in Hong Kong over elected lawmakers being barred from taking office  after altering the words in their official oaths. (Jurist, March 26)

Barred lawmakers arrested in Hong Kong

Police in Hong Kong on April 26 arrested Yau Wai-ching and Sixtus Leung, who were formally barred from taking up their seats on the Legislative Council last year, when the city's courts ruled that their Oct. 12 oaths were invalid because they weren't "solemn and sincere." The duo, both members of the youth group Youngspiration, had vowed allegiance to the "Hong Kong Nation" and carried banners saying "Hong Kong is not China" during their swearing-in ceremonies, while Yau cursed in her reference to China.

They were both taken away from their homes and questioned for several hours over a protest on Nov. 2, when they barged into the LegCo chamber and another conference room, disrupting proceedings, government broadcaster RTHK reported. (RFA)

Hong Kong protesters repudiate Xi Jinping

President Xi Jinping on his visit to Hong Kong just ahead of the July 1 anniversary of the 1997 hand-over of the territory from the UK to China warned: "Any attempt to endanger China’s sovereignty and security, challenge the power of the central government... or use Hong Kong to carry out infiltration and sabotage activities against the mainland is an act that crosses a red line and is absolutely impermissible."

Nonetheless, tens of thousands of pro-democracy protesters joined the annual July 1 march marking the anniversary. Leaders said 60,000 people joined the two-mile march—held every year since 1997—blaming thunderstorms for falling short of the goal of 100,000 demonstrators. Although Xi had already left the territory by then, much anger was directed at his comments.

"Xi doesn’t understand Hong Kong people. The Communist party's solution to the world’s problems is money, because that is all they have," said Martin Lee, a veteran activist and former legislator. "The Communists don’t have core values and principles to stand on, but we cherish our freedoms, civil rights and the rule of law." (The Guardian, July 1)

After the UK and US both issued statements invoking the binding nature of the 1984 treaty terms for the handover, the Chinese Foreign Ministry responded by effectively repudiating the treaty. "Now that Hong Kong has returned to the motherland for 20 years the Sino-British Joint Declaration, as a historical document, no longer has any realistic meaning," Foreign Ministry spokesman Lu Kang was quoted by Xinhua. "It also does not have any binding power on how the Chinese central government administers Hong Kong. Britain has no sovereignty, no governing power and no supervising power over Hong Kong. I hope relevant parties will take note of this reality." (SCMP, June 30)

Ominously, during his visit Xi presided over the biggest military parade in Hong Kong since the 1997 turn-over. The runner-up was in 2012 for the 15th anniversary of the handover. Both parades too place at the PLA barracks in the city, not on the public streets, where troops are rarely seen. But in recent years the PLA has been holding unprecedented military drills and war games in the territory. (SCMP, June 30; CNN, June 29)

Hong Kong high court rules against 'Disqualified Four'

Hong Kong's high court on July 14 moved to expel four opposition lawmakers from the city's legislature in a case that critics say calls the territory's autonomy into question.

Prominent opposition figure "Long Hair" Leung Kwok-hung, who was sworn in last October, is among the lawmakers ordered removed by the Court of First Instance for modifying the oath of office. He was accused of adding words to his oath and for reciting the oath in a tone that "expressed a doubt on or disrespect of the status of the [People's Republic of China] as a legitimate sovereign of the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region," according to the court. Apparently this means speaking the words "People's Republic of China" in a questioning tone of voice.

Nathan Law Kwun-chung, Lau Siu-lai and Edward Yiu Chung-yim also lost their seats in the legislature. They were also accused of “embedding messages” into their oaths, and turning their swearing-in ceremony into a “theatrical performance.” The case became known locally as the DQ4—Disqualified Four. The removal of the four is a further blow to the divided legislature's "democratic bloc." (NYT, NPR, JuristSCMP, SCMP, SCMPHK Apple)

Hong Kong protest leaders get prison time

Three of the most visible leaders of Hong Kong's Umbrella Movement have been sentenced to prison for their roles in the protests of 2014. The sentences announced, which range from six to eight months, revise previous, lighter penalties handed down last year and effectively bar the men from holding office for the next five years.

"They can silence protests, remove us from the legislature and lock us up. But they will not win the hearts and minds of Hongkongers," defendant Joshua Wong tweeted. "You can lock up our bodies, but not our minds! We want democracy in Hong Kong. And we will not give up."

Wong,  20, and Nathan Law, 24, had been sentenced last year to community service for breaking into and occupying a space barred from public gatherings. That illegal act, "unlawful assembly," helped spark more than two months of protests against what many Hong Kongers saw as Beijing's encroachment on the semiautonomous city's politics.

Now, Wong and Law have been sentenced to six and eight months in prison, respectively. For his role in the 2014 protests, Alex Chow, whose age has been reported as 26 and 27, initially received a suspended prison sentence, which was revised upward on Thursday to seven months. They plan to appeal the verdict. (NPR, Aug. 17)