The arrests indicate China’s encroaching authoritarian rule over a city that was promised a “high degree of autonomy,” wrote Lee in a Washington Post op-ed. Lee referred to Beijing’s renewed call for Hong Kong to implement a vaguely worded anti-sedition law that he believes would “undermine core freedoms of Hong Kong, such as freedoms of religion, assembly and the press” in the interests of the Chinese Communist Party. The last time the government tried to pass such a law in 2003, half a million people turned out to protest, causing leaders to withdraw the bill.
Lee, who is the city’s most senior barrister, also pointed to Beijing’s assertion this week that it has the authority to interfere with Hong Kong’s affairs, which contradicts the city’s mini-constitution. Article 22 of Hong Kong’s Basic Law states “No department of the Central People’s Government … may interfere in the affairs which the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region administers on its own in accordance with this Law.”
Yet Beijing claims its agency, the Hong Kong and Macau Affairs Office, is not subject to Article 22.
Recently the office has repeatedly criticized pro-democracy legislator Dennis Kwok for allowing pan-democratic filibustering, accusing him of misconduct and violating his oath. Kwok fears this could lead to his disqualification from the legislature, as previous pro-democracy lawmakers had been disqualified following Beijing’s intervention.
Former sociology professor Chan Kin-man, who had recently been released from 11 months in prison for his role in co-founding the 2014 Occupy movement, said in a recent livestream that he felt furious and saddened by the arrests on April 18. Yet several of the arrested activists told him they remained focused on planning a protest in June and organizing voter registration for the Legislative Council election in September.
The mass arrests, attempts to disqualify pro-democracy legislators, and the cabinet reshuffle last week are signs of more intense crackdown to come, which will provoke vigorous resistance from the public, said Chan.