The Chinese government is definitely not letting the coronavirus crisis go to waste. They took advantage of a lull in Hong Kong protests to order the arrests of 14 pro-democracy activists and a media tycoon whose newspaper angered authorities.
The arrested included 81-year-old activist and former lawmaker Martin Lee and democracy advocates Albert Ho, Lee Cheuk-yan and Au Nok-hin. Jimmy Lai, who founded the local newspaper Apple Daily, was also arrested.
Hong Kong was under lockdown, but authorities waited until Saturday to try and break the back of the democracy protests. The demonstrators were protesting the heavy hand of Communist China in running the affairs of Hong Kong — something they pledge to avoid in the treaty ceding control of the island back to China.
Lai, Lee Cheuk-yan and Yeung Sum — a former lawmaker from the Democratic Party — were charged in February over their involvement in a mass anti-government demonstration on Aug. 31 last year. The protests in the semi-autonomous Chinese territory against proposed extradition legislation exposed deep divisions between democracy-minded Hong Kongers and the Communist Party-ruled central government in Beijing.
The bill — which would have allowed Hong Kong residents to be sent to mainland China to stand trial — has been withdrawn, but the protests continued for more than seven months, centered around demands for voting rights and an independent inquiry into police conduct.
Other activists say they will fight back.
Democratic Party chairman Wu Chi Wai, who vowed the pan-democrats would resist and fight back, said the arrests are an indication of how worried Beijing is that the pan-democrats will be politically stronger after September’s LegCo elections.
He said: “The timing is too much of a coincidence. In the past week, the liaison office, the Hong Kong and Macau Affairs Office, officials and political veterans have criticised us and warned us about national security issues.”
It’s tempting to draw parallels between what’s happening in Hong Kong and Americans protesting stay-at-home orders, but there’s really no comparison. Americans aren’t being rounded up and thrown in a jail to an uncertain fate, nor are they likely to go to prison.
But the mindset of the Chinese authorities and some governors and mayors is pretty much the same. It doesn’t matter the excuse — “public order” or “public safety.” Draconian measures to control people’s lives is the issue.
Some of those Chinese activists are likely to pay a heavy price for their activism. Let’s hope it doesn’t come to that in America.