Leading Hong Kong democracy campaigners were yesterday disqualified from upcoming elections after four student activists were on Wednesday night arrested for social media posts, sparking warnings of a new “white terror” era under authoritarian China.
The moves were the latest blows against the territory’s pro-democracy movement, which has been under sustained attack from the Chinese Communist Party.
In some of the most significant developments since China imposed its national security legislation on Hong Kong, 12 pro-democracy advocates were yesterday disqualified from legislative elections due to be held in September.
“Beijing shows a total disregard for the will of the Hong Kongers, tramples upon the city’s ... autonomy,” Joshua Wong (黃之鋒), one of Hong Kong’s highest-profile democracy advocates who was among those disqualified, wrote on Twitter.
Wong described the move as the “biggest-ever crackdown” on the territory’s pro-democracy movement.
The democracy campaigners had been hoping to win a first-ever majority in the partially elected legislature, which is deliberately weighted to return a pro-Beijing majority.
The disqualifications came after four students — aged 16 to 21 — were on Wednesday night arrested for social media posts that were deemed to breach the new security legislation.
The four were all former members of Student Localism, a pro-independence group that announced that it was disbanding its Hong Kong branch the day before the legislation was enacted.
Police said that the students were arrested on suspicion of organizing and inciting secession through comments on social media posts after the legislation was implemented.
Student and rights groups condemned the arrests, saying that they herald the kind of political suppression ubiquitous in China.
“Hong Kong has fallen into the era of white terror,” the Student Unions of Higher Institutions, which represents 13 student unions, said in a statement overnight.
“It is crystal clear that more and more Hong Kongers will have to endure ... communist terror,” it added.
Pro-democracy advocate Nathan Law (羅冠聰), who went into exile after the legislation was imposed, expressed similar sentiments on Twitter.
“White terror, politics of fear dispersed in Hong Kong,” Law wrote, referencing a Chinese idiom to describe political persecution.
He said that the election disqualifications were an attempt to bring China’s rubber stamp parliament system to Hong Kong.
“The Chinese Communist Party’s strategy is apparently aiming to suppress all forms of resistance in Hong Kong with huge fear and intimidation,” Law wrote.
Sophie Richardson, a China expert with Human Rights Watch, said that the Chinese government’s legislation is being wielded against peaceful political discourse.
“The gross misuse of this draconian law makes clear that the aim is to silence dissent, not protect national security,” she said.
In China, Beijing routinely uses similar national security legislation to crush dissent.
The first arrests in Hong Kong came a day after the security legislation was enacted against people who possessed pro-independence flags and slogans critical of Beijing — including a 15-year-old girl.
At least 15 people have now been arrested under the new legislation since it was enacted on June 30.
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