Britain must help Hong Kong's protesters in their fight against a police state

Hong Kong’s government is increasingly turning the city into a brutal police state, but its citizens are not going to give up fighting for their basic rights and freedoms

Hong Kong police fire tear gas and a water cannon at protesters on China's 70th anniversary

A few days ago, Hong Kongers “celebrated” the Chinese national day with large-scale protests and confrontations with the police. One of our comrades, an 18-year-old student, was shot by a policeman, which further fuelled popular discontent with the government. In the meantime, countless protesters were arrested, tortured and interrogated.

And now, the authorities have apparently gone even further.

Last Friday, Hong Kong’s rapacious chief executive, Carrie Lam, circumvented parliament and adopted an “anti-mask law” under the provisions of the city’s Emergency Regulations Ordinance. The measure means Hong Kongers protesting against their government and police cannot over their faces without “reasonable defence”; the police have been granted a legal mandate to remove anyone’s facial covering, and those who violate the law or fail to comply with police orders will now be punished harshly.

But what Lam apparently doesn’t realise is that she’s put the cart before the horse. As long as Hong Kong’s deep-rooted social problems go unresolved and democracy, human rights and civic liberty are suppressed, these laws will do nothing to restore social order.

Although we Hong Kongers are now under the rule of draconian laws, our comrades are still displaying their utmost audacity by joining together in large-scale civil disobedience. Scores of them took to the streets with their masks this weekend, protesting against unjust laws, police brutality and a militant government.

This civil disobedience met with severe consequences. Reporters and journalists were relentlessly beaten up by the police just because they were wearing masks to protect themselves from tear gas. Protesters were callously forced to remove their masks by the police for the same reason. At the time of writing, three people have been prosecuted under this law; all of them are now on bail, but are forbidden from leaving Hong Kong.

This is the new reality in our city. Hong Kongers will continue their civil disobedience, and more people will be detained simply for wearing masks. And while the public’s morale remains high, the law is just another step down Hong Kong’s path towards becoming a police state.

The anti-mask law is simply a facade. By invoking the Emergency Regulations Ordinance without declaring a state of emergency, the government has quietly opened the door to interfering with the interests of any stakeholder it likes.

The precedent grants the government the privilege to exercise unfettered executive, legislative and judicial power. Under the provisions of the ordinance, it is entitled to seize private property without notice in the name of public order and security. That means private property rights – the cornerstone of Hong Kong’s economic miracle – are now in grave danger.

This exposes western interests in Hong Kong to an intolerable threat. It is now high time for western investors to ponder on their investment plans in Hong Kong, as no-one can predict when the government might exploit these powers for political purposes – especially in the midst of trade conflicts between China and the west.

The Emergency Regulations Ordinance also authorises the government to detain people in the name of public order and security. Let’s not forget that two Canadians were imprisoned on the same pretext in mainland China during the diplomatic dispute over their own government’s arrest of Huawei official Wanzhou Meng.

If the ordinance can be so casually invoked here in Hong Kong, it’s not unrealistic to worry about the personal safety of people residing here, including the citizens of western countries.

But Hong Kong is by no means beyond salvation. This is an international city where the west and the east coexist. Ultimately, all that’s happened is that a handful of local leaders have brainlessly derailed Hong Kong’s stability with their fundamentally flawed policies.

If it chooses to, the west can play a vital role in helping resolve the situation. We need all the help we can get from the international community – and especially from our former metropole.

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The UK can do much more than relocate investments; it can also impose individual sanctions against the senior officials who are violating the principles of human rights, freezing their assets in the UK and revoking their British citizenship. These actions could go a long way towards alleviating Hong Kong’s situation while sustaining the city’s business environment.

In spite of all the terror on our streets, our conviction in safeguarding Hong Kong’s freedom and democracy will never waver. We hold the same values as western democracies. So we ask them: please join us, and help safeguard Hong Kong and its people.

Joshua Wong is secretary-general of Demosisto; Billy Fung is former president of Hong Kong University Student Union

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