Hong Kong, 17 months of security law: 50 pro-democracy groups disbanded. 100 people charged

The number of people arrested is 155, including people over 80. More than 200 thousand tips (about 550 per day) to the police. Four companies awaiting trial. Three convictions so far. Independent newspapers close or move their offices. Even the statue of dissident and Nobel laureate Liu Xiaobo is a threat to national security.


Hong Kong (AsiaNews) - At least 50 pro-democracy groups have been forced to disband, including political parties, trade unions and religious institutions.  155 people arrested: 100 of them indicted by the Public Prosecutor's Office, plus four companies. More than 200,000 tip.offs (about 550 per day) thanks to a hotline number set up by the police a year ago. This is the balance drawn up by the Hong Kong Free Press (Hkfp) 17 months after the adoption of the draconian national security law, imposed by Beijing to target the city's democratic movement.

After the sentencing in July to nine years in prison of 24-year-old Tong Ying-kit, the first under the measure, in November it was the turn of Ma Chun-man. The young rider will have to serve a six-year sentence for making a speech in favor of Hong Kong's independence. Soon after, it was the turn of Tony Chung, a student leader sentenced to three years in prison for secessionism and money laundering.

According to most observers, the security law is so wide-ranging that it can affect every aspect of city life, even the parliamentary elections on December 19, the first after the electoral reform wanted by the Chinese government to favor only "patriotic" (i.e. not pro-democratic) candidates. Chris Tang, the city's security chief, has already warned that those who incite others to vote blank or invalidate their votes could be prosecuted for threatening national security. In early November, police arrested four citizens between the ages of 61 and 85 for waving a banner calling for universal suffrage for the former British colony.

The media is also a target of the government crackdown. After the closure last summer of the independent Apple Daily newspaper, the DB Channel announced it was halting operations in Hong Kong. One of its co-founders, Frankie Fung, is in jail on subversion charges along with 47 others for organizing or participating in the Democratic camp's primary election last year. Initium, another independent publication, moved its headquarters to Singapore in August. Other media outlets, such as Rthk, have lost their editorial autonomy. The city's public TV station is now run by a former bureaucrat.

In a new blow to press freedom, in mid-November city authorities expelled Sue-Lin Wong, correspondent for the Economist. The journalist was denied a visa renewal without explanation. Last year, Aaron Mc Nicholas of Hkfp and Chris Buckley of the New York Times suffered the same treatment. Steve Vines, a well-known former journalist and Rthk presenter, fled to Britain to escape the "white terror" raging in the city.  The term is used to denounce the use of the Security Act to target the media and terrorize the population.

The Chickeeduck clothing brand, a staunch supporter of the pro-democracy front, also abandoned Hong Kong. The group's stores were repeatedly raided by the police, while the authorities ordered the owners to remove democratic symbols, such as the statue of the late dissident - and Nobel Peace Prize winner - Liu Xiaobo, from their stores.