China’s Communist Party tightens its grip on Hong Kong, while Jimmy Lai's son appeals to UN for his release

In a new blow to Hong Kong’s autonomy, undermined already by China’s security law, the Communist Party, not the government, will be directly in charge of the  Hong Kong and Macau Affairs Office. Jimmy Lai’s son Sebastian speaks out against his father’s imprisonment on “trumped up” charges. Labour activist Elizabeth Tang’s sister is arrested.

Hong Kong (AsiaNews) – The Communist Party of China (CPC) wants to tighten its control over Hong Kong. According to a proposal circulated yesterday, the Hong Kong and Macau Affairs Office (HKMAO) will report directly to the CPC’s Central Committee and no longer to the State Council (the Chinese cabinet).

According to several observers, this move is part of a broader plan to centralise power in the hands of Xi Jinping; however, it is likely to further reduce Hong Kong’s autonomy, which is based on the principle of "one country, two systems."

Hong Kong received a first blow to its "traditional freedoms" in 2020, when mainland China imposed a draconian national security law, which effectively silenced the pro-democracy camp.

The legal fate of Catholic media mogul Jimmy Lai, one of many jailed pro-democracy advocates, is emblematic of the government’s clampdown.

On Tuesday, Sebastian Lai along with his father's foreign lawyers, asked the UN Human Rights Council to seek his release.

The younger Lai told the UN body that Hong Kong authorities had imposed "lengthy and disproportionate terms of imprisonment" on his father based on "trumped up" charges. He insisted that his father was in prison only for defending freedom of expression and association in Hong Kong. The Hong Kong government responded saying that such claims were unfounded.

The 75-year-old pro-democracy magnate has been in prison since December 2020, after being convicted for taking part in unauthorised protests. He is also set to go on trial (in September) on four more charges: two of collusion with other countries or "external elements"; one of collusion with foreign forces; and finally, conspiring to print, publish, sell, distribute and reproduce "seditious" publications.

The maximum sentence for violating the security law is life imprisonment. The maximum for sedition is two years.

In December, Lai was convicted of fraud related to the activities of Apple Daily, the independent newspaper he founded, which closed in 2021 after coming under investigation for threats to national security.

On 9 March, trade union leader Elizabeth Tang was also arrested for endangering national security right after she visited her jailed husband Lee Cheuk-yan, another pro-democracy advocate, who is awaiting trial for alleged violation of the security law. She is now out on bail.

Two days after Tang’s arrest, the police arrested her sister as well as the brother of Albert Ho (also a prominent pro-democracy advocate currently on trial), for allegedly removing evidence from the trade unionist’s home. Both were also granted bail.