Monthly Archives: August 2017

Beijing’s Plan To Rein In HK Almost Complete

Originally appeared at VOHK (, republished at East Asia Forum (, quoted by Quartz (
Three young student leaders of the Umbrella Movement put to jail.Three young student leaders of the Umbrella Movement put to jail.

By Victoria Hui –

Storms have taken over Hong Kong in recent weeks: the disqualification of four more legislators on July 14, the jailing of 13 land rights activists on August 15, the additional sentencing of 3 student leaders of the Umbrella Movement on August 17, and the cessation to mainland authorities of jurisdiction in the West Kowloon train station by next year.

We knew that the storms were coming. Still, we are shaken by the severity. Beijing is increasingly brazen about violating the “one country, two systems” model and replacing it with de facto direct rule.

In the aftermath of the Umbrella Movement in December 2014, Chen Zuoer, the president of Chinese Association of Hong Kong and Macao Studies and the former deputy director of the Hong Kong and Macau Affairs Office, vowed to rein in “Hong Kong’s governance”. He declared a struggle against all the societal forces behind the protest, “from the street to the law courts, to the Legislative Council, to inside the government, and to universities and secondary schools, etc.” (“街頭轉到了法庭,轉到了立法會,轉到了政府內部,轉到了中學大學等”).

By August 17, 2017, he could declare “mission accomplished.”

The Umbrella Movement was fueled by anger over the erosion of Hong Kong’s much cherished freedoms – the rule of law, the independent judiciary, the impartial police, the free press, and the neutral civil service.

The rallying cry of the movement, “we want genuine universal suffrage,” did not come into fruition.

If Hong Kong’s protestors saw that they could not hold on to freedoms without democracy, Beijing’s officials seemed to learn that they should stifle freedoms if they want to deny democracy. Chen thus called for an all-out struggle against all pillars of Hong Kong’s freedoms. (See The “freedom without democracy model” is broken.)

It was the easiest to control the government. All it took was to anoint the ‘trusted’ Carrie Lam as the new Chief Executive. According to Zhang Xiaoming, chief of Beijing’s Liaison Office in Hong Kong, the Chief Executive has “overriding power” over not just the executive, but also the legislative and judicial branches, seemingly putting the chief executive above the law. The Chief Executive’s overwhelming authority on appointments and promotions has then made it easy to manage not just the civil service and the police, but also the department of justice and the courts.

HKU alumni protest against management.

To control universities, the former Chief Executive C. Y. Leung stacked university councils with pro-regime figures. The loyal councilors would then duly appoint the right candidates to top positions. Thus, Johannes Chan was denied promotion as a pro-Vice Chancellor at the University of Hong Kong, and Rocky Tuan was appointed as the new Vice Chancellor at the Chinese University of Hong Kong.

To control the legislature, the government first barred the independence advocate Edward Leung from running in the election at all. To get rid of two other localists, Yau Wai-ching and Leung Chung-hang of Youngspiration, who managed to slip through, C. Y. Leung asked the court to bar them from re-taking their oath. The duo had displayed a “Hong Kong is not China” flag during their swearing-in ceremony in October.

Before the court issued a verdict, Beijing issued an interpretation of the Basic Law which was used to retroactively disqualify any legislator-elect who made revisions or additions to the formal oath. The intervention was a sign of how much Beijing distrusted Hong Kong courts at the time. Faced with a strident and binding Beijing interpretation, the court fully complied with Beijing’s intention to expel the first two opposition legislators from the Legislative Council.

The department of justice sought to disqualify four more legislators: Democracy Groundwork’s Lau Siu-lai, Demosisto’s Nathan Law, the League of Social Democrats’ Leung Kwok-hung (Long Hair) and architectural sector lawmaker Edward Yiu. With Beijing’s wishes so clearly laid out, the court issued the desired verdict with retroactive effect going back to the day of swearing-in.

Has Beijing now reined in the last independent branch of government – the traditionally staunchly independent Hong Kong courts? (See more on Judge Yeung below.) It would be a good research topic to examine the impact of the Chief Executive’s “overriding power” over judges. It is worth noting that, in November 2016, Chen Zuoer sounded an unmistakable complaint about judges in a closed-door meeting. He was quoted to have said: “The price of committing an offence was too low in some situations in Hong Kong… Taking the Occupy Movement as an example, how many movement leaders were brought to the court up until now? Why were they not in the court?”

13 land activists sentenced to jail.

The 2014 White Paper had already admonished courts to guard national security. Throughout 2015 and 2016, pro-regime voices repeatedly complained that judges released the majority of protest-related defendants or gave very lenient sentences to the convicted few. It is true that the common law has historically been sensitive to the free speech rights of public order defendants.

It was in this context that the Department of Justice appealed against the light sentences of community service to 13 land rights protestors who had stormed into the legislative council building in June 2014, and 3 student leaders who had clambered over the fence set up to close off the “Civic Square” in August 2014. By August 2017, the Court of Appeal could be trusted to comply with the government’s wishes. It handed down jail terms of 8 to 13 months in the former case and 6 to 8 months in the latter case. While the land rights case involves less known activists, the “civic square” case includes the well-known former student leaders Joshua Wong, Nathan Law (also one of the disqualified legislators), and Alex Chow, who were instrumental in sparking the Umbrella Movement.  (In translation: The Occupy sentence review – why Hong Kong’s appeal court jailed Joshua Wong, Nathan Law & Alex Chow)


There will surely be more prison sentences for other political cases in pending. (See here for a list of concluded and pending umbrella-related cases.)

Chen Zuoer has thus splendidly accomplished the goal of striking down pro-democracy forces in a short span of only two and a half years.

Somehow, for Beijing, it is not enough to avert democracy and stifle freedoms in order to fully rein in Hong Kong. The planned West Kowloon railway station will give final jurisdiction to mainland authorities. Hong Kong people are told that this is a done deal with no room for negotiation over better arrangements that would not violate Hong Kong’s autonomy.

With the “one country, two systems” model gone 30 years ahead of schedule, Hong Kong is fast becoming just another ‘mainland’ Chinese city. When the Chinese trains roll into West Kowloon under mainland jurisdiction in Fall 2018, Hong Kong will become a part of the greater Shenzhen.

Beijing has broken the promises of “Hong Kong people ruling Hong Kong” under “a high degree of autonomy” for 50 years.

The one promise that Beijing has kept is that the PLA would not fire a shot in Hong Kong. It is a genius stroke to send in the train instead of the bullet.

What keeps Hong Kong distinct is what cannot be locked up: the yearning for democracy and freedoms and the commitment to fight for them among the city’s youngest.

Victoria Hui is Associate Professor in Political Science, University of Notre Dame.

Photos: CitizenNews pictures



See also my related commentaries


20 years ago, China promised Hong Kong ‘1 country, 2 systems.’ So much for promises. (Washington Post)

What the current political storm spells for Hong Kong’s freedoms (HKFP)

打壓不會輕易落幕 好戲在後頭 (The struggle to rein in HK’s freedom is not over and more is yet to come) (Ming Pao)

沒有民主, 香港怎能在「風雨中抱緊自由」(“Without Democracy, How Could Hong Kong Embrace Freedom in the Storms )? (BBC Chinese)


Judge Yeung, one of the judges on the Court of Appeal, was seen hanging out with the Chief Executive, the Minister of Justice, a representative of Beijing’s liaison office in Hong Kong, and anti-umbrella lawyers at a X’mas party in 2015. (判刑法官曾出席反佔中組織活動)





Filed under Umbrella Movement

When HK’s most committed young people lose freedom for fighting for freedom, going to jail becomes an honor

When HK’s most committed young people lose freedom for fighting for freedom, we know that HK’s long-standing “freedom without democracy” model is dead.

When lower courts mete out community service but government prosecutors appeal to give harsh jail terms to young activists, we know that the judiciary is not independent and that the executive now exerts overwhelming influence on judges.

Student leaders who started the Umbrella Movement are given 6 to 8 months of jail terms after a government appeal. Government prosecutors said that the attempt to storm the civic square deserved jail terms rather than just community service. At a public rally last night, they urged supporters to keep on with the fight while they still have freedom. (In Pictures: Continue fighting for Hong Kong if we are jailed, says Joshua Wong as democracy activists face prison)20863382_1383429835102600_5962623827713374268_o


Harsher sentences were handed down to thirteen protestors convicted of storming the legislative council in 2014 over a development project in northeastern New Territories. Protestors said the project had more to do with government-developer collusion than genuine development. A lower court took into account their “noble causes” and gave them community service. Government prosecutors appealed and the Court of Appeal complied, giving jail terms of between 8 and 13 months.  (Protesters who stormed Hong Kong’s Legislative Council given jail terms after prosecutors pushed for tougher sentences)



In addition, the courts have also given harsh multi-year sentences to protestors convicted of throwing stones and bottles at police officers during the “fishball riots.”

What happens when a repressive regime sends the most committed young people to jail in large numbers? Going to jail is no longer a shame but an honor. When we look around at other movements around the world, the prison is like a political boot camp, toughening and radicalizing young people who will come out more determined than ever.

The Court of Appeal seems to have an extreme definition of “violence,” treating the students’ efforts to 重奪/seize/take back civic square counts as violence (which had been fenced in only in the summer before the outbreak of the umbrella movement). There is a deep concern that any bodily contact with the police, esp. if the protester is bigger and the police officer is skinny, would count as violence in the future. (上訴庭判詞保守 陳文敏質疑「暴力」定義推到盡)



The producer of a documentary on the 1967 riots (Vanished Archives) is drawing parallels between the British colonial government’s repression of leftwing protestors then and the Beijing/HK government’s repression of pro-democracy protestors today. (當政治凌駕法律    重看「六七暴動」案例)

It would be a mistake to think that the latest wave of repressive sentences would silence the youthful generation.

The parents of the convicted write open letters saying that they are proud to have such publicly spirited children.

示威判囚被質疑司法成了政治工具 入獄年青人父母以子女為榮


周永康母聞判激動落淚 父:我好驕傲

何潔泓:不對自己的理念有任何悔意;  何潔泓遭囚13月 母深夜fb感言:你是我的驕傲,你沒有錯


黃浩銘爸爸:我有你呢個仔 我真係感覺一生嘅榮幸


See also

Land Justice Alliance/土地正義聯盟



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Filed under Umbrella Movement