National security law: former HK lawmaker who helped guide opposition primary steps down amid Beijing warnings

16-Jul-2020 Intellasia | South China Morning Post | 6:02 AM Print This Post

A former lawmaker and driving force behind Hong Kong opposition camp’s weekend primary has resigned from his organising duties in the wake of Beijing’s stern warning that those behind the unofficial polls could be in breach of the city’s sweeping new national security law.

Au Nok-hin, 33, on Wednesday described statements issued by Beijing in the past two days as unexpected, saying he had no choice but to withdraw from the task force to protect his safety and that of others.

“I hope my departure will not give people an impression that [the primary] is problematic,” he said. “In any other normal society, I would have repeatedly insisted the primary has not breached any laws, but this will not work in places with authorities that do not reason.”

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In Washington, US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo on Tuesday also weighed in, expressing “grave concern” over the local government’s earlier warning that the primary might have violated the new national security law, saying it again showed “the Chinese Communist Party’s fear of democracy and its own people’s free thinking”.

He congratulated the pan-democratic camp for their successful primary, which he said had shown Hongkongers’ desire to make their voices heard in the face of Beijing’s efforts to suffocate the city’s freedoms.

Au’s resignation came a day after the cabinet-level Hong Kong and Macau Affairs Office (HKMAO) issued a strongly worded statement, lashing out at those behind the polls and accusing the primary of being “an unlawful manipulation of Hong Kong elections” and “a blatant challenge” against the Basic Law the city’s mini-constitution and the national security law.

The office did not name Au, but singled out another organiser, legal academic Benny Tai Yiu-ting, who co-founded the Occupy movement in 2014.

Over the weekend, more than 610,000 Hongkongers took part in the citywide primary, as the opposition camp attempted to whittle down their list of Legislative Council candidates from 52 to those with the best chance of achieving “35-plus”, their first-ever majority in the 70-seat legislature.

Tai had previously said that securing a simple majority in the legislature could be used by the bloc as a “constitutional weapon”, allowing them to veto the annual budget, force the government to accede to their demands and eventually open up the possibility of the chief executive’s resignation.

On Monday, Hong Kong leader Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor and Beijing’s liaison office in the city accused the opposition of trying to take control of the legislature to vote down the budget and paralyse the government, which they described as a coordinated ploy to subvert state power.

Au on Wednesday suggested Hong Kong was seeing less room for dissent, given Beijing’s repeated suggestions that the primary’s organisers could have breached the national security law, which outlaws acts of secession, subversion, terrorism and collusion with foreign forces. It carries penalties up to life behind bars.

“There are different views and opinions in society, and the crux is how much tolerance the government will have for these dissenting voices,” he said.

There are different views and opinions in society, and the crux is how much tolerance the government will have for these dissenting voices

Former lawmaker Au Nok-hin

“If the government does not connect with these voices but only suppresses or threatens them with the national security law, there is not much room for diversity.”

Tai on Tuesday rejected Beijing’s allegations as “nonsense, groundless and absurd”, saying the primary was organised using local resources and that losing candidates were free to run in September’s Legco elections without any form of coercion.

The primary’s final results are expected to be released on Wednesday. Preliminary results suggested activists on the front lines of the anti-government protests had outperformed candidates from the traditional pan-democratic parties.


Category: Hong Kong

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