Hong Kong Court Denies Bail to Fourth Student Activist on 'Subversion' Charge

The city's largest pro-democracy party debates dissolution in the face of new election rules designed to exclude genuine political opposition.
By Chan Yun Nam and Cheng Yut Yiu
2021.09.23
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Hong Kong Court Denies Bail to Fourth Student Activist on 'Subversion' Charge Hong Kong Student Politicism activist Wong Yuen-lam is shown in an undated photo.
Facebook / Student Politicism

A court in Hong Kong on Thursday denied bail to a 19-year-old activist, the fourth person to be arrested in connection with the group Student Politicism under a draconian national security law imposed on the city by Beijing.

Wong Yuen-lam's arrest on Wednesday came as the West Kowloon Court denied bail to group convenor Wong Yat-chin, 20, its secretary general Chan Chi-sum, 20, and former member Jessica Chu, 19.

Both Chu and Wong had previously acted as spokeperson for the group.

Like the other three arrestees, Wong Yuen-lam is being held on suspicion of "conspiracy to incite subversion," with police warning that investigations are still ongoing, and that more arrests could follow.

Senior superintendent Steve Li of the national security police has accused Student Politicism of a range of "subversive acts," including encouraging people not to use the government's voluntary LeaveHomeSafe pandemic app, and using street booths to "incite hatred of the government."

The group was also accused of trying to "recruit" prisoners by sending them gifts of chocolate and hand cream.

The investigation into the campus-based political group came as Hong Kong's Democratic Party contemplated dissolution, faced with a new electoral system that is unlikely to approve any of its candidates, and amid warnings by a pro-CCP figure that not running could be seen as a breach of the city's constitution, the Basic Law, and call the party's allegiance into question.

Former Democratic Party lawmaker Fred Li said that while he believes the party should try to field candidates even if they face disqualification, it should dissolve if it can't represent the people of Hong Kong.

"If a political party wants to run in elections, it also has to get seats," Li said. "If it continues to run for elections but never gets any seats in the Legislative Council [LegCo], then how representative is it?"

"What kind of public recognition would it have, and ... how can it supervise the work of the government?" he said. "If it fails on all those counts, it would be better for that party to disband."

Li was speaking ahead of a secret ballot on Sunday in which party members will vote on whether to boycott the LegCo election in December, the first to be held under a system designed to exclude genuine political opposition or dissenting voices.

Further loss of power seen

Former Democratic Party member Tik Chi-yuen, a centrist who became the only person to win a seat on the Beijing-approved Election Committee in last weekend's elections who isn't wholeheartedly supportive of the government and the CCP, said a boycott would likely lead to the demise of the Democratic Party.

"If a powerful political party decides to boycott and abandon these elections, this will shrink any power the democrats may have still further," Tik said.

"If the Democratic Party wants to continue to serve our society and promote democracy, and if it cares about people's lives, it should run for LegCo on that platform," he said. "Without a presence in the legislature, it will shrink further."

The party's dilemma came after an opinion article in the Ming Pao newspaper penned by pro-CCP figure Lo Man-tuen warned that the party's leadership risks breaching the Basic Law if they decide to boycott the elections.

Lo, who is vice chairman of the CCP-backed All-China Federation of Returned Overseas Chinese, said the loyalty of the party's members would then be called into question.

Joseph Cheng, former politics lecturer at Hong Kong's City University, said the party may not be able to field candidates even if it decides to take part, however, as it needs to secure a certain number of nominations from a pro-CCP vetting system in order to do so.

"I hope the environment will improve in the future, and that I will be able to take part in a free election," Cheng said. "Pro-democracy parties are considering restructuring ... and waiting until political conditions improve."

Translated and edited by Luisetta Mudie.

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