East Asia Theater
A Hong Kong court on July 31 charged 44 protesters with rioting over their involvement in street protests over the weekend. The peaceful sit-in at a park outside Beijing's Liaison Office July 28 turned into running battles between black-clad demonstrators and police, with security forces using tear-gas and rubber bullets. The 44 are the first demonstrators to be charged since protests over the extradition bill began in June. The defendants were released on bail. Most were ordered to remain in Hong Kong, except a pilot who is able to leave when working; and had a midnight to 6 AM curfew imposed on them, except for a children's home worker. Hong Kong's anti-riot law defines rioting as an unlawful assembly of three or more people where any person commits a breach of the peace. If convicted under this law, the sentence can be up to 10 years in prison. This heavy sentence has sparked outrage, and protesters demonstrated at the courthouse where the 44 defendants were charged. While the protests initially began in June to demonstrate against the extradition bill, they have since developed into a call for wider democratic reform.
Huang Qi, a Chinese journalist and "cyber-dissident," was sentenced July 29 to 12 years in prison for illegally disclosing state secrets abroad. Huang Qi is founder of 64 Tianwang, a Chinese news site that has reported frequently on protests and human rights abuses in the People's Republic. His site has run articles on the 1989 pro-democracy protests in Tiananmen Square. He supported families in Sichuan in their case against the government for children who died in schoolhouses during the 2008 earthquake there. He reported on Tiananmen Square again in 2013 when a rare demonstration was held there, and in 2014 when a woman tried to self-immolate there to protest the opening of the National People’s Congress. Each of these reports led to prison time for Huang Qi.
International rights groups are demanding accountability from China in the death of Ji Sizun, the most recent victim of the ongoing crackdown on dissident lawyers in the People's Republic. On July 10, two months after being released from prison, Ji, 69, died from unknown illnesses, guarded by state security in a hospital in his native Fujian province. He had reportedly been ill-treated in detention. One of China's most prominent "barefoot lawyers," or self-taught legal advocates, Ji spent most of the past 10 years in prison. His release in April came after serving four and a half years on dubious charges of "gathering a crowd to disrupt public order" and "picking quarrels." Upon release, reportedly in a comatose state, he was taken straight to the intensive care unit of Xiangcheng District Hospital in his hometown of Zhangzhou. Police allowed only very limited visits by his family, prevented his friends from visiting, and warned family and friends alike not to speak publicly about his condition.
Hong Kong protesters stormed and occupied the city's legislative chamber on July 1, which marked the 22nd anniversary of the handover from British to Chinese rule. The protesters, many wearing helmets, spray-painted the walls with slogans including "Oppose Chinese colonialism." But some, at least, betrayed a nostalgia for the earlier colonialism. Hong Kong Free Press writes: "A British colonial flag—often used in protesters—was also unfurled at the president's chair." And sure enough, the former colonial power has emerged as defender of the protest movement. UK Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt warns China of "serious consequences" over the Hong Kong repression, and will not rule out sanctions, BBC reports.
Despite limited victories, leaders of the declaredly "leaderless" protest movement that has brought hundreds of thousands to the streets in Hong Kong over the past weeks pledge to keep up the pressure. The unpopular bill that sparked the protests and would have allowed extradition to mainland China has now been suspended. But six student unions issued a call to escalate protest actions if the government does not respond to their outstanding demands in the coming days. These include that the extradition bill be formally withdrawn, that all charges be dropped against arrested protesters, and investigations be opened into cases of police brutality. Protesters are also demanding that Chief Executive Carrie Lam step down.
The Chinese authorities must end a wave of persecution targeting those seeking to commemorate the victims of the 1989 Tiananmen Square massacre, Amnesty International said ahead of the 30th anniversary of the bloodshed. Over recent weeks, police have detained, placed under house arrest or threatened dozens of activists who are seeking to mark the June 4 anniversary, as well as relatives of those killed. "Thirty years on from the Tiananmen bloodshed the very least the victims and their families deserve is justice. However, President Xi continues to read from the same tired political playbook, cruelly persecuting those seeking the truth about the tragedy in a concerted effort to wipe the June 4 crackdown from memory," said Roseann Rife, East Asia research director at Amnesty.
In Episode 34 of the CounterVortex podcast, Bill Weinberg interviews Rose Tang, veteran journalist, activist, artist, musician, and survivor of the Tiananmen Square massacre. In an in-depth oral history, Tang recounts her experiences as a student leader in Beijing in the spring of 1989, her witness to the June 4 repression, and her work as a public voice for Tiananmen Square survivors. Books and works discussed include: Prisoner of the State: The Secret Journal of Premier Zhao Ziyang (Simon & Schuster 2009); The People's Republic of Amnesia: Tiananmen Revisited by Louisa Lim (Oxford 2014); "Tiananmen Massacre," Tang's contribution to The Princeton Reader: Contemporary Essays by Writers and Journalists at Princeton University (2010); and Jack London's "Credo." Listen on SoundCloud, and support our podcast via Patreon.
Nine leading activists of Hong Kong's 2014 Umbrella Movement have been convicted under colonial-era "public nuisance" laws, concluding one of the city's most politically charged trials in years. The nine may face up to seven years in prison. They include the famous "Occupy Trio"—legal scholar Benny Tai, sociology professor Chan Kin-man and Rev. Chu Yiu-ming. The Umbrella Movement was the biggest pro-democracy protest in Hong Kong's history, during which thousands occupied Admiralty, Mong Kok and Causeway Bay from September to December of 2014. (HKFP, BBC News) In a sentencing statement, Rev. Chu Yiu-ming said: "[M]y heart tells me that with this defendant's dock, I have found the most honorable pulpit of my ministerial career... We have no regrets... We do not give up " (HKFP)