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47 Hong Kong democracy activists to be kept in custody, says court

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On Thursday, a Hong Kong court ordered 47 pro-democracy activists charged under a Beijing-imposed national security law with “conspiracy to commit subversion” to be kept in custody in a case that has sparked global outcry at Beijing using such laws to quash dissent from Hong Kongers, according to multiple news outlets.

The Thursday ruling came after four days of bail hearings and after the Hong Kong Department of Justice appealed an initial decision to grant 15 of them bail.

31 of the activists were denied bail completely, with the co-founder of the 2014 Occupy Central protest movement, Benny Tai, withdrawing his bail application after he was ordered to be held in custody in a different case, according to the Associated Press.

The case’s next hearing is scheduled for May 31, per the news outlet.

The hearings have gone on late into the night for three consecutive days, causing several defendants to fall ill and be taken to the hospital, according to Reuters via U.S. & World News Report. This has prompted concerns from rights groups and some foreign diplomats over their treatment.

On Sunday, the activists were detained and charged over their involvement in an unofficial primary election last year that authorities said was a plot to paralyze Hong Kong’s government, according to the AP.

The charges are the most sweeping use yet of the national security law that mainland China imposed on the semi-autonomous city last June, which prompted global outcry.

MORE ON HONG KONG: Hong Kong residents fleeing by the thousands for Britain after Chinese visa crackdown

With the 47 remanded in custody, as the AP noted, almost all of Hong Kong’s most high-profile pro-democracy activists will now be in jail or in self-exile abroad amid an ongoing crackdown on dissent in the semi-autonomous Chinese city.

The 15 activists initially granted bail are set to appear at the High Court within 48 hours for a review of the decision, according to Reuters.

The U.S. State Department did not immediately respond to this reporter’s request for comment.

MORE ON HONG KONG: Sec. Pompeo condemns arrest of three Hong Kong pro-democracy activists, calls for their release

Chairman Avery Ng of the League of Social Democrats political party, according to the AP, said after the hearing that the Department of Justice’s appeal of the decision to grant bail to 15 of the defendants was “insidious” and “absurd, ridiculous and inhumane.”

“We’re not surprised at all that today’s bail application failed,” said Po-ying Chan, wife of one of the prominent defendants who was denied bail, “Long Hair” Leung Kwok-hung, according to Reuters.

“This proved that under the [national security law], the legal system has been twisted and turned upside down.”

MORE ON HONG KONG: NYT Opinion Piece Defends China’s Authoritarian Actions in Hong Kong

Ahead of the bail decisions, more than a hundred supporters of the activists congregated outside the West Kowloon Court in an emotional scene, chanting slogans such as “Liberate Hong Kong, revolution of our times,” which the government has outlawed because of secessionist connotations.

Some sobbed inside the chambers and others hugged outside, according to Reuters. One person, the outlet reported, stood outside the court with a yellow umbrella, a symbol of the democracy movement, and a banner that said “Free all political prisoners”.

Police assembled and hoisted a warning flag, according to the AP, instructing demonstrators that they might be violating the national security law.

The activists are accused of organizing and engaging in an unofficial, non-binding primary election last July that authorities claimed was part of a “vicious plot” to “overthrow” the government.

The vote, according to Reuters, was aimed at picking the strongest opposition candidates for a legislative council election that the government later postponed, citing the coronavirus.

You can follow Douglas Braff on Twitter @Douglas_P_Braff.

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REPORT: China uses psychiatric institutions to suppress dissent

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China has a vast network of psychiatric institutions that it uses to suppress dissent, according to a recent report by Safeguard Defenders, an NGO that focuses on human rights violations in China and other Asian countries. The report compiled data found on 99 victims involved in 144 instances on involuntary hospitalizations in 109 institutions from 2015 through 2021. Of the 99 victims in the report, 80 were petitioners [i.e., those who file complaints against officials] and 14 were activists.

But this is hardly a new phenomenon. “China’s regime has been torturing, maiming, and killing dissidents and others in psychiatric facilities for seven decades,” said Gordon G. Chang, author of The Coming Collapse of China and The Great U.S.-China Tech War. “The only way to end the horrific abuse is to end the rule of the Communist Party.”

The report detailed especially harsh treatments, which include: forced medication (in 77 percent of cases), physical restraints on the bed (60 percent), beatings by staff or other patients (25 percent) and electroshock therapy (14 percent). Otherwise normally healthy people were given anti-psychotic and psychotropic medications, causing severe side effects like memory loss, insomnia and tremors. Electroshock therapy was often administered to the victims as they were fully conscious, rather than under anesthesia in small doses as would be clinically appropriate for certain patients.  According to the report, “[Electroshock therapy] without anesthesia is not only unimaginably painful and frightening for the patient but carries serious side effects, including the risk of bone fractures, joint dislocation, muscle tears, disruption of the heart beat and lung damage.”

Family and friends are often used as weapons against the victims. They were not permitted to call or visit the victims in 76 percent of cases, which essentially makes these cases “enforced disappearances.” 11 percent of cases were committed with the assistance of family (either voluntarily or coerced by authorities). Family and friends who petition for the victim’s release are often faced with persecution, and involuntarily commitment themselves.

The peak of psychiatric detentions occurred from 2015 through 2016, which was around the same time as China’s “709 Crackdown” where the government persecuted hundreds of human rights lawyers.

Some of the detentions are rather draconian. As a petitioner who called for local authorities to investigate a robbery in his house, Zeng Jiping was detained for almost two years. For “live tweeting herself splashing paint over a portrait of Xi Jinping,” Dong Yaoqiong received 1 year, 4 months detention. Twenty-nine out of the 99 victims in the report were hospitalized more than once. In two-thirds of cases where data was known, the authorities did not perform a psychiatric evaluation, in direct violation of China’s Mental Health Law.

The report also gives the example of Andy Li, a member of the “Hong Kong 12” pro-democracy protestors, as falling victim to involuntary detention in Hong Kong’ Siu Lam Psychiatric Center in 2021. The report noted that, as Li’s family didn’t know about his detention, “Li’s cases appears to be a worrying sign that the political abuse of psychiatry practiced on the mainland is now being exported into Hong Kong…”

Those who are finally released from their involuntary committals face lasting physical and phycological pain, and stigma within their communities. People seeking damages for their treatment are often faced with doctors and attorneys who do not want to assist them for fear of retaliation from the government.

Conclusion

According to the report, China is using “peace and health asylums” and other healthcare institutions to “punish and remove activists and petitioners from society without the trouble of going through a trial.” While the report details various Chinese laws that are supposed to protect citizens from such involuntary hospitalizations, in reality Chinese authorities do not abide by these laws and the citizens are not protected. The policy of involuntary hospitalizations show the extent to which the Chinese Communist Party will go to suppress dissent.

You can follow Steve Postal on Twitter @HebraicMosaic

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