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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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Rejecting Détente Offer, China Throws Shade at Taiwan’s New President

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Follow Steve Postal: @HebraicMosaic

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China’s propaganda machine has responded to Taiwan President Lai Ching-te’s inauguration address, which was conciliatory to the mainland, with belligerence. Rather than accepting Lai’s olive branch of détente based on mutual respect, China used Lai’s inauguration speech to slander the new president, claim that he does not have the mandate of his own people, and threaten to use force on the island.

China Slanders Taiwan’s New President

China reacted to Lai’s inauguration speech by slandering the new Taiwanese president. A Global Times article asserted that Lai “wants to deceive Taiwan residents,” and is “malicious.” Chen Binhua, a spokesperson for China’s State Council Taiwan Affairs Office, stated that Lai has “an extremely arrogant attitude and more radical views,” and that Lai’s inauguration speech was “[f]ull of hostility and provocation and made up of lies and deception,” according to another Global Times article. Similarly, Zhu Fenglian, another spokesperson for China’s State Council Taiwan Affairs Office, called Lai’s actions “vile,” according to a third Global Times article. A China Daily editorial labelled him a “diehard separatist, ” while another China Daily editorial called Lai’s quest for Taiwan’s independence an “evil pursuit.”

China Claims Lai Doesn’t Speak for the People of Taiwan

Despite Lai winning Taiwan’s democratic election, China portrayed Lai as going against the will of his people. Chen Binhua, a spokesperson for the China’s State Council Taiwan Affairs Office, called Lai is  “a traitor to mainstream public opinion on the island and a disruptor of peace and stability across the Taiwan Strait,” according to Global Times. Zhu Fenglian, another spokesperson for China’s State Council Taiwan Affairs Office, stated that “insightful individuals in Taiwan have expressed deep concern” about Lai, “reflecting the shared sentiments of the majority of Taiwan compatriots,” and that Lai’s colleagues in the DPP party are “in fact very insecure and fear that compatriots on both sides of the Straits will come closer together,” according to Global Times.

China Threatens to Use Force on Taiwan

China also responded to Lai’s inaugural speech by issuing threats and not-so-veiled threats to use force against Taiwan. One Global Times article stated that “Lai’s ‘Taiwan independence’ remarks are playing with fire, and those who play with fire will be bound to get themselves burned.” According to China Daily, the naval exercises conducted around Taiwan by China’s People’s Liberation Army (PLA) from May 23-24 in response to Lai’s speech were “legitimate countermeasures” that send “a clear message that [the PLA] will prevent ‘Taiwan independence’ at all costs.” Another China Daily article stated that the Chinese Defense Minister Dong Jun “…left no one in any doubt that should it prove necessary Beijing will not hesitate to use force to quash any bid to divide the nation. Calling the separatists’ pursuit of ‘independence’ an act of self-destruction, he stated unequivocally that ‘Whoever dares to sever Taiwan from China will be crushed.’”

Another Global Times article maintained that “[t]he actions of the Lai authorities will definitely invite lessons and countermeasures from the mainland” and that “[i]f Lai tries to escalate tensions in the coming years, the mainland will respond and use all available tools to make the Taiwan authorities pay a heavy price.” A third Global Times article, quoting “analysts” stated that “the pursuit of ‘Taiwan independence’ is a futile endeavor that will lead to detrimental and calamitous consequences for Taiwan island.”

Rather than accepting Lai’s reasonable offer to resume cordial relations based on mutual respect, China has chosen to ratchet up its propaganda attacks against the island. As China continues to beat the drums of war, will Taiwan hold the line?

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