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600,000 Hong Kongers Vote in Pro-Democracy Primaries Despite Possibility of Breaking the Law

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  • Over 600,000 Hong Kongers took part in primaries for pro-democracy parties over the weekend, seeking to select candidates for the September elections.
  • Hong Kong and Beijing authorities spoke out against the primaries, saying they “undermined” the upcoming elections and likely violated the national security law.
  • Chief Executive Carrie lam also warned candidates that once in office, consistently voting to block bills and directives from Beijing are “subverting state power” and are against the law.

Hong Kong Weekend Primaries

Hong Kong and Beijing officials have spoken out against primaries held over the weekend by pro-democracy groups ahead of September elections, saying such primaries subvert state power and are likely in violation of the national security law.

Many in Hong Kong view this as their last big election and a chance at challenging the government of Hong Kong. Organizers claim that 610,000 people voted over the weekend. Though thousands voted in person, most voted via a mobile app made specifically for this election.

The lead-up to the primary was contentious. On Friday, police raided the offices of the Hong Kong Public Opinion Research Institute, a major pollster in the city.

There are claims the organization was targeted because it planned to work with the pro-democracy parties and help run the primaries. However, police claimed the raid was actually because computers belonging to the group were leaking the private information of thousands of people, including officers. While police said it was possibly from a hack, they did also state they are investigating whether or not the Hong Kong Public Opinion Research Institute was responsible for the leaks.

On Saturday and Sunday, when voting actually took place, scenes were relatively peaceful. People who physically went to polls to vote did so with no police interference. Results show that a lot of “localists” – younger, more anti-CCP candidates, beat the older pro-democracy crowd. Despite little interference in the actual primaries themselves, officials were extremely critical of them.

Voting to Subvert the State

Late Monday night, Hong Kong’s Chief Executive Carrie Lam attacked the primaries, telling reporters, “By the way, there’s no such thing as a primary in Hong Kong’s election system…”

She then added an ominous threat, saying, “As a further note of warning, if this so-called primary election’s purpose is to achieve the ultimate goal of delivering what they call a 35-plus, with the objective of objecting to, resisting every policy, initiative of the Hong Kong SAR government, then it may fall in fall into the category of subverting the state power. Which is now one of the four types of offenses under the new national security law.”

Carrie Lam’s comments on the night of July 13, 2020. (SCMP)

Beijing’s Hong Kong Liaison Office, its highest representative in the city, released a statement about the primary, saying, “With the support of external forces, opposition groups and leaders have deliberately devised plans to hold this so-called ‘primary election,’ which is a serious provocation to the current electoral system and caused serious damage to the fairness and justice of the Legislative Council elections.”

For many readers from democratic societies, some of these comments are likely confusing, such as the idea that primaries are “unfair” to the electoral system; something both Lam and the Liaison Office touched on. To clarify, Hong Kong has held primaries in the past, but beyond that, most countries don’t have primaries as part of the official election system. They’re independently run by the parties to narrow down candidates and are nearly universal in all democracies. This is even true in the United States, which is infamous for having a long and large primary election season.

Both statements also mentioned the 35-Plus plan. The name gives it away, but it’s a movement by pro-democracy parties to try and win 35 or more seats in the Legislative Council, which would allow them to block legislation and potentially force Lam’s resignation. While that might sound like politics as normal in a democracy, according to Lam, wanting to block all directives from Beijing is subverting state power and breaks the national security law.

Now, even if authorities don’t take it that far, Lam did state that many people who went to vote in person were in long lines, meaning groups larger than 50 people, which is currently illegal under the national security law.

Working with Foreign Powers

Hong Kong authorities also levied other serious accusations again primary organizers. The Liaison Office accused Benny Tai, a leading pro-democracy figure and organizer of the primaries, of trying to “seize the governance of Hong Kong and deliberately stage a ‘color revolution.’” Those are peaceful revolutions through civil disobedience and protests are. Famous ones in history include the Philippines’ Yellow Revolution, Czechoslovakia’s Velvet Revolution, and Ukraine’s Orange Revolution.

Additionally, the Liaison office tried to insinuate that Tai and other opposition leaders were working with foreign powers, writing: “Who instructed [Tai] to openly manipulate the election in so high-profile a manner? Who gave him such confidence?”

They went on to say, “With the support of external forces, the opposition minority groups and head figures have deliberately devised plans to hold this so-called ‘primary election,’ which is a serious provocation to the current electoral system and a serious damage to the fairness and justice of the Legislative Council elections”

Under the national security law, these are serious crimes that aren’t uncommon in many nations. Most nations make it illegal to get undisclosed foreign help in an election. Under this law, working with foreign powers could mean a prison sentence of at least 10 years to life.

Hong Kong and Chinese authorities offered no proof to back up their claims that foreign entities were behind the weekend’s primaries.

See What Others Are Saying: (CNN) (The Independent) (The Hill)

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Thousands Protest in Russia Demanding Release of Putin Foe Alexei Navalny

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  • Russia faced some of the largest protests it has seen in recent years after thousands took to the streets Saturday demanding the government release opposition figure Alexei Navalny.
  • Russian authorities declared the protests illegal and detained more than 3,500 people from more than 100 cities, including Navalny’s wife.
  • The government also released a statement addressing Navalny by name for the first time, attempting to discredit claims he has made, including the idea that President Vladimir Putin has a billion-dollar villa on the Black Sea coast.

Largest Russian Protests in Recent History

Russia experienced some of its largest protests in years Saturday after opposition figure Alexei Navalny called for demonstrations to be held following his arrest.

Supporters demanded Navalny’s release but also called for an end to perceived rampant corruption in the Russian state.

Tens of thousands took to the streets and clashed with police in more than 100 cities, with independent monitors claiming that 3,500 people were detained by police. Among those detained was Yulia Navalnaya, Navalny’s wife, who was targeted by authorities during the protests. She is reported to have been released by Russian media agencies such as TASS.

Despite Russian authorities declaring the protests illegal and warning of repercussions for those who attend, the protests managed to reach a wide range of people. According to the New York Times, over ⅓ of protesters in Moscow said they had never protested before.

Despite the movements current popularity, it may be difficult to turn the popular, anti-Putin movement into something more.The protesters span a broad range of the political spectrum, from far-left communist and anarchist groups to nationalists and libertarians, meaning that while they dislike Putin and the corruption in the Russian government, they agree on little else.

Changing the Message

The protests unveiled a new shift in how Russian authorities deal with Navalny. In the past, authorities and state-backed media never mentioned him by name in order to downplay him; however, that changed this weekend.

Newscasters aired multiple programs to discredit him and paint him as a tool of the West, while Putin denied Navalny’s claims that he has a secret, billion-dollar villa on the coast of the Black Sea. Based on his salary of $133,000 a year, Putin would only be able to afford a single home in Russia. However, there is speculation that due to corruption and embezzling, Putin is likely the actual richest person alive.

Regarding Navalny himself, he’s still in jail pending court proceedings on Feb. 2. If those go poorly for Navalny, he could be in prison until the mid-2020s, but he is more concerned about his immediate future.

In a video to supporters prior to the protests, he made it clear that he has no intention of committing suicide. That statement was likely made due to the fact that many Russian dissidents seem to die via suicide, with much speculation about whether or not that was actually the case.

See what others are saying: (New York Times) (Business Insider) (Associated Press)

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Some Flyers Are Forging Old COVID-19 Tests To Travel

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  • As a number of countries and airlines impose rules requiring negative COVID tests up to 72 before flights, more and more people have been forging old tests to make them look new.
  • In a recent report from Vice’s Motherboard, two anonymous men detailed how they forged documents to avoid having to pay for new ones.
  • “Fun fact, the document was in French whereas they were in Sweden the day it was supposedly made, but [airport officials] didn’t see a problem in that,” one man told Motherboard. 

Forging Old COVID-19 Tests

Many countries are now requiring flyers to present negative COVID-19 tests no more than 72 hours before they board planes; however, some people are reportedly forging their test results to get around the restrictions. 

According to Vice’s Motherboard, one anonymous individual used Photoshop to change the date of several of his friends’ older coronavirus tests. 

“Fun fact, the document was in French whereas they were in Sweden the day it was supposedly made, but [airport officials] didn’t see a problem in that,” the man told the outlet. 

Another person told Motherboard that he had changed the date of an old test result using Microsoft Paint in order to travel to Southern Europe for vacation.

Situations like this in Europe are not completely new.

“We needed a COVID-19 test for a family member and I spoke to one travel agent and he said, ‘Get it done and even if it comes out positive we will provide a negative one for you for £50’,” one person told The Sun in October.

While those people seemingly got away with potential forgery crimes, others haven’t.

Last week, it was reported that 45 people were caught trying to enter Croatia with fake COVID tests. Notably, they could each face up to three years in prison for forging documents. 

Earlier this month, a 17-year-old Dutch girl was also caught with a forged COVID test while trying to escape quarantine in Switzerland. 

Why Are People Forging Documents?

Part of the reason people are forging old COVID-19 tests may be to keep from being barred if a new test comes back positive; however, there also appears to be at least one other major reason: money.

Right now, tests in most European countries are free, but that’s not the case for people trying to go on vacation. 

In fact, people traveling for leisure have been warned not to use free COVID-19 testing services to meet flight demands. Instead, they are required to pay out of pocket to have their test sent to a private company. 

See what others are saying: (Motherboard) (The Independent) (TravelPulse)

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Russia Orders Social Media Sites To Block Calls for Navalny Protests

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  • Shortly after his arrest on Sunday, Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny called for protests to take place on Jan. 23 and was met with a wave of support online.
  • In response, the government ordered tech giants like Facebook, YouTube, Twitter, TikTok, and Russian-centric VK to “block all publications with calls to demonstrate on the 23rd.”
  • TikTok has already deleted 38% of posts with such calls while VK and YouTube have deleted 50%, and Instagram has removed 17%.

Navalny Calls for Protests

Russian opposition figure Alexei Navalny’s return to Russia and subsequent arrest earlier this week has set off a chain of events in the country.

Since his arrest, Navalny has called for protests to occur on Jan. 23. Now, Russian authorities are taking precautions and arresting his allies in an effort to slow down the momentum of the looming demonstrations. Among their many demands are that Navalny be released.

Throughout the week, thousands of posts shared by younger Russians have raged across social media asking that people partake in the protests. The reach of those posts, however, have been curtailed by the government.

Social media tech giants like Facebook, YouTube, Twitter, TikTok, and the Russian-centric VK were ordered by the Russian government to “block all publications with calls to demonstrate on the 23rd.”

Roskomnadzor, the Russian communications watchdog, later stated, “Internet sites will be brought to administrative responsibility in connection with the dissemination of information prohibited by law and aimed at attracting minors to participate in unauthorized mass public events.”

“Participation in such events is in violation of the established procedure, including in a pandemic, and carries risks of harm to life and health,” it added.

Censorship Payoff Unknown

For many of the sites, which are often seen as a way to promote free speech in regimes that are far more restrictive, the order puts them in an awkward position. Still, many have already complied, at least to some extend.

According to Roskomnadzor, Tiktok has deleted 38% of videos calling for minors to attend the protests. VK and YouTube have both deleted 50% of similar posts, while Instagram has removed 17% of posts that violate the regulations.

It’s unclear to what extent this censorship will have on stopping Russians from attending tomorrow’s protests; however, some of the nation’s largest protests in modern history have been organized by Navalny.

See what others are saying: (Moscow Times) (Associated Press) (Reuters)

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