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Four Students Arrested, 12 Protest Leaders Barred from Elections in Hong Kong National Security Law Crackdown

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  • Four Hong Kong student activists were arrested Wednesday for “secession” over a social media post.
  • Notably, this is the first police crackdown outside of street protests since implementation of China’s national security law on June 30.
  • Hours later, the Hong Kong government barred 12 pro-democracy leaders from running in upcoming elections—including four incumbents.
  • Despite the national security law supposedly not being retroactive, several of those candidates were barred over concerns stemming from their past actions.

Four Students Arrested for “Secession”

China began enacting harsh crackdowns under its new national security law on Wednesday, beginning with the arrests of four student activists who are being accused of inciting “secession” after making a post on social media.

That news was shortly followed by the announcement that 12 pro-democracy candidates seeking seats within the city’s legislature, the Legislative Council, have been barred from upcoming elections in September.

Reportedly, the students who were arrested range from ages 16 to 21. Notably, outside of street protests, these are the first arrests that have been enacted using the national security law since it went into effect on June 30.

As far as specifically why they were arrested, in a press conference last night, Senior Superintendent Steve Li Kwai-wah said that all four students are believed to be part of an online group that pledged to fight for Hong Kong independence.

Li went on to say they “posted about the establishment of a new party” that would promote pro-independence ideals “using any means possible” in an attempt to build a “Republic of Hong Kong.”

“We have to enforce the laws even if the crimes are committed on the internet,” he added. “Don’t think you can escape from the responsibility in cyberspace and commit crimes.”

According to Li, police also seized their computers, phones, and other documents.

While police declined to say what group the students were a part of or even give their names,  pro-independence group StudentLocalism said on Facebook that one of the people who was arrested is Tony Chung, the group’s former leader. 

Chung disbanded the group’s operations in Hong Kong pretty much immediately after Beijing passed this national security law for the city; however, it’s still been active on social media, and activists are reportedly working overseas. 

All four of the students who were arrested appear to also have ties to another organization, the Initiative Independence Party. Their activity with that group might actually be why they were arrested.

Police have already executed ten arrests during street protests under the new national security law. Of those, they’ve charged one person. 

As far as whether these students will be charged, according to a police source who spoke with the South China Morning Post, police will likely seek legal advice from the Hong Kong Department of Justice. From there, they will decide whether those suspects will ultimately be charged or released on bail.

Activists Speak Out On Student Arrests

Despite it long being expected that China would eventually target online dissent, criticism of this move was still potent. 

“That four young people could potentially face life imprisonment on the basis of some social media posts lays bare the draconian nature of the national security law,” Amnesty International’s Asia Pacific Regional Director Nicholas Bequelin said in a statement. 

The idea that anybody can now be jailed for expressing their political opinion on Facebook or Instagram will send a chill throughout Hong Kong society,” he added. “No one should be arrested solely for expressing an opinion that is contrary to that of the government.”

On Twitter, prominent activist Nathan Law, who fled the city earlier this month, said, “So students are arrested because of a SOCIAL MEDIA POST. Bloody hell. How vulnerable a country is to be afraid of a post by a group of teenagers.” 

The arrests have also resulted in condemnation from the Human Rights Watch. The group’s China Director described them as a “gross misuse of this draconian law (which make) clear that the aim is to silence dissent, not protect national security.”

That director, Sophie Richardson, also said the arrests “raise chilling concerns of a broader crackdown on political parties” as September’s legislative elections approach.

12 Candidates Barred From Elections

Ironically enough, Richardson’s concern came true just hours later when the Hong Kong government announced that 12 pro-democracy candidates running for seats in LegCo have now been disqualified from doing so.

For its part, the government argued that those candidates can’t stand for candidacy because 

their political positions would be at odds with the basic law of Hong Kong. For example, they have advocated for democratic reforms and have objected to the national security legislation.

Those candidates include Joshua Wong and Gwyneth Ho, who were both front-runners in an unofficial democratic primary held earlier this month. Notably, that list also includes four incumbents.

LegCo contains 42 pro-Beijing lawmakers scattered across 70 total seats. Citizens themselves are only allowed to directly elect representatives in 35 seats while the other half is indirectly elected through interest groups. Hong Kong is also led by Chief Executive Carrie Lam, who is backed by Beijing and has been frequently criticized as being a “puppet” for the mainland. 

Unsurprisingly, Beijing has said it supports these disqualifications. The Hong Kong government has also since said that more disqualifications could follow. 

Three pro-democracy lawmakers—Alvin Yeung, Dennis Kwock, and Kenneth Leung—were told they were barred from re-election because of previous calls for the United States to impose sanctions on those responsible for rights abuses in Hong Kong. 

As Yeung and Kwok pointed out, those pushes mainly happened in August and September—months before the national security law went into effect. The national security law, on paper, indicates that it cannot be applied retroactively.

Still, election officials have argued that candidates’ past actions and remarks reflect their true intentions, meaning they can still be barred from running.

International Outrage to Barring Candidates

Wong was also barred in a similar fashion. That decision was made even though he disbanded his pro-democracy party, Demosisto, hours before the national security law went into effect. On Monday, he also pledged to no longer lobby for foreign sanctions against Hong Kong.

Nonetheless, the Hong Kong government has cited previous statements made directly by him and his party as a reason for barring him. 

“Beijing has staged the largest-ever assault on the city’s remaining free election,” Wong said on Twitter. 

“In the letter of government, they have nearly screened all my posts, co-eds, interviews and statements for cooking up excuses for disqualification. Under the surveillance of secret police, I have been trailed by unknown agents, let alone the growing risk of being assault[ed].”

“However, after a whole year of resistance, Hongkongers will not surrender.”

Internationally, the qualifications have also received condemnation from a number of lawmakers in different countries. 

In the U.S., Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fl.) called the disqualifications “outrageous,” saying this move shows “the Chinese Communist Party’s determination to remake the city in its image.”

He then called on the Trump administration to “push back and hold officials accountable.”

Secretary of State Mike Pompeo has also urged Hong Kong to move forward with its Sept. 6 election as planned. That comes after concerns that the government may delay the election for one year because of the coronavirus pandemic. 

Pro-democracy supporters, however, have accused the pro-Beijing lawmakers of trying to stifle an election that could yield a first-ever majority for pro-democracy lawmakers.

On Thursday, the Hong Kong government responded to criticism, saying, “There is no question of any political censorship, restriction of the freedom of speech, or deprivation of the right to stand for elections as alleged by some members of the community.”

See what others are saying: (Aljazeera) (South China Morning Post) (The New York Times)

International

Chinese Billionaire Sun Dawu Arrested, Businesses Seized by Communist Party

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  • Chinese authorities announced on Wednesday that billionaire Sun Dawu is facing 25 years in prison over a range of charges, including disturbing public order, illegal mining, encroachment on state farmland, obstructing public services, and illegal fundraising.
  • Sun owns a number of companies based on rural industries and has long been an advocate for rural workers and landowners. His communes for workers have been described as “utopian.”
  • However, his advocacy has made him a target, especially after he began quarreling with local state-owned enterprises over land rights.
  • Sun was arrested along with 19 others, most of whom were family, and according to his legal team, his company is now being run by Communist Party representatives.

China Targets Billionaire

Sun Dawu, one of China’s most outspoken businessmen and rural worker advocates, could face 25 years in prison if convicted on a wide range of charges at a court hearing that is believed to take place next week, his legal team said on Monday.

Sun is accused of provoking trouble and disturbing public order, illegal mining, encroachment on state farmland, obstructing public service, and illegal fundraising, among other charges, according to documents released Wednesday from prosecutors in Gaobeidian, a city in Hebei province.

Prosecutors also charged 19 other people with similar crimes, many of whom took Sun’s side in a November land dispute between Sun’s companies and state-owned enterprises. According to South China Morning Post, who spoke with a source on Sun’s legal team, prosecutors are asking that Sun’s eldest son receive a 16 years sentence and that Sun’s brother be handed an 11-year sentence.

Sun’s legal team appealed to Dang Xiaolong, the Communist Party secretary of Baoding, to reconsider the cases.

“If this case is not properly resolved, it would not be just a setback of Sun Dawu,” the letter said, adding that the charges against Sun could have a chilling effect on private business owners in China and could mar this year’s centennial celebrations of the Chinese Communist Party, which are meant to highlight how far the party has come.

Too Vocal a Critic

China, as of late, has been cracking down on billionaires and reigning in their power – especially if they’ve been known to be outspoken critics. Jack Ma noticeably fled from the public eye after scrutiny from state authorities, although he has managed to avoid any charges.

Sun, on the other hand, has been far more vocal in his criticisms of the party. He’s known for having extremely loyal employees and often uses them to push back against local party policies and officials; which could constitute the use of a gang and further exacerbate problems for his defense. His workers are so loyal because Sun is known for building large communes for them with above-standard housing, along with free education, groceries, daycares, and healthcare for employees and their families.

Since at least Wednesday, Sun’s companies, as well as the community facilities for the workers, have been run by Communist Party representatives. If Sun is convicted, it’s likely that his properties and companies will all be turned over to the state.

See what others are saying: (NPR) (NYT) (South China Morning Post)

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Israel-Hamas Fighting Continues To Escalate as Tensions Take Over Social Media

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  • Fighting between Israel and Hamas forces within the Gaza strip escalated into Thursday, as both sides have continued rocket attacks and airstrikes, killing nearly 100 and injuring hundreds more.
  • Many fear the violence could turn into a ground war as Israeli forces gather on the border. At the same time, Israel is experiencing domestic conflict as angry Arab and Jewish citizens clash in the streets.
  • Numerous celebrities have spoken out about the fighting, though all faced criticism regardless of whether they shared pro-Israel, pro-Palestinian, or neutral stances that called for peace.
  • The backlash highlights how divisive and complicated the over 70-year conflict between Israel and Palestine is.

Escalating Every Day

The situation between Israel and Palestine has dramatically escalated over the last two days, and as of Thursday morning, nearly people 100 are dead across both sides.

Hamas officials at the Gaza Ministry of Health claim that over 480 people have been wounded and 83 Palestinians have died in the conflict. That includes 17 children and at least one top commander, although Israel claims to have killed almost only militants and at least 10 top commanders. In Israel, six Israelis and one Indian national have died while dozens of others were wounded.

On top of the conflict with Gaza, Israel is also facing some of its most violent confrontations in decades between Jewish and Arab citizens. There have been reports of angry Arabs setting vehicles, a restaurant, and a synagogue ablaze. Meanwhile, in other communities, ultra-nationalist Jewish residents enacted their own violence by vandalizing Arab-owned cars.

In addition to this, there have also been accusations of what are described as lynchings by both groups.

Most Arab protesters deny that they are targeting Israelis as a whole, but instead are aiming at the ultra-nationalist, ultra-conservative Jewish communities that make up the vast majority of the Israeli settler movement. These same settler groups are using the Israeli government to force Palestinians from their homes in Sheikh Jarrah, which is one of the catalysts for recent events.

“How hard should you retaliate when they try to hurt you?”

As with any situation regarding the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, opinions are extremely divided. Some appeared to want to show support for their homeland while still having empathy for everyone involved, such as actress Gal Gadot who tweeted, “My heart breaks. My country is at war. I worry for my family, my friends. I worry for my people.”

This is a vicious cycle that has been on for far too long. Israel deserves to live as a free and safe nation, our neighbors deserve the same. I pray for the victims and their families, I pray for this unimaginable hostility to end, I pray for our leaders to find the solution so we could live side by side in peace. I pray for better days.”

The post was widely criticized, with users suggesting that calling the ongoing fighting a “war” implied some kind of power balance. That power imbalance was particularly highlighted in a video by late-night host Trevor Noah. In it, he pointed out that trying to get to “who’s wrong” is a wasted effort, and no matter what, important context will always be left out.

“Like just set aside motives and intentions and just look at technology alone. Israel has one of the most powerful militaries in the world. They can crush Gaza like that,” he added. “Not to mention one of the most powerful defense systems in the world. You shoot a rocket at them and it’s probably not going to do anything because of its defense system.”

“But I just want to ask an honest question here. If you are in a fight where the other person cannot beat you, how hard should you retaliate when they try to hurt you?”

Hard-Line Stances

Noah’s stance was a little more nuanced than many online, as he seemed to imply that Israel should have the ability to at least respond in some way to Hamas’ rocket strikes. Figures such as Bella Hadid didn’t agree. She painted the situation as more black and white, posting an image to Instagram that has one person asking if the conflict was over religion. The other person in the image responds, “They are not ‘fighting,’ Israelis are the oppressors and Palestinians are the oppressed and the situation is about anything but religion.”

That post has led others to use the same format to argue that Bella’s take is a reductionist argument that leaves out any context about the situation that is far more complex than it portrays.

For example, many noted that Bella discounts the importance of religion in the conflict, even though it’s always been a pillar and facet of identity that has helped fuel it. Her sister Gigi also posted about what’s going on, advocating that people look at this from the lens of human rights, as Israel has long been accused of being a de facto apartheid state that unfairly treats Palestinians.

Then there were those like Rihanna who took a “middle-of-the-road” approach. She wrote, “My heart is breaking with the violence I’m seeing displayed between Israel and Palestine!”

“I can’t bare to see it! Innocent Israeli and Palestinian children are hiding in bomb shelters…. There needs to be some kind of resolve! WE are sadly watching innocent people fall victim to notions by government and extremists, and this cycle needs to be broken!”

Pro-Palestinian users were quick to jump at her post, writing things like, “rihanna is giving such “all lives matter energy.” I’m disappointed. It’s not a conflict!! It’s one sided.”

As the outrage online continues, so does the fighting, with both Israel and Gaza firing at each other. There are reports that Israel is building up ground forces across from Gaza, and that the situation may escalate dramatically as at least three rockets were launched into Israel from southern Lebanon, a stronghold of the Islamist group Hezbollah.

See what others are saying: (Associated Press) (Al-Jazeera) (The Independent)

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Hamas and Israel Exchange Deadly Strikes Over Conflicts at Al-Aqsa Mosque and Sheikh Jarrah

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  • Tensions between Israel and Palestine have risen dramatically over the last month since Israel restricted access to al-Aqsa mosque, along with other religious and traditional sites during Ramadan, Islam’s holiest month.
  • On top of this, there are ongoing clashes in the Sheikh Jarrah neighborhood of East Jerusalem, where an Israeli court has ordered Palestinian families out of their homes despite a 1956 agreement that stated they could keep their homes after three years.
  • The two situations have jointly fueled weeks of massive protests in Jerusalem, leading to hundreds of injuries.
  • Hamas, which rules the Gaza Strip, issued an ultimatum to Israel to stop its actions. When the deadline passed Monday night, it launched over 400 rockets into Israel, which retaliated with its own airstrikes.

Actions at Al-Aqsa Mosque and Sheikh Jarrah Fuel Anger

Dozens were killed across Israel and the Gaza Strip between Monday and Tuesday after both sides conducted airstrikes over rising tensions between Israel and Palestinians in Jerusalem.

At play are two unique situations that have led to Palestinians becoming particularly frustrated at what they feel is unjust treatment by Israel. The first is what Palestinians describe as Israeli restrictions on religious and cultural practices during Ramadan. The other is the looming evictions of Palestinians in the Sheikh Jarrah neighborhood of Eastern Jerusalem.

The religious clashes began about a month ago at the start of Ramadan when Israeli security forces put up barriers to stop people from hanging out at the Damascus Gate, a popular spot during the holiest month in Islam.

The situation was made worse when Israel imposed a 10,000 person limit on prayers at the al-Aqsa Mosque, one of Islam’s holiest sites. The 10,000 person limit meant tens of thousands of Palestinians were turned away or forcibly removed in a series of raids into the mosque and compound, the most recent of which caused a fire in a tree in the area.

Israel tried to de-escalate the ongoing protests by removing the barriers at the Damascus Gate to little avail.

Sheikh Jarrah: Microcosm for Entire Conflict

On top of the situation at the al-Aqsa compound, there have also been also large demonstrations over evictions in the neighborhood of Sheikh Jarrah. The area was developed in the ’50s by Jordan when it controlled that part of Jerusalem as part of an agreement with Israel. Part of that agreement was that the families living there would be allowed to keep the homes after three years. Jordan eventually lost control of Sheikh Jarrah and seven decades later an Israeli court has ordered Palestinian families in Sheikh Jarrah to leave their homes.   

The court agreed with the accusation that the homes were illegally built on Jewish-owned land and should be returned to Jewish residents. In turn, Israeli settlers moved into the area and entered homes with families still living inside — a move that has been described as little more than blatant theft.

The evictions at Sheikh Jarrah have led to weeks of massive protests and this past weekend was no different with hundreds of injuries across both sides.

The entire situation was supposed to be settled, at least legally, during a Supreme Court hearing on Monday, but that was postponed until an unknown date, leaving many to feel like the situation won’t be resolved and fueling further protests.

Hamas Issues Ultimatum

In response to all of this, Hamas and its territory of the Gaza Strip decided to issue an ultimatum for Israel to leave the al-Aqsa Mosque complex and the Sheikh Jarrah neighborhood or it would launch rockets. When that failed to happen at 6 p.m. on Monday, Hamas launched a massive attack of over 400 rockets into Israel. Many fell short or were stopped by Israel’s Iron Dome defense system.

However, some did find their targets and injured at least 10 Israelis and killing two. Israel responded by conducting airstrikes against Gaza, reportedly killing 26. Both sides have continued to bombard the other through the last 36 hours with promises to escalate the situation further.

Over the next few days, it’s likely that the death tolls will rise and the bloodshed will be used as its own excuse to continue the violent cycle that the region has been locked in since the middle of the 20th century.

See what others are saying: (CBS News) (Jersualem Post) (The New York Times)

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