- 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)
Anti-LGBTQ+ Hungarian Politician Resigns After He Was Caught At a 25-Man Orgy
- József Szájer, a longtime ally of the right-wing Hungarian Prime Minister and a Member of the European Parliament, resigned Sunday after he was caught attending a 25-man orgy in Brussels.
- The event was raided after a noise complaint as Brussels is currently under a lockdown to curb the spread of COVID-19.
- Szájer claimed diplomatic immunity after being detained and was issued a €250 fine.
- His attendance at a gay orgy contrasts his career as an adamantly anti-LGBTQ+ politician. In fact, he was instrumental in rewriting Hungary’s 2010 constitution to include provisions meant to stifle the possibility of gay marriage.
Long time anti-LGBTQ+ politician József Szájer resigned from the European Parliament Sunday after revelations that he attended a 25-man orgy in Brussels, which was raided by police.
The Saturday event violated Belgium’s stay-at-home orders, which prohibit inter-household gathers of more than four people in an effort to curb the spread of COVID-19. Police were notified of the orgy after a neighbor called to file a noise complaint. The organizer of the party was unapologetic about hosting the party during the pandemic, telling HLN, “I always invite a few friends to my parties, who in turn bring some friends along, and then we make it fun together.”
“We talk a little, we have a drink – just like in a café. The only difference is that in the meantime we also have sex with each other. I don’t see what’s wrong with that,” he added.
József Szájer’s Great Escape
According to local media HLN, Szájer wasn’t even invited to the party but instead came as a guest’s friend. There are differing accounts about how he was aprehended at the party. A spokesperson for the local prosecutor’s office said on Tuesday, “A passer-by reported to the police that he had seen a man fleeing along the gutter; he was able to identify the man.”
“The man’s hands were bloody. It is possible that he may have been injured while fleeing. Narcotics were found in his backpack. The man was unable to produce any identity documents. He was escorted to his place of residence, where he identified himself as [Szájer József] by means of a diplomatic passport.”
After apprehending him, police detained Szájer and searched a bag he brought with him where they allegedly found ecstasy. Szájer denied the drugs were his and demanded a drug test, which the police declined to do.
On Tuesday, after reports of his attendance at the orgy became public, Szájer made a statement saying, “After the police asked for my identity — since I did not have ID on me — I declared that I was a MEP.”.
“The police continued the process and finally issued an official verbal warning and transported me home.
“I deeply regret violating the Covid restrictions, it was irresponsible on my part. I am ready to stand for the fine that occurs.”
That fine ended up being €250.
No Future Career
Szájer, as a member of Orban’s party, helped rewrite Hungary’s constitution in 2010. He once boasted on his blog in 2011 that he wrote the constitution on his iPad. That constitution included a provision that would “protect the institution of marriage as the union of a man and a woman.
In his statement Tuesday, Szájer asked that the matter be treated as “strictly personal” and added, “I ask everyone not to extend it to my homeland, or to my political community.”
His words gave light to the reason he originally resigned as a member of the European Parliament on Sunday, which at the time came as sudden and unexpected news.
His party hasn’t issued any statement regarding Szájer’s actions, and Szájer asked for forgiveness from his wife, child, and country. He added that he would be retiring from political life.
See What Others Are Saying: (Business Insider) (The Daily Beast) (The Guardian)
U.K Approves Pfizer’s COVID-19 Vaccine
- The United Kingdom has become the first western country to approve a coronavirus vaccine after giving Pfizer’s vaccine the go-ahead.
- Prime Minister Boris Johnson said vaccinations will start next week. Health care workers and those in elderly care homes are expected to get priority.
- Russian President Vladimir Putin also ordered that doses of Russia’s Sputnik V vaccine be given in the country next week, though many are still skeptical of Russia’s vaccine due to a lack of transparency and data.
- In the U.S., Moderna and Pfizer will likely get approval in the next few weeks, and Vice President Mike Pence has told states to get ready to distribute. The timing in the states is crucial as health officials are warning that the coronavirus threat to Americans is at a historic high.
U.K. Greenlights Pfizer
The United Kingdom became the first western country to greenlight a coronavirus vaccine Wednesday after approving one created by Pfizer and BioNTech.
Pfizer said its vaccine is 95% effective and has also begun the process of seeking Food and Drug Administration approval in the U.S. If all goes well, it should be authorized in the next two weeks. Across the pond, the review was done by the Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency, which said that the vaccine met its high standards.
“A dedicated team of MHRA scientists and clinicians carried out a rigorous, scientific and detailed review of all the available data and have concluded that the vaccine meets high standards of safety, quality and effectiveness,” the agency said in a statement.
“I’m really pleased to say that the UK is now one step closer to providing a safe and effective vaccine to help in the fight against COVID-19 – a virus that has affected each and every one of us in some way – and in helping to save lives,” MHRA’s Chief Executive Dr. June Raine added.
The U.K., like much of Europe, is recovering from a staggering increase of cases in the fall, which reached their peak sometime in November. The country has so far seen over 1.6 million cases and suffered 59,000 deaths.
Prime Minister Boris Johnson said that the vaccine will be made available across the U.K. next week. Priority will likely go to staff and residents at elderly care homes, medical workers, and those above the age of 80. However, since the vaccine needs to be stored in extreme subzero temperatures, doses will likely be given out from hospitals first as those are among the few locations with the means to store them.
Russian Vaccine and Skepticism
The U.K. was not the only country making vaccine progress on Wednesday. Russian President Vladimir Putin ordered doses of their Sputnik V vaccine to be distributed next week. Russia approved their vaccine before trials were completed, eventually claiming a 92% efficacy rate. While some health officials are optimistic about it, and countries like Brazil, Mexico, India, and Egypt have bought doses, others remain skeptical.
Critics often cite a lack of transparency between Russia and the public about their trials as well as a lack of data.
“The sample is too low to claim any percentage of efficacy,” Enrico Bucci, an Italian biologist told CBC News.
Others are concerned that Russia was aiming to win a vaccine race, putting speed ahead of everything else. John Moore, a vaccine researcher at Weill Cornell Medical College told Science Mag that the FDA would never approve a vaccine with the limited information of Sputnik V.
“Why is Russia doing this?” Moore asked. “It’s the international vaccine race. They want to be seen to be keeping up with their competitors in other countries. It’s clearly a rushed out announcement.”
“But it doesn’t mean it’s wrong,” he continued.
Others have also raised questions about why Putin himself has not taken the vaccine, especially considering his claims that his own daughter already has. Russian officials say the president cannot take an “uncertified” vaccine, but it is unclear what the difference between a certified vaccine and an approved vaccine is.
U.S. Vaccine Updates
The United States is also making strides towards approving a vaccine. On Monday, Moderna started the process of seeking FDA authorization with their vaccine, which touts a 94.1% efficacy rate. The FDA is set to meet to discuss Pfizer’s vaccine next week and Moderna’s the week after.
As the potential for a vaccine in the states inches closer, Vice President Mike Pence said that vaccine distribution could begin this month.
“We strongly believe the vaccine distribution process could begin as soon as the week of December 14,” he said while speaking to the White House Coronavirus Task Force on Monday. “With this morning’s news that Moderna is joining Pfizer in submitting an Emergency Use Authorization (EUA), we continue to be on pace.”
As far as who will get it first in the U.S., the CDC’s Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices voted 13-1 on Tuesday to recommend that healthcare workers and residents of long-term care facilities get vaccinated first.
The need for a vaccine has never been greater. Daily case reports are increasing significantly and the country is seeing spikes like never before. So far, there have been 13.7 million cases and 270,000 lives lost.
On Wednesday, multiple news outlets obtained reports the White House Coronavirus Task Force sent to states warning of a dire state.
“The COVID risk to all Americans is at a historic high,” the report said. “We are in a very dangerous place due to the current, extremely high COVID baseline and limited hospital capacity.”
“If state and local policies do not reflect the seriousness of the current situation, all public health officials must alert the state population directly,” it added.
On top of this, the report said that anyone over the age of 65 or anyone with significant health conditions should not enter any indoor spaces with unmasked people as it poses an “immediate risk to your health.” It also said that anyone under 40 who traveled for Thanksgiving should assume they became infected.
“Most likely, you will not have symptoms; however, you are dangerous to others and you must isolate away from anyone at increased risk,” the report warned.
See what others are saying: (BBC News) (The Independant) (CNN)
China Refuses to Apologize for Official’s Tweet Showing Fake Image of Australian Soldier
- Earlier this month, Australia released a report saying 25 Australian soldiers likely killed 39 Afghan civilians and prisoners between 2009 and 2013.
- The report was praised in Australia for its transparency. In China, however, it was used as a prop to highlight the perceived hypocrisy of the West towards Human Rights.
- Chinese Foreign Ministry Spokesperson Zhao Lijian tweeted out a posed image of an Australian soldier threatening to kill an Afghan child.
- The tweet caused Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison to angrily respond, asking Twitter to remove the image.
- China has refused to apologize for the tweet, marking the latest escalation in diplomatic tensions between the two countries
Tweets on the International Stage
China has refused to apologize for a tweet by a Chinese Foreign Ministry official that caused Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison to ask Twitter to take down the post.
On November 29, Foreign Ministry spokesman Zhao Lijian tweeted out, “Shocked by murder of Afghan civilians & prisoners by Australian soldiers. We strongly condemn such acts, &call for holding them accountable.”
That post also featured the staged image of an Australian soldier holding a bloody knife to an Afghan child, with the caption, “Don’t be afraid, we are coming to bring you peace!”
Zhao was referencing an internal report by the Australian Defence Force released earlier this month. The report investigated allegations of Australian war crimes and found found “credible information” that 25 Australian soldiers were involved in the murders of 30 Afghan civilians and prisoners between 2009 and 2013.
Shortly after the tweet, Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison responded and asked Twitter to intervene. Morrison described it as “disinformation” and “truly repugnant, deeply offensive, utterly outrageous.”
“The Chinese government should be totally ashamed of this post. It diminishes them in the world’s eyes. It is a false image and terrible slur on our defense forces,” he added.
Chinese diplomats seem to be confused about why Spokesperson Zhao’s tweet got such a strong response from Australia. A different Foreign Ministry spokesperson, Hua Chunying, responded to reporters questions about the incident and said, “The Australian side reacted so strongly to my colleague’s personal tweet.”
“Are they justifying the ruthless killing of innocent Afghan civilians by Australian soldiers but suggesting that it is unreasonable for anyone to condemn such a cold crime?” he continued.
The issue has highlighted differences in how the West and China see the same situation. The Australian war crimes report was met with indignation at the actions of certain soldiers, while also being praised as a new standard of transparency.
Meanwhile, in China, this report highlighted perceived hypocrisies in the West over human rights. The image Zhao tweeted out is actually from a Chinese Weibo user who has gained some fame this year for making art criticizes Western takes on democracy and human rights.
This situation is the latest in an ongoing series of diplomatic tit-for-tats between Australia and China. In April of this year, Australia tried to get E.U. support in investigating whether Beijing’s early response to the coronavirus led to it becoming a global pandemic. China responded with tariffs on Australian barley and this past Friday imposed duties on Australian wine.
These incidents actually reach out beyond just Australia and China. China uses the threat of cutting off or limiting trade on smaller nations to “win” international disputes. In the case of Australia, that’s a significant threat; 40% of everything Australia sells internationally goes to China.
The combat this, the U.S. has sought to make a loose-coalition of Western nations to jointly-retaliate when China tries to do this, although those efforts have yet to materialize.