- On Wednesday, a committee within the National People’s Congress — China’s top legislative body — passed a resolution meant to disqualify pro-democracy lawmakers in Hong Kong’s Legislative Council.
- Within minutes of the resolution’s passage, four LegCo lawmakers were immediately removed from office for “endangering” national security.
- All four had previously asked foreign governments to sanction Beijing and Hong Kong over China’s passage of a national security law earlier this summer. China has since used that law to gradually strip away freedoms in Hong Kong.
- Following their ousting, the remaining 15 pro-democracy lawmakers in LegCo announced their intention to resign. LegCo will now be fully stacked with Beijing loyalists.
Four Pro-Democracy Lawmakers Ousted From LegCo
Hong Kong’s legislature is set to lose all of its 19 pro-democracy lawmakers by Thursday, meaning the legislature will now be composed entirely of Beijing loyalists.
On Wednesday, a committee within the National People’s Congress (NPC) — China’s top legislative body — passed a resolution targeting pro-democracy lawmakers in Hong Kong. The resolution states that lawmakers in Hong Kong will be disqualified from office if they support Hong Kong independence, refuse to accept China’s sovereignty, threaten national security, or ask foreign forces to impose sanctions.
Just minutes after that resolution was passed, the Hong Kong government announced it would be disqualifying four legislators in the city’s Legislative Council (LegCo), effective immediately. All four — Alvin Yeung, Dennis Kwok, Kwok Ka-ki, and Kenneth Leung — were accused of endangering national security.
In late June, China passed a national security law aimed at cracking down on pro-democracy protests in Hong Kong. Since then, China has effectively taken control of the region — even though it was supposed to remain autonomous until 2047.
Later, in July, those four pro-democracy lawmakers asked foreign governments, including the United States, to implement sanctions on Beijing and Hong Kong. At the time, the Hong Kong government barred them from running for re-election, but they were allowed to continue serving on LegCo.
“If observing due process, protecting systems and functions, fighting for democracy and human rights would lead to the consequences of being disqualified, it would be my honor,” Dennis Kwok said Wednesday following his ousting.
All Pro-Democracy Legislators Resign
The four disqualifications left LegCo with 58 members — 15 of which were pro-democracy lawmakers; however, just hours after those disqualifications, every single pro-democracy lawmaker in LegCo announced they would resign, beginning Thursday.
“There [is] separation of power under… the Basic Law,” Hong Kong’s Democratic Party Chair Wu Chi Wai said, “but today, the decision made by the central government seemed to say that all the separation of powers will be taken away, and all the power will be centralized in the chief executive — Of course, the chief executive is the puppet of the central government.”
“We can no longer tell the world that we still have ‘one country, two systems,’” he added. “This declares its official death.”
That “puppet,” Hong Kong Chief Executive Carrie Lam, denied that LegCo is about to become a “rubber-stamp parliament” — AKA, a government that will essentially pass any legislation Beijing tells it to. Instead, she said she welcomes diverse opinions in LegCo, but she also stressed the need for China’s resolution to be applied upon LegCo.
“There are many occasions even among the so-called pro-establishment members that our proposals did not get through,” she said in a briefing.
However, China’s representative office in Hong Kong was much more transparent about the goal of this resolution, saying that the city must be ruled by loyalists.
One major question surrounding this story has confused many: Why did those other 15 lawmakers quit, especially since China hadn’t disqualified them? Why voluntarily give up their seats, which still had power even if those lawmakers were in the minority?
In fact, even analysts have noted that a mass resignation like this means democracy activists no longer have access to LegCo, a tool they could use to try to hold lawmakers more accountable to public opinion.
Despite this, as Reuters pointed out, “staying could have been perceived by their supporters as legitimising Beijing’s move and led to discord.”
For the lawmakers’ part, their mass resignation does seem to be a display of unity. While announcing their plans, the 15 held hands and chanted, “Together we stand!”
During that announcement, Wu called their effort a “fight of democracy,” saying, “[We] will never, ever give up.”
While those lawmakers described Wednesday as a dark day for Hong Kong, it’s also one that largely felt inevitable, given China’s recent crackdowns. Since signing its national security law into effect, it has arrested protesters, arrested journalists, raided newsrooms, and instituted propaganda into schools.
See what others are saying: (South China Morning Post) (Reuters) (NPR)
Chinese Billionaire Sun Dawu Arrested, Businesses Seized by Communist Party
- 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)
Israel-Hamas Fighting Continues To Escalate as Tensions Take Over Social Media
- 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?”
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)
Hamas and Israel Exchange Deadly Strikes Over Conflicts at Al-Aqsa Mosque and Sheikh Jarrah
- 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.