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RED LANTERNS Hong Kong and the obsession with national security

In a place where there are already 1,832 people in jail for political reasons, regulations like the new Law on Article 23 only serve “to cover up injustice with a veil of legitimacy,” as Chow Hang-tung, a lawyer, wrote a few months ago. held in prison for commemorating Tiananmen. The real answer is not to forget this China that is behind bars today, both in Hong Kong and in the People's Republic.

Milan () – “An unjust system needs rules to function and perpetuate itself, in the same way that a just system needs them. Not only that, rules can often cloak injustice with a veil of institutional legitimacy, facilitating the implementation of large-scale evil through efficiency and bureaucratic indifference.”

After being approved in record time (and by rigorous unanimity), on Saturday, March 23, the “local” version of the National Security Law will come into force in Hong Kong, which in the name of article 23 of the Basic Law further restricts any space for the expression of dissent. Many voices have rightly pointed out in recent hours that this new measure undermines fundamental human rights in the name of “national security.” But only the words cited above that Chow Hang-tung – a lawyer and pro-democracy activist, detained since 2021 for being one of the organizers of the vigil that commemorated the deaths in Tiananmen Square – explain the essence of the show of force imposed in recent days by John Lee, the man that Beijing has placed at the head of the Hong Kong government to definitively cancel the 2019 protest season.

What most scandalizes the world are the draconian penalties such as life imprisonment for crimes such as “treason” or “insurrection”, the toughening of sentences for “sedition”, the immediate possibility of stripping citizenship from politically persecuted people who have refugee abroad, the legal barbarity of being able to even deny an interview with a lawyer in the first 48 hours after being arrested by the police. But basically there is very little “new” regarding the wind that has been blowing in Hong Kong for four years.

Because at this moment there are 1,832 people in prison for political reasons in the former British colony. Already at this moment, in the most notorious trial taking place in Hong Kong – against Jimmy Lai – Andy Li, a young former pro-democracy activist who was detained at sea while trying to reach Taiwan with others, is testifying as if nothing had happened. 11 companions, spent 7 months in the prisons of the People's Republic of China and then reappeared in a psychiatric center in Hong Kong, with the strong suspicion that he had been a victim of torture.

Already at this moment, in the chronicles of that same trial, the usual international contacts of a newspaper and a local political movement are presented as “evidence” of a plot against Beijing. Right now, no one can run for a seat in the Legislative Council without having strong “patriotic” credentials of loyalty to what the People's Republic of China has decided for Hong Kong. And indeed, at this point no one has had the opportunity to raise objections to the Law on Article 23, when in 2003 the mere attempt to approve a similar measure brought hundreds of thousands of people onto the streets, forcing the government of the time to back down.

So why was it so important to put this new repression in writing and mark it with the seal of three unanimous votes? For the reason that Chow Hang-tung said: because it is also important for authoritarian regimes to cover up injustice with a veil of legitimacy. That is why – in these once again very painful days – our thoughts can only turn to her, to the former trade unionist Lee Cheuk-yan, to the former president of the Democratic Party Albert Ho and to all those who have been in prison for years simply for having affirmed the idea that Hong Kong must remain the crossroads of freedom that 20th century history had forged.

Immediately after the passage of the Article 23 law, John Lee was quick to declare that “there must be one country before two systems”, alluding to the motto “one country, two systems” under which Hong Kong returned to Beijing's sovereignty in 1997. Right now there is only one China behind bars, in both Hong Kong and the People's Republic. We have the task of not forgetting it.

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Written by Editor TLN

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