The two cardinal certitudes of democracy hit the reefs in Hong Kong yet again on Monday when a group of legislators loyal to the Communist Party of China were sworn in as members of Hong Kong’s legislature following an election that was bereft of opposition candidates. Remarkable is the mainland’s remote control which seeks to ensure that its nominees are not opposed in what is theoretically the embodiment of the people’s will. The election, if it can be so-called, was held in keeping with the terms set by Beijing.
It was expedient, therefore, for yet another pro-democracy news channel to announce that it could not operate any longer amidst a growing crackdown on freedoms in the former British colony which was handed over to China in 1997. The stranglehold of Beijing has only tightened over time. Hong Kong was once regarded as the “haven for dissent and freedoms not seen in the mainland”.
The government in Beijing, helmed by President Xi Jinping, has tightened the screws over the past year, leading to a crackdown on the pro-democracy movement, the closure of independent news outlets, the calculated removal of monuments to dissent, and an election in which people’s participation was pathetically poor. Small wonder the thoroughly contrived tryst with democracy is deemed laughable by many.
The founders of China News said the news channel will stop publishing on Tuesday. While they have received no order to bring down the shutters, they underlined that the deteriorating media freedoms in a financial hub would put China News in an “impossible situation”. This is the third media outlet to close in recent months, following the closure of Apple Daily, Hong Kong’s last pro-democracy print media. Also closed was the online site, Stand News.
A few days ago, the authorities raided Stand News and arrested seven people for allegedly conspiring to publish seditious material. The channel promptly announced that it would cease to operate. As pressure piles on pressure, more and more news sites are bringing the shutters down. Founded in 2017 by a group of veteran journalists, Citizen News focused on political news, analysis and investigations. None of these could possibly impress the People’s Republic of China.
It is hard to escape the conclusion that both the media and the legislature are being remote-controlled by China. A decidedly sweeping National Security Law, which was imposed on Hong Kong by China’s central legislature, had rendered independent reporting an inherently risky proposition. Journalists and political activists have been arrested under the law. Civil rights groups and unions have been compelled to disband. Many more activists have fled to avoid repression.
The National Security Law has effected a crucial change in voting rights. It envisages that whoever seeks office must be a “patriot”, effectively bringing the Election Commission under the control of the government in Beijing.