Six School Kids Among Nine Hong Kongers Arrested For ‘Bomb Plot’

 

 

Six secondary school children were among nine Hong Kongers arrested on terror charges for allegedly trying to manufacture a powerful explosive, police announced Tuesday. 

Five males and four females aged between 15 and 39 were arrested Monday on suspicion of “conspiracy to use explosives for terrorist activities”, police said.

“The operation we conducted yesterday was against gangsters (who) tried to manufacture TATP explosive inside a home-made laboratory inside a hostel,” senior superintendent Steve Li, from the city’s new national security unit, told reporters. TATP is a high-powered explosive.

Police said the nine people belonged to a pro-independence group that called itself “Returning Valiant”.

Those arrested included six teenage students and three adults who worked at a local university, a secondary school, and as a driver.

Li said they were planning to attack public facilities including a cross-harbour tunnel, the railway network, and courtrooms to “maximise damage to society”.

Anti-government sentiment exploded in 2019 during massive and often violent pro-democracy protests that were stamped out with arrests and a new national security law.

While stability has been widely enforced, Hong Kong remains a deeply polarised city where many residents still seethe under Beijing’s rule.

News of Tuesday’s arrests came just days after a 50-year-old man took his own life after stabbing a police officer in what authorities said was a “lone wolf” attack.

Police said Tuesday they seized various items from the group, including a small amount of explosives, raw materials to produce TATP, air guns, mobile phones, SIM cards, an operating manual on how to plant bombs, and plans to leave the city.

 

 

They also found some HK$90,000 ($11,585) in cash and froze around HK$600,000 in related bank accounts.

Police have made multiple arrests in the last two years for alleged bomb plots although no major attack has been carried out successfully.

In April, a 29-year-old man was jailed for 12-years for manufacturing a kilogramme of TATP.

Hong Kong Woman, 90, Loses US$32 Million In Phone Scam

A 90-year-old woman was conned out of US$32 million by criminals impersonating mainland officials, making her the biggest known victim of a phone scam in Hong Kong.

 

 

A 90-year-old Hong Kong woman has been conned out of US$32million by fraudsters posing as Chinese officials, police said, in the city’s biggest recorded phone scam.

Hong Kong’s elderly are plagued by phone scammers who seek out vulnerable and wealthy victims willing to transfer money or make bogus investments.

Police on Tuesday said scammers targeted an elderly woman living in a mansion on The Peak, Hong Kong’s ritziest neighbourhood.

Last summer criminals contacted the unnamed woman pretending to be Chinese public security officials. They claimed her identity had been used in a serious criminal case in mainland China.

She was told she needed to transfer money from her bank account into ones held by the investigation team for safekeeping and scrutiny, the South China Morning Post reported, citing police sources.

Police said several days later a person arrived at her house with a dedicated mobile phone and SIM card to communicate with the fake security agents who persuaded her to make a total of 11 bank transfers.

Over five months the elderly lady gave a total of HK$250 million ($32 million) to the scammers, the largest sum recorded yet by a phone con.

Police said the scam was only spotted because the elderly lady’s domestic helper thought something suspicious was happening and contacted her employer’s daughter who then alerted officers.

After an investigation a 19-year-old was arrested for fraud and has been released on bail, police said.

The South China Morning Post reported that the arrested person is believed to have been the fraudster who turned up at the lady’s house with the phone.

Wealthy Hong Kong is one of the most unequal places on earth.

It boasts one of the highest concentrations of billionaires, many of whom live in palatial homes overlooking densely packed districts where poor families might squeeze into an apartment the size of an American car parking space.

With such a high concentration of wealthy elderly residents, the city makes a ripe target for phone scammers, many of whom operate across the border in mainland China.

Police say such scams are on the rise.

Reports of phone scams rose 18 per cent in the first quarter of 2021 with fraudsters pocketing some HK$350 million over the period.

In 2020, police said they handled 1,193 phone scam cases where a total of HK$574 million was stolen.

Last year a 65-year-old woman was duped out of HK$68.9 million after a similar scheme where people posed as mainland security officials.

China Approves Plan To Veto Hong Kong Election Candidates

China’s President Xi Jinping (C) sing the national anthem with other leaders and delegates during the closing session of the National People’s Congress at the Great Hall of the People in Beijing on March 11, 2021.
NICOLAS ASFOURI / AFP

 

China’s rubber-stamp parliament voted Thursday for sweeping changes to Hong Kong’s electoral system — including powers to veto candidates — as Beijing moves to ensure only “patriots” run the city following huge pro-democracy rallies.

Beijing has acted decisively to dismantle Hong Kong’s limited democratic pillars after massive and sometimes violent protests coursed through the financial hub in 2019.

At last year’s meeting of the National People’s Congress, the Communist Party leadership imposed a draconian national security law on the financial hub that has since been weaponised against the democracy movement.

Dozens of campaigners have been jailed, smothering protests in a city that had enjoyed greater political freedoms than the authoritarian mainland under the “one country, two systems” arrangement established when Britain handed the territory back to China in 1997.

On Thursday, only one member of the 2,896-strong National People’s Congress abstained in the vote, which critics say will hammer another nail in the coffin of Hong Kong’s democracy movement.

The decision aims to place responsibility for running the city in the hands of “patriots governing Hong Kong”, Chinese Premier Li Keqiang told reporters after the vote.

Senior Chinese officials have made clear loyalty to the Communist Party will be key to deciding if a Hong Konger is a “patriot”.

Chinese state media on Thursday sketched out some of the key provisions of the law, which will still need to be written and then promulgated under the country’s opaque political system.

Those include an Election Committee which votes for the leader to reflect Hong Kong’s “realities and representative of the overall interests of its society”, according to official news agency Xinhua.

The committee would be fattened out to 1,500 representatives, up from 1,200.

In addition, the law will bring in a “candidate qualification review committee”, as well as boost the number of seats in the LegCo — Hong Kong’s legislature — from 70 to 90.

It was not immediately clear how many of the seats would be directly elected by Hong Kong’s people.

But the initial details show China plans to reduce the number of directly elected officials in both the LegCo and the committee that chooses the chief executive, said Willy Lam, professor at the Chinese University of Hong Kong’s Centre for China Studies.

“It’s a fail-safe formula to ensure only people deemed patriots will be on those two important bodies,” he told AFP.

“From Beijing’s point of view, members of the pro-democracy coalition are not considered to be patriotic.”

UK Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab said the plan would “hollow out the space for democratic debate in Hong Kong, contrary to the promises made by China”.

“This can only further undermine confidence and trust in China living up to its international responsibilities.”

 

Hong Kong Chief Executive Carrie Lam speaks to the press in Hong Kong on March 11, 2021, after electoral changes for the city were voted in by China’s National People’s Congress in Beijing.
Anthony WALLACE / AFP

– Grateful Lam –

Hong Kong’s pro-Beijing leader Carrie Lam was swift to applaud the plan to rewrite the electoral landscape of her city.

“The Hong Kong government and I firmly support the decision and express our gratitude from the bottom of our hearts,” Lam said.

But aides have admitted the move is a “setback” for Hong Kong’s progress on democratic development, according to Bernard Chan, a top adviser to Lam, earlier this week.

“Over the last 23 years, we clearly didn’t do a good job to show to the central government that these so-called political reforms are actually helping ‘One Country, Two Systems,” Chan told AFP.

China had committed to giving Hong Kong a degree of autonomy when it reverted from British colonial rule in 1997, a status that has unravelled in recent months — drawing international criticism.

Until recently Hong Kong has maintained a veneer of choice, allowing a small and vocal opposition to flourish at certain local elections.

Generally, when Hong Kongers are allowed to vote, they vote in droves for pro-democracy candidates.

In recent years, however, authorities have ramped up the disqualification of politicians either sitting in the city’s semi-elected legislature or standing as candidates, based on their political views.

Last month, Hong Kong announced its own plans to pass a law vetting all public officials for their political loyalty to Beijing.

Parliamentary spokesman Wang Chen said earlier in the Beijing congress that the “chaos in Hong Kong society shows that there are obvious loopholes and defects in the current electoral system”, giving an opportunity for “anti-China forces in Hong Kong” to seize power.

-AFP

Britain Opens Visa Scheme For Millions Of Hong Kongers

In this file photo taken on December 31, 2020, a UK border sign welcomes passengers on arrival at Heathrow airport in west London. Ben FATHERS / AFP

 

A new visa scheme offering millions of Hong Kongers a pathway to British citizenship will go live later on Sunday as the city’s former colonial master opens its doors to those wanting to escape China’s crackdown on dissent.

From Sunday afternoon, anyone with a British National (Overseas) passport and their dependents will be able to apply online for a visa allowing them to live and work in the United Kingdom. After five years, they can apply for citizenship.

The immigration scheme is a response to Beijing’s decision last year to impose a sweeping national security law on Hong Kong to snuff out huge and often violent democracy protests.

Britain has accused China of tearing up its promise ahead of Hong Kong’s 1997 handover that the financial hub would maintain key liberties and autonomy for 50 years. London argued it has a moral duty to protect its former colonial subjects.

“We have honoured our profound ties of history and friendship with the people of Hong Kong, and we have stood up for freedom and autonomy,” Prime Minister Boris Johnson said of the scheme this week.

China has reacted with fury to the visa offer, announcing BN(O) passports would no longer be recognised as a legitimate travel or ID document.

The move was largely symbolic as Hong Kongers tend to use their own passports or ID cards to leave the city.

But Beijing said it was prepared to take “further measures”, raising fears authorities might try to stop Hong Kongers from leaving for Britain.

READ ALSO: Biden, Democrats Seek Ambitious Increase In US Minimum Wage

In a commentary on Sunday, China’s state-run Xinhua news agency accused Britain of having a “colonial mentality”, warning the visa scheme would damage “bilateral ties and further hurt Britain’s own long-term interests”.

– Applications soar –
It is not clear how many Hong Kongers will take up the offer, especially as the coronavirus restricts international flights and mires much of the world, including Britain, in a painful economic malaise.

But the visa offer is available to a huge number of people — about 70 percent of Hong Kong’s 7.5 million population.

A pro-Beijing supporter holds China's national flag as he and others gather outside the Legislative Council in Hong Kong on November 12, 2020, a day after the city's pro-Beijing authorities ousted four pro-democracy lawmakers. Anthony WALLACE / AFP
Up to 154,000, Hong Kongers could arrive in Britain over the next year. Anthony WALLACE / AFP

 

Applications for BN(O) passports have skyrocketed more than 300 percent since the national security law was imposed last July, with 733,000 registered holders as of mid-January.

Britain predicts up to 154,000 Hong Kongers could arrive over the next year and as many as 322,000 over five years, bringing an estimated “net benefit” of up to £2.9 billion ($4 billion).

The BN(O) passport is a legacy of Hong Kong’s return to authoritarian China.

Many Hong Kongers at the time wanted Britain to grant them full citizenship but China was opposed to the move.

The BN(O) was a compromise, allowing Hong Kongers born before 1997 the right to stay in Britain for six months at a time, but with no working or settling rights.

Now it has become one of the few ways out for Hong Kongers hoping to start a new life overseas as authorities conduct mass arrests against democracy supporters and move to purge the restless city of dissenting views.

– ‘A lifeboat’ –
Stella, a former marketing professional, plans to move to Britain imminently with her husband and three-year-old son.

“The national security law in 2020 gave us one last kick because the provisions are basically criminalising free speech,” she told AFP, asking to use just her first name.

Under the visa scheme, those hoping to move have to show they have enough funds to sustain both themselves and their dependents for at least six months.

Hong Kongers already in Britain who are involved in helping others relocate say many of the early applicants tend to be educated middle-class people, often with young families, who have enough liquidity to finance their move.

“Most people we spoke with are families with primary school- or nursery-age kids,” Nic, an activist with a group called Lion Rock Hill UK, told AFP, asking for anonymity.

Some Hong Kongers began leaving the city even before the new scheme went live.

Earlier this week, Britain said around 7,000 people moved over the last six months under a separate Leave Outside the Rules (LOTR) system. They will also be able to apply for the pathway-to-citizenship visas.

“The BNO is definitely a lifeboat for Hong Kongers,” Mike, a medical scientist who recently relocated with his family to the city of Manchester, told AFP.

He said many Hong Kongers feared China might stop residents leaving the territory.

“So it is better to leave as soon as possible,” he added.

AFP

China To ‘No Longer Recognise’ UK-Issued BN(O) Passport For Hong Kongers

A pro-Beijing supporter holds China's national flag as he and others gather outside the Legislative Council in Hong Kong on November 12, 2020, a day after the city's pro-Beijing authorities ousted four pro-democracy lawmakers. Anthony WALLACE / AFP
File photo: A pro-Beijing supporter holds China’s national flag as he and others gather outside the Legislative Council in Hong Kong on November 12, 2020, a day after the city’s pro-Beijing authorities ousted four pro-democracy lawmakers. Anthony WALLACE / AFP

 

China on Friday said it will “no longer recognise” the British National (Overseas) passport for Hong Kongers, as Britain prepares to offer millions of former colonial subjects a way to escape Beijing’s crackdown on dissent.

From Sunday, those with a BN(O) passport and their dependents will be able to apply online for a visa allowing them to live and work in the United Kingdom. After five years they can then apply for citizenship.

The new immigration scheme is a response to Beijing’s decision to impose a sweeping national security law on the city last year to snuff out huge and often violent democracy protests.

READ ALSO: EU Relaxes State Aid Rules As COVID-19 Crisis Drags On

Britain accused China of tearing up its promise ahead of Hong Kong’s 1997 handover that the financial hub would maintain key liberties and autonomy for 50 years. It argues it has a moral duty to protect its former subjects.

But on Friday Beijing hit back ahead of the upcoming change.

“From January 31, China will no longer recognise the so-called BN(O) passport as a travel document and ID document, and reserves the right to take further actions,” foreign ministry spokesman Zhao Lijian told reporters.

It is unclear what China’s declaration means in practical terms.

 

This picture taken and released on December 4, 2020, by the China National Space Administration (CNSA) via CNS shows a Chinese national flag unfurled from the Chang'e-5 lunar probe. China National Space Administration (CNSA) via CNS / AFP
This picture taken and released on December 4, 2020, by the China National Space Administration (CNSA) via CNS shows a Chinese national flag unfurled from the Chang’e-5 lunar probe. China National Space Administration (CNSA) via CNS / AFP

 

But it sets the stage for further confrontation with London, and the threat of further action suggests Beijing may be preparing more restrictions for BN(O) holders down the line.

– ‘Strong message’ –
Hong Kong’s government late Friday said the change meant the BN(O) passport now “cannot be used for immigration clearance and will not be recognised as any form of proof of identity in Hong Kong”.

However, few people use BN(O) passports in such a way.

Hong Kongers use their own Hong Kong passport or ID card to leave the city.

To enter mainland China, they need to use their “home return” travel permit.

The only time they might use a BN(O) passport is on arrival into Britain or another country that recognises the document.

Willie Lam, an expert at Hong Kong’s Centre for China Studies, said the move was largely symbolic.

“It’s a strong message sent to the UK and other countries not to interfere in Hong Kong affairs, but in practical terms, I don’t think people would be intimidated into not applying,” he told AFP.

“There seems to be no way that the Hong Kong or Beijing authorities can find out who might or might not apply for the BN(O) passport because the British consulate would not reveal their identity,” he added.

– Offer open to millions –
How many Hong Kongers will take up the offer remains to be seen, especially as the coronavirus pandemic restricts global flights and mires much of the world, including Britain, in a painful economic malaise.

But a BN(O) passport is available to a huge number of people — about 70 percent of Hong Kong’s total population of 7.5 million.

Applications for BN(O) passports have skyrocketed more than 300 percent since the national security law was imposed last July, with 733,000 registered holders as of mid-January.

Britain predicts up to 154,000 Hong Kongers could arrive over the next year and as many as 322,000 over five years, bringing an estimated “net benefit” of up to £2.9 billion ($4 billion) with them.

On Thursday Hong Kong’s pro-Beijing leader Carrie Lam played down the threat of a mass exodus.

“I just don’t see how 2.9 million Hong Kong people would love to go to the United Kingdom,” she told Bloomberg, using the figure for the number of people eligible for BN(O) status that does not include their dependents.

“The important thing is for us to tell the people of Hong Kong that Hong Kong’s future is bright,” she added.

The BN(O) passport was a compromise with authoritarian China ahead of Hong Kong’s handover.

Many Hong Kongers wanted British citizenship, something Beijing balked at.

So Britain instead allowed anyone born before 1997 to stay in Britain for six months at a time, but with no working or settling rights.

Now it has become one of the few ways out for Hong Kongers hoping to start a new life overseas, as authorities conduct mass arrests against democracy supporters and move to purge the restless city of dissenting views.

AFP

Hong Kong Imposes Two-Day COVID-19 Lockdown

A policeman (2nd R) takes a drink in an area cordoned off by health workers conducting testing in the Jordan area of Hong Kong on January 23, 2021, after thousands were ordered to stay in their homes for the city’s first COVID-19 coronavirus lockdown as authorities battle an outbreak in one of its poorest and most densely packed districts.
Peter PARKS / AFP

 

Thousands of Hong Kongers were ordered to stay in their homes on Saturday for the city’s first coronavirus lockdown as authorities battle an outbreak in one of its poorest and most densely packed districts.

The order bans about 10,000 people living inside multiple housing blocks within the neighbourhood of Jordan from leaving their apartment until all members in the area have undergone testing and the results are mostly ascertained.

Officials said they planned to test everyone inside the designated zone within 48 hours “in order to achieve the goal of zero cases in the district”.

“Residents will have to stay at their premises to avoid cross-infection until they get their test results,” health minister Sophia Chan told reporters on Saturday.

The government had deployed more than 3,000 staff to enforce the lockdown, which covers about 150 housing blocks.

Residents were seen lining up for testing at 51 mobile specimen collection vehicles parked in the area and for basic daily supplies provided by the government.

Hong Kong was one of the first places to be struck by the coronavirus after it spilled out of central China.

It has kept infections below 10,000 with some 170 deaths by imposing effective but economically punishing social distancing measures for much of the last year.

Over the last two months the city has been hit by a fourth wave of infections, with authorities struggling to bring the daily numbers down.

Stubborn clusters have emerged in low-income neighbourhoods notorious for some of the world’s most cramped housing.

The district of Jordan recorded 162 confirmed cases from the beginning of this year to January 20.

On Friday, the city recorded 61 infections, of which 24 were from Yau Tsim Mong area where the restricted district is located.

— Inequality and housing shortages —

On paper Hong Kong is one of the richest cities in the world.

But it suffers from pervasive inequality, an acute housing shortage and eye-watering rents that successive governments have failed to solve.

The average flat in Hong Kong is about 500 square feet (46 square metres).

But many squeeze themselves into even smaller subdivided flats — cubicles that can be as tiny as 50 square feet or even less, with shared bathrooms and showers inside ageing walk-up buildings.

It is in these kinds of buildings where clusters have been located in recent weeks, prompting the first lockdown order.

In recent days health officials began carrying out mandatory testing in about 70 buildings in the area, but the government has now decided to test everyone so as to “break the transmission chain”.

The lockdown has created considerable confusion for residents.

The looming restrictions were leaked to the city’s local media on Friday but there was no official statement from the government until Saturday morning once the lockdown had come in overnight.

Some media reported seeing residents leave the area ahead of the midnight deadline while others said locals were frustrated by the lack of clear information.

Authorities said people who were not in the restricted area at the time but had stayed in it for more than two hours in the past 14 days must undergo compulsory testing before midnight today.

The area is also home to many ethnic minorities, mainly South Asian Hong Kongers, a community that often faces discrimination and poverty.

Earlier in the week a senior health official sparked anger when he suggested ethnic minority residents might be spreading the virus more readily because “they like to share food, smoke, drink alcohol and chat together”.

Critics countered that poverty and a lack of affordable housing forcing people to live in cramped conditions were to blame for the virus spreading more easily in those districts — not race or culture.

The health official’s remarks also came as a video of predominantly white migrants dancing at a packed brunch on the more affluent Hong Kong Island sparked anger but no admonition from officials.

-AFP

Hong Kong To Impose New COVID-19 Restrictions To Battle Fourth Wave

A man uses a vending machine (C) that provides kits used to test for Covid-19 coronavirus at an MTR underground metro train station in Hong Kong on December 7, 2020.
Anthony WALLACE / AFP

 

Hong Kong will ban evening dining at restaurants and close fitness centres, the city’s leader said Tuesday, as part of new measures aimed at stemming a fourth wave of coronavirus infections.

Chief Executive Carrie Lam said the rules will come into effect on Thursday and aim to reduce the “number of people on the streets”, echoing moves taken by authorities when cases spiked earlier this year.

Dining out will be banned after 6 pm, beauty and massage parlours will be forced to close, and civil servants would be asked to work from home, she said.

Hong Kong’s strict social distancing measures have largely helped keep infections to under 7000 in the city of 7.5 million, with 112 deaths.

But daily recorded cases have risen again to more than 100 on several occasions in recent weeks, the highest level since July.

 

READ ALSO: Liberia Votes On Weah’s Plan To Reduce Presidential Terms

 

Speaking ahead of a weekly meeting with policy advisers, Lam said: “the strictness of social distancing measures must at least return to the level” of the outbreak’s peak in the city in July and August.

Schools, bars, and nightclubs have already been ordered to close.

The city’s health minister Sophia Chan, speaking later on Tuesday, said the measures would last for two weeks from Thursday until December 23.

Fines for breaching mask-wearing or social gathering rules will be increased to HK$5,000 ($645) from Friday, she said.

Authorities fought the spread of Hong Kong’s initial outbreak at the start of the year by shutting schools and restricting travel across the city’s border with mainland China, where the virus was first detected.

The territory endured two more Covid-19 infection spikes over the spring and summer, prompting tighter quarantine protocols and economically painful social distancing rules for restaurants and other businesses.

Last week Hong Kong reimposed some of their strictest social distancing measures since the start of the coronavirus pandemic.

Restrictions on public gatherings were tightened with a maximum of two people allowed to meet, down from four.

Authorities have also launched a hotline for residents to report social distancing breaches.

AFP

Pro-Democracy Media Tycoon Jailed In Hong Kong Over Fraud Charge

 In this file photo taken on June 16, 2020, millionaire media tycoon Jimmy Lai, 72, poses during an interview with AFP at the Next Digital offices in Hong Kong. Anthony WALLACE / AFP
In this file photo taken on June 16, 2020, millionaire media tycoon Jimmy Lai, 72, poses during an interview with AFP at the Next Digital offices in Hong Kong. Anthony WALLACE / AFP

 

Hong Kong media tycoon Jimmy Lai was remanded into custody on Thursday after being charged with fraud, the latest in a string of prosecutions brought against high-profile Beijing critics and democracy campaigners. 

Lai, 73, is the owner of Hong Kong’s best-selling Apple Daily, a popular tabloid that is unashamedly pro-democracy and fiercely critical of authorities.

Lai and two of the firm’s executives — Royston Chow and Wong Wai-keung — face fraud charges that court documents say are related to the paper’s offices allegedly being used for purposes not permitted by the building’s lease.

Police raided Apple Daily’s headquarters in August and arrested a string of senior company figures, including Lai, on suspicion of “collusion with foreign forces” under a vaguely worded new national security law that Beijing imposed on the city.

READ ALSO: France Mourns Ex-President Giscard d’Estaing

None has so far been charged with any national security breaches.

But Victor So, the magistrate overseeing Thursday’s hearing, is from a group of judges selected by Hong Kong’s chief executive to try such cases.

So denied Lai bail but granted it to Wong and Chow, setting the next court date for April.

The decision means Lai faces months behind bars as police continue their investigation.

Hong Kong media tycoon Jimmy Lai, 73, (L) owner of the local Apple Daily newspaper, arrives at Lai Chi Kok Reception Centre after he was remanded into custody in Hong Kong on December 3, 2020, after being charged with fraud. Anthony WALLACE / AFP
Hong Kong media tycoon Jimmy Lai, 73, (L) owner of the local Apple Daily newspaper, arrives at Lai Chi Kok Reception Centre after he was remanded into custody in Hong Kong on December 3, 2020, after being charged with fraud. Anthony WALLACE / AFP

 

A clampdown has gathered pace in Hong Kong since China imposed its sweeping security law in June, with opposition politicians disqualified and dozens of activists charged or investigated.

On Wednesday, three prominent young democracy campaigners — including Joshua Wong — were jailed for taking part in last year’s democracy protests.

Lai is also being prosecuted for his alleged part in those rallies in a separate case.

The crackdown has provoked outrage in the West and fear for millions who last year took to the streets to protest communist China’s tightening grip on the semi-autonomous city.

Beijing says stability and order has been restored and has dismissed the huge crowds that protested as a foreign plot to destabilise China.

Critics say Beijing has shredded the freedoms and autonomy Hong Kong was promised ahead of its handover by Britain.

Lai has long said he fears authorities want to shutter his newspaper, one of the few local outlets still willing to vocally take on Beijing.

In Chinese state media, he is routinely cast as a traitor and “black hand”.

“I’m prepared for prison,” Lai told AFP in an interview two weeks before the security law was imposed.

“I’m a troublemaker. I came here with nothing, the freedom of this place has given me everything. Maybe it’s time I paid back for that freedom by fighting for it,” he added.

Prosecutors have tried bringing cases against him in the past.

He was acquitted in September of intimidating a reporter from a rival pro-government newspaper.

The corruption watchdog also dropped a case against him over political donations to pro-democracy supporters after four years of investigations.

Authorities deny targeting Apple Daily or Lai and say police are simply enforcing breaches of the law.

 

AFP

Congolese Model Challenges China’s Love For ‘Tall, Light And Skinny’

As a young black woman modelling in Hong Kong, Harmony Anne-Marie Ilunga rarely saw anyone who looked like her in the magazines. Now the 22-year-old is trying to change that — one model at a time. (Photo by Anthony WALLACE / AFP)

As a young black woman modelling in Hong Kong, Harmony Anne-Marie Ilunga rarely saw anyone who looked like her in the magazines. Now the 22-year-old is trying to change that, one model at a time.

While the Black Lives Matter movement fuels debate and change in the fashion worlds of the United States and parts of Europe, industry figures say Asia’s beauty and body expectations remain dominated by an ideal that is pale, thin, and unrepresentative of the region.

“I would walk into an agency and they told me that they prefer white models to black models,” Ilunga, who moved to Hong Kong as a child refugee from the Democratic Republic of Congo, told AFP.

“I remember just being shattered. I was 17, it just broke my heart.”

Again and again, she saw that models in the wealthy global finance hub — home to roughly 600,000 people of non-Chinese descent — were expected to be “tall, light, and skinny”.

The same was true of the massive fashion market in mainland China.

“I started lightening my skin, using lightening products… Just so that I could fit into society’s norms,” Ilunga explained.

After rounds of rejections, in 2018 she opened her own small agency to champion models of all skin tones and sizes.

“Representation matters so much,” she said, adding she believes fashion is an accessible way to change minds — and prevent other young women from feeling they have to change.

 

This picture taken on October 21, 2020 shows Harmony Anne-Marie Ilunga (L), 22, who moved to Hong Kong as a child refugee from the Democratic Republic of Congo, taking part in a rehearsal for the upcoming ‘Harmony IV’ fashion show in Hong Kong, which aims to celebrate the city’s diversity. (Photo by Peter PARKS / AFP)

‘Too much’

Ilunga’s agency now has 32 male and female models on its books from places such as Rwanda, Burundi, Pakistan, India, Sri Lanka, Nepal and the Philippines.

They have enjoyed some successes — though she admits changing attitudes is hard.

One of her most booked models, she said, is an 18-year-old Burundian.

“Most are not local brands, but they are brands that are trying to promote internationally — that’s the thing,” she said of the kind of clients willing to look beyond white or Asian models.

Ilunga said she has found male black models are more sought after, seen as “cool, much more stylish”.

But there is still resistance to black women.

She recalled a pitch meeting with a client featuring a model of mixed black and Asian ethnicity.

“She looks Asian, her features, but she has curly hair — and the client was like, ‘she is too much for us’,” Ilunga said.

“When it comes to certain black girls… I can’t categorise it, but I feel like it is still an issue of them being too strong.”

One size fits all

The lack of diversity in Asia’s fashion world is not just limited to pale skin tones.

While the US and Europe’s fashion industries are beginning to welcome campaigns featuring normal bodies — and even ban some size-zero models on health grounds — in much of Asia, skinny remains the expectation.

Chinese consumers expect brands to conform to their standards, with an emphasis on pale and slender body types, said Laurence Lim Dally of Cherry Blossoms Intercultural Branding, which helps international brands market to Chinese consumers.

“Being fat is seen as self-neglect and the opposite to Confucius’ emphasis on self-improvement,” she said.

That pressure was experienced acutely by 31-year-old Eurasian model Mia Kang, who grew up in Hong Kong and was scouted as a teenager — with her agencies expecting her to maintain the same youthful physique.

She developed anorexia and bulimia and used drugs, laxatives, supplements and diuretics, doing “anything I could do to be as thin as possible”.

While she acknowledges that modelling is tough all over the world, the demands made of models in Asia “were some of the strictest I have experienced”.

In her book “Knockout”, detailing her struggles and recovery with the help of Muay Thai boxing, she speaks of returning from modelling in Europe in her twenties to be told she must lose weight.

“What is socially and culturally determined to be a beautiful woman in Asia is a more narrow ideal than what it is in the West,” she said, adding she has had far more success since leaving Hong Kong.

“I think the Asian market has barely even begun to expand its horizons and work towards diversity,” Kang said. “We deserve representation within our own media too.”

Ilunga maintains some optimism.

“At least there is a conversation,” she said, describing how one parent thanked her for her work and the impact seeing a working young black model, had on her daughters.

“If I had had someone I could look up to when I was young then I would maybe not have lightened my skin.”

Chinese Official Backs Hong Kong Judicial ‘Reform’ Calls

Hong Kong lawmaker Cheng Chung-tai (back C) speaks during a meeting at the Legislative Council in Hong Kong on November 12, 2020, a day after pro-democracy lawmakers said they would all quit in protest at the ousting of four of their colleagues by the city’s pro-Beijing authorities.
Peter PARKS / AFP

 

A senior Chinese official on Tuesday backed calls to “reform” Hong Kong’s judiciary, in a landmark speech signaling Beijing’s determination to assert more control over the city’s independent legal system.

Semi-autonomous Hong Kong owes much of its success to a transparent and internationally respected common law legal system that stands in stark contrast with the opaque, party-controlled courts in authoritarian China.

But following months of pro-democracy protests last year, Beijing has cracked down on dissent and ramped up direct oversight in the city.

On Tuesday a veteran official in charge of Beijing’s Hong Kong policy said it was time to re-examine how the judiciary operated.

“Even in Western countries, judicial systems have to catch up with the times and reform constantly,” Zhang Xiaoming, deputy head of the Hong Kong and Macau Affairs Office, said in a speech marking the 30th anniversary of Hong Kong’s mini-constitution.

“This does not affect judicial independence,” he insisted.

Zhang did not give any specifics on what path such reform should take.

But he did name-check Henry Litton, a retired senior judge who has written multiple columns in recent months critical of Hong Kong’s judiciary.

“Such a rational voice from a person inside the trade should be valued by the whole society, in particular the judiciary and the legal community,” Zhang said.

Litton, who served on Hong Kong’s Court of Final Appeal from 1997 to 2015, has been celebrated by Beijing’s state media as a voice calling for an overhaul of the city’s judicial system.

He was highly critical of a ruling during last year’s protests when senior judges struck down an order banning face masks, as well as other judicial reviews by democracy supporters.

He has also called for Hong Kong’s judges to “regain Beijing’s trust” and claimed courts “have subordinated the common good to the assertions of personal right”.

Dozens of protester acquittals -– often accompanied by withering court criticism of police –- have triggered a growing backlash from Beijing loyalists.

Defenders of Hong Kong’s legal system counter that the courts are simply doing their jobs.

Beijing has dramatically altered its relationship with Hong Kong since last year’s protests.

In June, it bypassed Hong Kong’s legislature to impose a sweeping national security law which outlawed the expression of certain political views.

Beijing also toppled the judicial firewall between the two, awarding itself power over especially serious national security cases and allowing its security services to operate openly in the city for the first time.

Last week Hong Kong authorities ousted four lawmakers after China’s top lawmaking body said any legislator deemed a threat to national security could be removed without going through the courts.

In response, 15 other pro-democracy lawmakers resigned en masse, reducing the legislature to a gathering of Beijing loyalists.

In Tuesday’s speech, Zhang hailed the removal of the legislators.

“Patriots rule, anti-China trouble-rousers out is a political rule… Now it has also become a legal norm,” he said.

-AFP

Expulsion Of Hong Kong Lawmakers ‘Right Medicine’ For Normal Operation: China

Pro-democracy lawmakers (L-R) Helena Wong, Wu Chi-wai, Andrew Wan, Lam Cheuk-ting talk to the media before handing in their resignation letters at the Legislative Council in Hong Kong on November 12, 2020, after the pro-democracy bloc said they would resign en masse in protest at the ousting of four of their colleagues by the city’s pro-Beijing authorities.
Peter PARKS / AFP

 

 

The ousting of four pro-democracy lawmakers from Hong Kong’s legislature was “the right medicine” for the city, China said, telling foreign governments the issue was none of their business.

Fifteen politicians vowed to quit in anger after their colleagues were removed on national security grounds by the Beijing-appointed chief executive, boosting fears that the room for dissent in Hong Kong is shrinking.

Millions of Hong Kongers took to the streets last year in months of disruptive protests over ebbing freedoms. Demonstrations were stamped out by the pandemic and a swingeing new law that made certain opinions illegal overnight.

The expulsions this week were “the right medicine that will start a new chapter in ensuring smooth operation” of Hong Kong’s legislature, said China’s foreign ministry in Hong Kong in a statement dated Thursday.

“The decision is intended to guarantee normal operation of governing bodies… and better ensure Hong Kong is governed by Hong Kong people with a high degree of autonomy,” it said.

Britain — which handed Hong Kong back to China in 1997 — summoned China’s ambassador in London on Thursday, accusing Beijing of breaking international treaty obligations that guaranteed the financial hub special status and a high degree of autonomy.

London has increasingly locked horns with China since Beijing imposed a sweeping national security law on Hong Kong this year.

The European Union urged the “immediate reinstatement” of the lawmakers, and Canada said their ousting had the effect of “eroding human rights in Hong Kong”.

China pushed back at the criticism, telling a “handful of foreign politicians to grasp the trend of the times, keep their hands off China’s internal affairs, stop meddling with Hong Kong affairs in any form, and avoid going further down the wrong path.”

London has already angered Beijing by offering Hong Kongers holding British National Overseas passports a route to UK citizenship by relaxing entry and residency requirements.

Hong Kong’s leader is chosen by pro-Beijing committees, but half of the legislature’s 70 seats are directly elected, offering the city’s 7.5 million residents a rare chance to have their voices heard at the ballot box.

The expulsions and resignations will leave just two legislators outside the pro-Beijing camp, both of them unaligned with either bloc.

-AFP

China Condemns Mass Resignations In Hong Kong Legislature

Hong Kong prominent pro-Beijing legislator Starry Lee (C) speaks during a meeting at the Legislative Council in Hong Kong on November 12, 2020, a day after pro-democracy lawmakers said they would all quit in protest at the ousting of four of their colleagues by the city's pro-Beijing authorities. Peter PARKS / AFP
Hong Kong prominent pro-Beijing legislator Starry Lee (C) speaks during a meeting at the Legislative Council in Hong Kong on November 12, 2020, a day after pro-democracy lawmakers said they would all quit in protest at the ousting of four of their colleagues by the city’s pro-Beijing authorities. Peter PARKS / AFP

 

China warned Thursday the mass resignations of pro-democracy lawmakers in Hong Kong were a “blatant challenge” to its authority over the city.

Fifteen legislators were set to quit the chamber in protest at the Beijing-sanctioned ousting of four colleagues, leaving the assembly a muted gathering of government loyalists.

The resignations come with the city’s beleaguered pro-democracy movement and avenues of dissent already under sustained attack since Beijing imposed a sweeping national security law this year.

Half of the group had made good on their pledge by Thursday afternoon, which sparked a furious response from Beijing’s Hong Kong and Macau Affairs Office.

“It once again showed their stubborn confrontation against the central government and a blatant challenge to the power of the central government. We severely condemn this,” a statement said.

“We have to tell these opposition lawmakers, that if they want to use this to advocate a radical fight, and beg for foreign forces to interfere, and once again drag Hong Kong into chaos, that’s a wrong calculation.”

Inside the chamber, government loyalists discussed a transport bill, but without any of the rambunctious debate that has been the mark of Hong Kong’s semi-democracy in recent years.

“Hong Kongers — prepare for a long, long time where there is only one voice in society,” pro-democracy lawmaker Lam Cheuk-ting told reporters outside.

“If you are a dissident, get ready for even more pressure.”

Hong Kong Chief Executive Carrie Lam, a Beijing appointee, on Wednesday was granted the power to turf out any legislator who she deems insufficiently patriotic, without recourse to the city’s courts.

She immediately made use of those powers, kicking out four lawmakers she said were a threat to national security, and sparking criticism both at home and abroad, with the United States threatening further sanctions on regime figures.

A pro-Beijing supporter holds China's national flag as he and others gather outside the Legislative Council in Hong Kong on November 12, 2020, a day after the city's pro-Beijing authorities ousted four pro-democracy lawmakers. Anthony WALLACE / AFP
A pro-Beijing supporter holds China’s national flag as he and others gather outside the Legislative Council in Hong Kong on November 12, 2020, a day after the city’s pro-Beijing authorities ousted four pro-democracy lawmakers. Anthony WALLACE / AFP

 

Chris Patten, the city’s last colonial governor, said the move demonstrated Beijing’s “total hostility to democratic accountability, and those who wish to stand up for it”.

China’s foreign ministry spokesman Wang Wenbin rejected the international criticism.

“We urge the relevant people to strictly abide by the basic norms of international law and international relations, stop any form of interference into China’s internal affairs, of which Hong Kong affairs are a part,” he said.

The exodus of opposition lawmakers neuters one of the last forums for dissent in Hong Kong, as its once-boisterous media reels under a crackdown unleashed by the national security law and Beijing loyalists target the legal system that has underpinned the city’s success as a finance hub.

Restrictions on gatherings, partly because of the coronavirus, have also put the lid on the kind of huge rallies that roiled the city last year.

Millions took to the streets in largely peaceful protests over a lack of political accountability and what demonstrators saw as overbearing policing.

Violence and vandalism erupted at some demonstrations, and more than 10,000 people were arrested.

‘Final nail in coffin’

Hong Kong’s leader is chosen by pro-Beijing committees, but half of the legislature’s 70 seats are directly elected, offering the city’s 7.5 million residents a rare chance to have their voices heard at the ballot box.

Scuffles and protests would routinely break out in the chamber, with the out-gunned pro-democracy minority often resorting to filibustering and other tactics to try to halt bills they oppose.

The expulsions and resignations will leave just two legislators outside the pro-Beijing camp, both of them unaligned with either bloc.

“It seems that the control of Hong Kong has now been exercised by the Chinese Communist Party authority in Beijing,” political analyst Willy Lam said, adding the basic rights enshrined when Britain handed the city back to China in 1997 were “seriously jeopardised”.

The move by Beijing “has put the final nail in the coffin,” Claudia Mo, one of the lawmakers who resigned, told AFP. “It’s rule by decree.”

“What’s the point of going to work every morning thinking ‘am I going to be kicked out’?”

 

AFP