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Hong Kong’s political temperature rising again

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As the coronavirus contagion continues to wane in Hong Kong, political acrimony has crept back into the city following the detention of a dozen prominent opposition leaders and a media tycoon over the weekend.

Several former chairpersons of Hong Kong’s Democratic Party, including Martin Lee, Albert Ho and Yeung Sum, former opposition lawmakers Lee Cheuk-yan and “Long Hair” Leung Kwok-hung, and Apple Daily founder Jimmy Lai were among those charged with illegal assembly during the months-long anti-China extradition bill protests that convulsed the Asian financial center and frayed the city’s ties with mainland China.

They will stand trial at a magistrate’s court in mid-May.

The operation to apprehend some of the city’s leading anti-China firebrands and opposition leaders did not elude the glare of the media, with Lai’s Apple Daily live-streaming a van load of agents knocking at the media tycoon’s villa in Kowloon and yelling at guards to surrender Lai, only to find that Beijing’s mortal foe was not home. The officers later managed to bundle Lai into a police car and drive him off after he retuned home a few hours later.

Lai and his accomplices have been charged with organizing several unauthorized rallies, one of them a massive protest in the city aimed at raining on Beijing’s exuberant 70th anniversary National Day bash on October 1. The street scuffles and vandalism on that day plunged Hong Kong into anarchy and stole the limelight from the military parade in Beijing’s Tiananmen Square.

Apple Daily founder Jimmy Lai (right) is escorted by agents to a police station for questioning. He is now out on bail pending his trial next month.
Prominent opposition figures Jimmy Lai, Martin Lee, Albert Ho, Lee Cheuk-yan and Avery Ng were among those arrested. Photos: RTHK

On Monday, the front pages of newspapers in Hong Kong also illustrated the popular divide in the city, with pro-Beijing publications like the Hong Kong Commercial Daily and Ta Kung Pao hailing the police force’s swoops and arrests of the 15 democrats, saying they deserved to be held accountable.

By contrast, Lai’s Apple Daily did not mince words in its tirade against the Hong Kong government doing Beijing’s bidding, lamenting that Beijing’s pledge of respect for the city’s liberty and autonomy had become nothing but sleight of hand.

In a coordinated move, China’s Foreign Ministry swiftly dismissed the usual concerns of the United States and United Kingdom over the clampdown in the former British colony, and Hong Kong’s government moved in lockstep with Beijing, denouncing foreign intervention and rejecting allegations that the city displayed a diminished degree of autonomy.

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