The sudden arrest of dozens of pro-democracy activists in Hong Kong, in the most sweeping use of a new national security law to date, is a clear sign of Beijing’s determination to rein in political opposition in the former British colony.
The Wednesday morning roundup, widely condemned by Western government officials and human rights groups, will likely further chill an already dwindling protest movement in the semi-autonomous Chinese territory, reports AP.
Police detained about 50 people, far more than in previous cases under the 6-month-old national security law. Those targeted appeared to include all candidates who had run in an unofficial opposition primary last year ahead of an expected election for Hong Kong’s legislature. City leader Carrie Lam later scrapped the election, citing the coronavirus pandemic. Activists called her move a thinly veiled attempt to thwart expected opposition gains.
HOW CAN A PRIMARY BE A THREAT TO NATIONAL SECURITY?
Security Secretary John Lee said those arrested were suspected of trying to gain control of the legislature to paralyze government business. The subversion section of the national security law criminalizes “seriously interfering in, disrupting, or undermining the performance of duties and functions” of the Chinese or Hong Kong governments.
Lam said at the time of the primary that if its purpose was to resist every government initiative, it could amount to subverting state power. The central government labeled the primary illegal and a “serious provocation” to Hong Kong’s electoral system.
WHAT’S THE LIKELY IMPACT?
The arrests will remove more activists from the scene, reducing the possibility of renewed protests and eliminating many as future candidates for office. They warn a younger generation that formed the backbone of protests in 2014 and 2019 that even holding an unofficial primary can result in legal action that can seriously impact their futures.
Human Rights Watch said of the move that repression generates resistance, but the tightening restrictions on opposition activity and the lingering effects of the coronavirus on public life and the economy could delay or permanently discourage the emergence of a new generation willing to take on Beijing.
Beijing has been unrelenting in its efforts to prevent any repeat of the 2019 protests, which grew increasingly violent in response to the government’s refusal to entertain the protesters’ demands. They plunged Hong Kong into its biggest political crisis since its return to Chinese rule in 1997.
China is also determined to drive out what it sees as unwarranted foreign government interference in its domestic affairs. The nation’s newfound military, economic and political clout is emboldening it to take on the West, and it can take advantage of distractions resulting from pandemic and political disruptions in the U.S. and Europe.
India's cricket board chief Sourav Ganguly, affectionately known as 'Dada', is likely to be released from hospital on Thursday "as per his wish".
This was announced on Wednesday by the eastern Indian city of Kolkata's leading private hospital, Woodlands, where Ganguly underwent an angioplasty surgery on Saturday after suffering a mild heart attack.
"Ganguly is fit and fine. He was to be released this morning. But he will now be discharged on Thursday as he himself has opted to extend his stay in the hospital by one more day," a doctor treating the former Indian skipper told the media.
The 48-year-old was rushed to the private hospital on Saturday morning, after he complained of acute chest pain and dizziness while working out at a gym. Later that day, he underwent angioplasty after three tiny blockages were detected in his coronary artery.
On Tuesday, India's leading cardiac surgeon Devi Shetty, who flew down to Kolkata from the southern city of Bengaluru, said Saurav could run a marathon and fly a plane "as his heart is as strong as it was when he was 20", after examining him at the hospital.
"This event will not affect his lifestyle or life span. He is going to lead a normal life like anybody else. Sourav can participate in a marathon, fly a plane, or even get back to cricket if he wants as his heart has not suffered any damage," he had said.
During his interaction with Saurav, Dr Shetty said, he had requested the president of the Board of Control for Cricket in India to influence the country’s sports bodies to ensure sportspersons go for mandatory cardiac and body check-ups at least once in two years.
"Ganguly’s event has shaken the world raising a question as to how a 48-year-old athlete like him, who does not drink, smoke, or has any other vices, is a fit man, can have a heart attack. A preventive health check-up could have prevented the event," he told the media.
“Irrespective of how strict you are with your lifestyle, irrespective of how athletic you are, you can still have a heart attack if you do not go for a preventive heart check-up at regular intervals,” the cardiac surgeon added.
Last week, Ganguly had cleared the air about him joining politics ahead of the assembly elections in his home state of West Bengal.
Post his meeting with state Governor Jagdeep Dhankhar, rumours were going the rounds that he could be India's ruling Bharatiya Janata Party's chief ministerial face in the assembly polls in West Bengal, currently ruled by Banerjee's regional Trinamool Congress party.
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However, Dada had told the media, "If the Governor wants to meet you, you have to meet him. So let us keep it like that."
Considered one of the best captains in international cricket, Ganguly quit international cricket in 2008 but continued playing in the multi-billion-dollar cricketing tournament Indian Premier League for a few more years.
He scored more than 18,500 runs in Tests and one-day internationals. Last year, Dada was elected as the president of BCCI, the world's richest cricketing body.
Hong Kong police arrested about 50 former lawmakers and pro-democracy activists Wednesday for allegedly violating the new national security law by participating in unofficial election primaries for the territory’s legislature last year.
The mass arrests, including of former lawmakers, were the largest move against Hong Kong’s democracy movement since the law was imposed by Beijing to quell dissent in the semi-autonomous territory last June.
In a video released by former lawmaker Lam Cheuk-ting on his Facebook page, police turned up at his house and told him he was “suspected of violating the national security law, subverting state power.” Police told those recording the video to stop or risk arrest.
Police did not immediately comment on the arrests, reported by the South China Morning Post, online platform Now News and various political groups and figures.
At least seven members of Hong Kong’s Democratic Party — the city’s largest opposition party — were arrested, including former party chairman Wu Chi-wai. And former lawmakers Lam, Helena Wong and James To were also arrested, according to a post on the party’s Facebook page.
Benny Tai, a key figure in Hong Kong’s 2014 Occupy Central protests and a former law professor, was also arrested by the police, according to local media reports. Tai was one of the main organizers of the primaries, which were held last July with the intent of fielding enough pro-democracy candidates in the legislative elections to gain control of the chamber.
All of the pro-democracy candidates in those unofficial primaries were arrested, according to tallies of Wednesday’s reported arrests.
The home of Joshua Wong, a prominent pro-democracy activist who is serving a 13 1/2-month prison sentence for organizing and participating in an unauthorized protest last year, was also raided, according to a tweet posted from Wong’s account.
Police also went to the headquarters of Stand News, a prominent pro-democracy online news site in Hong Kong, with a court order to hand over documents to assist in an investigation related to the national security law, according to a livestreamed video by Stand News. No arrests were made.
In recent months, Hong Kong has already jailed several pro-democracy activists including Wong and Agnes Chow for their involvement in antigovernment protests, and others have been charged under the national security law including media tycoon and outspoken pro-democracy activist Jimmy Lai.
The security law criminalizes acts of subversion, secession, terrorism and collusion with foreign powers to intervene in the city’s affairs. Serious offenders could face up a maximum punishment of life imprisonment.
The unofficial primaries held in July last year attracted more than 600,000 voters even though pro-Beijing lawmakers and politicians had warned the event could breach the security law. Pro-democracy figures had hoped to use the vote to build support and win a majority of seats in the legislature, which they could use to vote against bills they deemed to be pro-Beijing, block budgets and paralyze the government.
Hong Kong leader Carrie Lam had said at the time that if the primary election was aimed at resisting every policy initiative by the Hong Kong government, it may fall under subverting state power, an offence under the national security law.
Beijing also blasted the primaries as illegal, calling it a “serious provocation” of Hong Kong’s electoral system.
Following the handover of Hong Kong to China by the British in 1997, the semi-autonomous Chinese city has operated on a “one country, two systems” framework that affords it freedoms not found on the mainland. In recent years, Beijing has asserted more control over the city, drawing criticism that Hong Kong’s freedoms were under attack.
The legislative elections, originally slated to be held in September, were later postponed for a year. Lam cited the health risk of the coronavirus pandemic, though the pro-democracy camp denounced the postponement as unconstitutional.
In November, all of Hong Kong’s pro-democracy lawmakers resigned en masse after four of them were disqualified, leaving a largely pro-Beijing legislature.
The sweeping arrests drew condemnation from Anthony Blinken, the U.S. Secretary of State nominee for the upcoming Biden administration, who said on Twitter that it was an “assault on those bravely advocating for universal rights.”
“The Biden-Harris administration will stand with the people of Hong Kong and against Beijing’s crackdown on democracy,” Blinken wrote in his tweet.
The arrests suggest that Beijing has failed to learn from its mistakes in Hong Kong that repression generates resistance, according to a statement from Human Rights Watch’s senior China researcher Maya Wang.
She said that “millions of Hong Kong people will persist in their struggle for their right to vote and run for office in a democratically elected government.”
In further remarks to The Associated Press, Wang said it wasn’t clear what provisions of the law were being cited to justify the arrests, but that local authorities seem less concerned with legal substance.
“The very nature of the national security law is as a draconian blanket law allowing the government to arrest and potentially imprison people for long terms for exercising their constitutionally protected rights,” Wang said.
“The veneer of rule of law is also applied in mainland China stripped of any meaning. Hong Kong is looking more like mainland China but where one ends and the other begins is hard to discern,” she said.
British Prime Minister Boris Johnson on Tuesday cancelled his visit to India slated for this month-end, amid a surge in Covid cases at home. He had last month accepted New Delhi's invite to be the chief guest at this year's Republic Day parade.
"The (British) Prime Minister spoke to Prime Minister (Narendra) Modi this morning, to express his regret that he will be unable to visit India later this month as planned," a spokesperson for Downing Street told the media.
Last night, the British government announced a complete lockdown to contain the spread of coronavirus before mass vaccinations turned the tide.
"In light of the lockdown announced last night, and the speed at which the new coronavirus variant is spreading, the Prime Minister said that it was important for him to remain in the UK so he can focus on the domestic response to the virus," the spokesperson added.
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Confirming the phone conversation between the Indian PM and Johnson, sources told UNB that top diplomats at the External Affairs Ministry "now face a herculean task to find another head of state or government to grace the Republic Day parade as the chief guest".
Johnson had accepted India's invitation to attend the parade last month.
"I am absolutely delighted to be visiting India next year at the start of an exciting year for Global Britain, and look forward to delivering the quantum leap in our bilateral relationship that Prime Minister Modi and I have pledged to achieve," he had said in a statement.
"The British PM will use his visit to India to boost cooperation in areas that matter to the UK and that will be priorities for our international engagement throughout 2021 -- from trade and investment, to defence and security, and health and climate change," his office had said.
Johnson would have been the second British leader to attend the Republic Day parade in Delhi as the chief guest after John Major in 1993.
India honours January 26 every year, the day on which the country's Constitution came into effect in 1950, replacing the Government of India Act (1935) as the governing document and thus, turning the nation into a newly formed republic.
However, this year, India has decided to scale down the Republic Day parade in the wake of Covid. The distance of the parade has been cut down to half -- from 8.2km to 3.3km. The spectator strength has also been brought down to 25,000 from 1,15,000.
Archaeologists have discovered a 1,400-year-old tomb containing a white marble bed in central China's Henan Province, where elements of both Buddhism and a Persian religion have been found.
The brick tomb dating back to the Sui Dynasty (581-618) was found in Long'an District in the city of Anyang, said Jiao Peng, director of the excavation department under the city's research institute of cultural relics and archaeology.
Images of the daily lives of the tomb owners and religious stories are carved into the bed, with a religious figure on each end in the style of Zoroastrianism, an ancient Persian religion. Lotus images in the Buddhist style are also among the carvings.
The bed provides material information for the study of carving techniques in the Sui Dynasty, and is of great significance to the study of the development, the shape evolution and the hierarchical use of stone beds inside tombs in China, said Jiao.
Kong Deming, head of the institute, said that a man named Qu Qing lay in the bed together with his wife.
The epitaphs reveal the couple's identity and details of their lives. The inscriptions have provided new evidence for the study of the development of Chinese characters as well as calligraphy in the Sui Dynasty, said Kong.
According to Kong, the Qu family lived in the Longxi region of what is now Gansu Province. The region was an important section of the ancient Silk Road, and was thus influenced by the cultures of Europe, western and central Asia.
"The bed and dozens of images related to Buddhism and Zoroastrianism are evidence of the exchanges between the eastern and western civilizations, which is significant for the study of ethnic and religious blending," he said.
The institute began excavating the tomb in April 2020, and more than 120 items including stoneware and earthenware have been uncovered.