Hong Kong’s political landscape in 2020 was no less turbulent than the prior year when the city was roiled by anti-government protests. Half a year into the enactment of the vaguely worded national security law on July 1, arrests, imprisonment, and the fleeing of pro-democracy activists and politicians have grabbed headlines.
Among the top political news was the arrest of Apple Daily founder Jimmy Lai Chi-ying (黎智英), who is facing a charge of “collusion with foreign powers” for tweets he made as well as interviews and commentaries he did with foreign media. Lai was remanded into custody again after the Court of Final Appeal revoked his HK$10 million cash bail on December 31. Prominent young activists Joshua Wong Chi-fung (黄之锋), Agnes Chow Ting (周庭), and Ivan Lam Long-yan (林朗彥) were also handed prison sentences of seven to 13 months on December 2 for besieging the Wan Chai police headquarters amid the anti-extradition protests in June 2019.
Four months after being intercepted en route to Taiwan by Guangdong coast guard in August, the “Hong Kong 12” were sentenced in Shenzhen for what Secretary of State Mike Pompeo called a crime to “flee tyranny.” While two minors were sent back to Hong Kong without being indicted on December 30, Tang Kai-yin (邓棨然) and Kiu Ying-yu (乔映瑜) were sentenced on the same day to three years and two years in prison, respectively, for organizing an illegal border crossing. Andy Li Yu-hin (李宇轩), arrested earlier in Hong Kong for “collusion” and money laundering, was sentenced to seven months in prison alongside seven other defendants for “illegal border crossing.” None of them were represented by lawyers of their choosing. Two lawyers originally appointed by the defendants’ families in Hong Kong had their practicing licenses revoked over their “inappropriate remarks” in January 2021.
Ongoing COVID-19 restrictions limiting visitors to carceral facilities are likely to doom the chances of any family reunions.
Challenging Official COVID-19 Narratives
While China has lauded itself for extraordinary success in containing COVID-19 within its borders, information control has been indispensable in allowing the Chinese Communist Party to reshape the narrative in its favor. Anyone picking holes in its storyline is at risk of imprisonment. On December 28, citizen journalist and former lawyer Zhang Zhan (张展) received a prison sentence of four years for “picking quarrels and provoking trouble” over her livestream reporting from Wuhan as the COVID-19 outbreak unfolded. Concerns have mounted over her health as she started a hunger strike in June and has been force-fed via a nasal tube.
New information surfaced about over a dozen individuals implicated in three subversion cases in Henan and Guangdong:
- A subversion case circulated on Chinese social media in November 2020 unveiled a political organization known as the China Democratic Republican Party (中国民主共和党). Its leader surnamed Zhang was allegedly drawn to western politics and electoral systems after failing to get a job promotion and becoming indebted following his unsuccessful business ventures. Zhang founded the party while traveling overseas in April 2018 and hosted an inauguration ceremony in a hotel room where he declared himself president in his newly created Democratic Federal Republic of China. Photos taken at the ceremony were disseminated to over 10 WeChat chatgroups.
Zhang returned to Zhengzhou, Henan, and rented an office to administer his party, which ended up recruiting only two additional members. According to Chinese media sources, Zhang was also contacted by an unspecified foreign agent who vowed to fund his political party in exchange for his service to collect “redhead (internal) documents.” In August 2020, he was sentenced to 13 years in prison for subversion. Because Zhang also sent the so-called “redhead documents,” he was additionally convicted of espionage.
- In late October 2020, reports from unofficial media sources emerged that a group of nine activists were sentenced for subversion in January 2020, three years after they were detained in what became known as the “Shenzhen Crackdown” in November 2016. Another activist was sentenced for inciting subversion.
Spotty information only indicated that they discussed current affairs in the so-called “same-city dinner gatherings,” sometimes called tongcheng fanzui (同城饭醉) in Mandarin Chinese. These dinner gatherings are homonymous with fanzui, which means “committing a crime.” Participants believed that police have no legitimate reason to prohibit citizens living in the same city from going to a restaurant to eat and drink together.
Four of the participants remain imprisoned: Deng Hongcheng (邓洪成), Wang Wei (王威), Wang Jianhua (王建华), and Li Jianpeng (李江鹏). Deng is currently serving his 12-year imprisonment for subversion until February 2029.
- Additionally, unofficial news media sources reported that a group of seven people were placed under residential surveillance on suspicion of subversion of state power. Five of them have been identified as Fan Yiping (范一平), Fan Wencheng (范文成), Lai Jianjun (赖见君), Qiao Lianhong (乔连红), and Wei Ya’ni (韦亚妮 female).
Information about this case is sparse. Fan Yiping was reportedly involved in helping prominent dissident Wang Bingzhang to return to China to promote the democracy movement (Wang is a permanent US resident currently serving his life imprisonment sentence for terrorism and espionage in Guangdong’s Shaoguan Prison). In 2001, Fan completed a three-year prison sentence for “picking quarrels.” Wei has been a vocal protester over official graft since the 2000s.
Christians & Illegal Business
Christians are no strangers to the state clampdown conducted in order to “eradicate pornography and illegal publications.” In September, Christian bookstore owner Chen Yu (陈煜) was sentenced to seven years in prison in Zhejiang for “illegal business activity,” a charge stemming from him selling “unauthorized religious books” Chen imported from Taiwan, the United States, and other countries.
Another group of four Christians who sold audio Bibles in Guangzhou are facing trial for the same crime: Fu Xuanjuan (傅炫娟), Deng Tianyong (邓天永), Han Li (韩丽), and Feng Qunhao (冯群豪). Prosecutors recommended that the court hand down prison sentences of as many as five years. Pre-installed with audio file of verses, sermons, hymns, and other religious content, such MP3-like devices have become popular because they are easy to use despite the ban on online Bible sales since April 2018.
Note: This post was originally published under the title “Prisoner Updates 2020 Quarter 4.”