South China Morning Post
A former lawmaker and driving force behind Hong Kong opposition camp’s weekend primary has resigned from his organising duties in the wake of Beijing’s stern warning that those behind the unofficial polls could be in breach of the city’s sweeping new national security law.Au Nok-hin, 33, on Wednesday described statements issued by Beijing in the past two days as unexpected, saying he had no choice but to withdraw from the task force to protect his safety and that of others. Beijing accuses Occupy protest leader Benny Tai of breaking national security law“I hope my departure will not give people an impression that [the primary] is problematic,” he said. “In any other normal society, I would have repeatedly insisted the primary has not breached any laws, but this will not work in places with authorities that do not reason.”Get the latest insights and analysis from our Global Impact newsletter on the big stories originating in China.In Washington, US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo on Tuesday also weighed in, expressing “grave concern” over the local government’s earlier warning that the primary might have violated the new national security law, saying it again showed “the Chinese Communist Party’s fear of democracy and its own people’s free thinking”.He congratulated the pan-democratic camp for their successful primary, which he said had shown Hongkongers’ desire to make their voices heard in the face of Beijing’s efforts to suffocate the city’s freedoms.Au’s resignation came a day after the cabinet-level Hong Kong and Macau Affairs Office (HKMAO) issued a strongly worded statement, lashing out at those behind the polls and accusing the primary of being “an unlawful manipulation of Hong Kong elections” and “a blatant challenge” against the Basic Law – the city’s mini-constitution – and the national security law.The office did not name Au, but singled out another organiser, legal academic Benny Tai Yiu-ting, who co-founded the Occupy movement in 2014. Tougher action expected from Beijing against opposition camp after frontline activists’ win at primaryOver the weekend, more than 610,000 Hongkongers took part in the citywide primary, as the opposition camp attempted to whittle down their list of Legislative Council candidates from 52 to those with the best chance of achieving “35-plus”, their first-ever majority in the 70-seat legislature.Tai had previously said that securing a simple majority in the legislature could be used by the bloc as a “constitutional weapon”, allowing them to veto the annual budget, force the government to accede to their demands and eventually open up the possibility of the chief executive’s resignation.On Monday, Hong Kong leader Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor and Beijing’s liaison office in the city accused the opposition of trying to take control of the legislature to vote down the budget and paralyse the government, which they described as a coordinated ploy to subvert state power.Au on Wednesday suggested Hong Kong was seeing less room for dissent, given Beijing’s repeated suggestions that the primary’s organisers could have breached the national security law, which outlaws acts of secession, subversion, terrorism and collusion with foreign forces. It carries penalties up to life behind bars.“There are different views and opinions in society, and the crux is how much tolerance the government will have for these dissenting voices,” he said.There are different views and opinions in society, and the crux is how much tolerance the government will have for these dissenting voicesFormer lawmaker Au Nok-hin“If the government does not connect with these voices but only suppresses or threatens them with the national security law, there is not much room for diversity.”Tai on Tuesday rejected Beijing’s allegations as “nonsense, groundless and absurd”, saying the primary was organised using local resources and that losing candidates were free to run in September’s Legco elections without any form of coercion.Simon Young Ngai-man, associate dean of the University of Hong Kong’s law school, said it was hard to see how the recent primary would amount to either subversion or collusion under the new national security legislation. Mike Pompeo urges ‘free and fair’ Hong Kong vote after China’s national security law warningThere must be acts that seriously interfere, disrupt or undermine the performance of official duties or functions and involve the use of force, threat of force or other unlawful means to amount to subversion, he explained.For collusion, he noted a person must receive instructions, funding or other support from a foreign body or person for the purpose of seriously disrupting the formulation and implementation of laws or government policies or rigging or undermining an election.“The primary only produces a list of preferred candidates of those who participate in the exercise; I cannot see how it has any of these national security consequences,” Young said.This law was not intended to annihilate all political debate and discourse in Hong Kong. Indeed, we need to restore rational political discourse as a substitute for silence and confrontation.Simon Young, associate dean at the University of Hong Kong’s law school“This law was not intended to annihilate all political debate and discourse in Hong Kong. Indeed, we need to restore rational political discourse as a substitute for silence and confrontation.”Johannes Chan Man-mun, former HKU law dean, echoed those thoughts, saying it was the natural consequence of any election system for the opposition to try to win as many seats as possible, and thus exert pressure on the ruling government.“I can’t see how this would contradict the national security law, unless the national security law means that there could never be genuine elections,” he said.The primary’s final results are expected to be released on Wednesday. Preliminary results suggested activists on the front lines of the anti-government protests had outperformed candidates from the traditional pan-democratic parties.Rebel City: Hong Kong’s Year of Water and Fire is a new book of essays that chronicles the political confrontation that has gripped the city since June 2019. Edited by the South China Morning Post's Zuraidah Ibrahim and Jeffie Lam, the book draws on work from the Post's newsrooms across Hong Kong, Beijing, Washington and Singapore, with unmatched insights into all sides of the conflict. Buy directly from SCMP today and get a 15% discount (regular price HKD$198). It is available at major bookshops worldwide or online through Amazon, Kobo, Google Books, and eBooks.com.More from South China Morning Post: * Mike Pompeo urges ‘free and fair’ Hong Kong vote after China’s national security law warning * Hong Kong elections: tougher action expected from Beijing against opposition camp after frontline activists’ win at primary * Hong Kong elections: Beijing accuses Occupy protest leader Benny Tai of breaking national security law through primary pollThis article National security law: former Hong Kong lawmaker who helped guide opposition primary steps down amid Beijing warnings first appeared on South China Morning PostFor the latest news from the South China Morning Post download our mobile app. Copyright 2020.