VANCOUVER – Activists who launched a plan in Canada to elect an unofficial “Hong Kong parliament” say they are moving forward with the project, despite being under investigation for subversion by the authorities of the Chinese territory.
Vancouver journalist Victor Ho said the threat of arrest announced by the Hong Kong Security Bureau on August 3 had not deterred him or his fellow organizers who were working at full speed to organize the symbolic election in line at the end of 2023 or beginning of 2024.
“Instead, I think it’s ridiculous that a government that never represents its own people now wants to bring me and other activists to justice,” Ho said in an interview conducted in Mandarin.
The parliamentary plan was launched in Toronto on July 23 by Ho, Hong Kong American businessman Elmer Yuen and former Hong Kong American lawmaker Baggio Leung.
It offers online elections, with the vote of Hong Kong residents and members of the Hong Kong diaspora around the world.
Ho said the goal was to establish a parliament that “can truly reflect the will of Hong Kong people”.
Hong Kong’s democracy movement has suffered major setbacks since large-scale protests in 2019, including the mass arrest of pro-democracy figures, the shutdown of media organizations and sweeping changes to the electoral system.
Only “patriots” are eligible for election in Hong Kong under a 2021 law passed by China’s parliament, the National People’s Congress.
The Hong Kong Security Bureau said it “severely condemns” Ho, Yuen and Leung, and that the police will “spare no effort to pursue the cases in accordance with the law to bring the culprits to justice”.
The Security Bureau said in an online statement that people should “dissociate themselves from individuals who violate Hong Kong’s national security law and the illegal activities such individuals organize, in order to avoid bearing legal risks.” useless”.
He said Ho, Leung and Yuen were being investigated for subversion, which carries a maximum sentence of life imprisonment under the security law.
The Security Office said in response to questions it would not comment on individual cases, although it named the three men in its online statement. But he said anyone violating the security law, regardless of background or place of residence, would be dealt with by the Hong Kong government according to law.
Leung, who left Hong Kong in 2020, said the threat of arrest made him more determined to follow through on the parliamentary plan, giving Hong Kongers around the world a platform to make their voices heard.
With street protests effectively banned in Hong Kong under pandemic rules, the unofficial parliament would allow Hong Kongers “to discuss, debate or argue even though they might not agree”, said Leung.
Yuen said the prospect of an investigation and arrest was “not a big deal” to him, although it shocked some family members.
“We know we have to pay a price,” said Yuen, who was visiting Germany to ask European Union officials to approve the proposed “Hong Kong Parliament”.
Ho said voting would be open to anyone who has lived in Hong Kong for at least seven years and is over the age of 16.
“No matter where you are, inside or outside Hong Kong, you can participate in the voting process,” said Ho, a former editor of Sing Tao Daily, a Chinese-language newspaper published in China. Canada.
The parliament would be based on “the principle of universal suffrage and will truly represent the voices and interests of Hong Kong people around the world”, Ho said.
“If you bring democracy back to Hong Kong people, they will know how to make the most of it,” Ho said.
Hong Kongers had demonstrated their “democratic spirit” in the 2019 official district elections, Ho said. Pro-democracy candidates won more than 80% of the seats, with a record turnout of 71%, in what became the last poll held in Hong Kong before the overhaul of election laws.
Ho said Toronto was chosen to launch the project because of the large number of Cantonese-speaking Hong Kongers in the city, which makes it easy to hire staff and volunteers.
Yuen said Toronto was also selected for having a large group of “financially more stable” Hong Kongers.
Ho said he was visited by Canadian Security Intelligence Service agents last week in light of remarks from the Hong Kong Security Bureau.
Although Ho dismissed threats to his safety, Vancouver East MP Jenny Kwan and Edmonton-Strathcona MP Heather McPherson said the situation was “gravely concerning” in a letter last week to Prime Minister Justin Trudeau. and Foreign Minister Mélanie Joly.
Bill Chu, spokesman for the Chinese Communist Party’s human rights abuses advocacy group, said Hong Kong was trying to exert “extraterritorial power” over Ho and that Canadian authorities should condemn him.
“Who will be next to be added to the wanted list?” It can be you or me because the NSL (National Security Act) lacks clarity and its application is becoming so unpredictable now,” Chu said.
Public Safety Canada said there are support mechanisms in place for those experiencing state-sponsored harassment and intimidation.
Ho said being on a “wanted list” meant he would never again visit relatives and friends in Hong Kong, or see the city where he grew up.
But he said he felt no regrets and that Canada was his home.
“Just as I chose to become a journalist when I was young, my goal and belief is to protect and always strive for the public interest,” he said.
“I’ve stayed true to myself from the start and my heart has no room for any regrets or fears.”
According to the 2016 census, more than 208,000 people born in Hong Kong lived in Canada.
Canadian authorities meanwhile estimated that there are around 300,000 Canadian citizens living in Hong Kong, a figure cited by Deputy Prime Minister Chrystia Freeland in 2020.
This report from The Canadian Press was first published on August 26, 2022.
This story was produced with the financial assistance of Meta and the Canadian Press News Fellowship.
Nono Shen, The Canadian Press