In Hong Kong, 2021: How democracy was destroyed

HONG KONG (AP), -- 2021 was a year when Hong Kong's authorities and Beijing's central government threw out almost everything they had stood for.

In Hong Kong, 2021: How democracy was destroyed

Activists fled to other countries or were locked up in the new, draconian National Security Law that was imposed upon the city. Opposition voices were expelled from the legislature. Monuments that commemorated China's 1989 crackdown on Beijing's pro-democracy protesters have been removed. As the year was nearing its close, Wednesday saw the closing of a pro-democracy media outlet following a raid by police. This silenced one of the most openly critical voices in the area.

This year, the crackdown that began 18 months ago with the National Security Law was played out as the two largest powers in the world, China and the United States, fought for democracy and good government.

As it attempts to promote democracy worldwide and strengthen ties with other democracies, the Biden administration has been harshly critical of China’s actions in Hong Kong. China's Communist Party has been critical of American democracy. It argued that it has provided stability and a better response for COVID-19 than what the United States has described as chaos.

Hong Kong, a former British colony, was seen as a bastion for freedom after it returned to China in 1997. Since then, the political system has been overhauled and political dissent has been curtailed by Beijing and Hong Kong authorities. This led to months and months of political strife.

Hong Kong police raided Stand News' office on Wednesday and arrested six people, including two former editors and four board members. Denise Ho is a popular singer. They were accused of sedition under a colonial era crime ordinance.

The outlet stated Wednesday afternoon that operations would be halted following the raid.

After the closure of the Apple Daily newspaper, Stand News has become the second major media outlet to close its doors in Hong Kong.

The pro-democracy movement has been quashed by a string of arrests and amendments to the election law this year.

The National Security Law, which punishes acts that are seen as subverting or separatist the Hong Kong or Chinese governments, has led to the arrest of more than 100 pro-democracy leaders and others.

This includes 47 people who were charged under the February law with subversion over their participation in an unofficial primary election in 2020 that was held to determine the best candidates for planned legislative elections.

The activists were accused of subversion by authorities. They claimed they wanted to win a majority to paralyze government and force Carrie Lam, the leader of Hong Kong, to step down.

Inciting COVID-19 public health risks, the government delayed the 2020 elections. In Beijing, the central government announced earlier this year new election laws that decreased the number of directly elected seats by less than 25% and required all candidates be loyal to Beijing.

The results were predictable. Earlier this month, pro Beijing lawmakers won a landslide victory at the postponed elections. The Democratic Party, the city's largest opposition party fielded no candidates, its first election since 1997, when Hong Kong was handed over to China.

Numerous pro-democracy trade organizations and unions were also disbanded this year. In August, the largest teacher's union in the city was disbanded due to political climate. Later, the largest independent trade union in the city was formed, which reduced the number of civil society groups.

After a National Security law police investigation, the Civil Human Rights Front was also disbanded.

Others have been arrested for participating in illegal protests or the annual Tiananmen candlelight Vigil. This is held to remember China's brutal crackdown on protestors in Beijing's Tiananmen Square, June 4, 1989. It has been banned for the past two years. Most of the city's prodemocracy activists have fled to other countries or are currently in jail.

As the year came to an end, many artworks that had been commemorating the Tiananmen massacre were taken down.

The University of Hong Kong ordered the removal of the Pillar of Shame monument (8 m) tall, which depicts Tiananmen victims in a pile of torn bodies. This was just two days before Christmas. Many other universities followed the lead and removed Tiananmen commemoration statues and pro-democracy statues.

China's Communist Party has sought to erase Tiananmen in mainland public consciousness for many years, and prohibited any commemorative events. It seems to be determined to do the exact same in Hong Kong, in the name of restoring stability in the city.

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