Hong Kong activists arrested in the city’s “birdcage” elections

HONG KONG (Reuters) – Three pro-democracy activists were arrested in Hong Kong on Sunday before voting began in elections in a “patriots-only” district that has sidelined the city’s formerly popular opposition figures amid a national security crackdown.

The pro-China government is seeking to boost turnout, with some observers seeing large numbers rejecting the ballot boxes, in contrast to the last council elections in 2019, during the mass pro-democracy protests in Hong Kong, which achieved a record turnout of 71% and local elections. A landslide victory for the democratic camp.

The group said that police arrested three members of the League of Social Democrats in the central business district. She had planned to protest “a birdcage election” that she said lacked any democratic scope, given vetting requirements imposed by authorities that effectively barred all Democrats from running.

“The right of Hong Kong people to vote and run appears to be absent,” the group said in a statement, adding that they had been followed since they left their homes in the morning.

The police said in a statement that they arrested three people on suspicion of “attempting to incite others to carry out actions that would disrupt local council elections.” The three were detained for investigation.

Regulations introduced in July reduced directly elected district council seats by nearly 80% from four years ago.

All candidates must now undergo national security checks and secure nominations from pro-government committees. At least three pro-democracy groups, including moderates and even some pro-Beijing figures, failed to secure sufficient nominations.

“It is difficult to talk about democracy”

The changes further restrict electoral freedoms in the former colony that Britain returned to Chinese rule in 1997. A crackdown under China’s 2020 national security law has led to the arrests of former district council members and the dissolution of major opposition parties.

“It’s the final piece of the puzzle for us to implement the principles of patriots governing Hong Kong,” Hong Kong leader John Lee said while casting his vote with his wife, claiming that the previous poll in 2019 had been used to subvert governance and corruption. Endangering national security.

Security measures were tightened around many polling stations, with more than ten thousand police deployed to maintain order.

While some Western governments say the national security law imposed by China has been used to suppress dissent, China says it has brought stability to the financial hub after long pro-democracy protests in 2019.

For weeks, the main pro-Beijing and pro-government parties have come out in force, campaigning and decorating the streets with posters and flyers in an attempt to boost turnout. On Saturday night, a carnival was launched on the harbor front featuring fireworks and patriotic pop singers made last-minute appeals for people to vote.

Some were not convinced.

“The broad spectrum of political votes that we saw four years ago is gone,” said Tang, 27, who said she would boycott the vote, asking that only her last name be used.

Turnout was 15.47% as of 2:30 pm (0630 GMT), down from 42% at the same time in the previous election.

“It is very difficult to talk about democracy or democratization anymore in Hong Kong today,” said Kenneth Chan, a political scientist at Hong Kong Baptist University and a former pro-democracy lawmaker.

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“What they are doing now is installing a so-called governance structure for patriots only.”

(Reporting by Jessie Pang, Joyce Chu, Dorothy Kamm and Edward Chu – Preparing by Muhammad for the Arabic Bulletin) Editing by James Pomfret and William Mallard

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Jessie Pang joined Reuters in 2019 after an internship. She covers Hong Kong with a focus on politics and general news.

Joyce is a talented visual journalist based in Hong Kong and Greater China, driven by a deep passion for capturing historical moments and sharing stories on video. Her exceptional skills and dedication to her craft have earned her the prestigious title of Reuters Video Journalist of the Year 2019. Joyce’s work revolves around documenting important events and exploring the rich cultural fabric of the region. Outside of her professional pursuits, she finds solace and inspiration in hiking and immersing herself in the beauty of nature. With a deep appreciation for tea, Joyce enjoys discovering its diverse flavors and delving into its rich history.

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