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Hong Kong promotes two former police officers to lead the government

From right to left: John Lee, Carrie Lam and Chris Tang. Image from the Stand News. Used with permission.

Hong Kong security secretary, John Lee, who is the key person responsible for the implementation of the national security law (NSL) since its enactment on June 30, 2020, was promoted to the position of Chief Secretary on June 25, 2021 — one day after the shutdown of Apple Daily News.

The position of security secretary is succeeded by police commissioner Chris Tang, who is famous for his hardline stance against anti-China extradition protesters in 2019 and in the suppression of political dissents. The NSL, imposed by Beijing in 2020, vaguely defines state subversion crimes, terrorism and foreign collusion which has allowed the ruling party to easily prosecute pro-democracy dissidents.

It is the first time since Hong Kong was reunified with China in 1997 that a former police officer was appointed as chief secretary, the second-highest-ranking public official in Hong Kong who formulates and implements government policy, gives advice to the Chief Executive and manages the Government’s relationship with the Legislative Council. 

It is customary that the chief secretary position is filled by an administration official who has rich experience working in a wide variety of posts in government bureaus and departments. In contrast, John Lee served on the police force for 35 years until he was appointed to the office of the security secretary in 2012 by former chief executive Leung Chun-ying. 

As both John Lee and Chris Tang are considered hardliners in suppressing dissents, the pro-democracy sector anticipates the current political crackdown will continue. Catrina Ko, a human rights activist commented on Twitter:

When asked of her view on comments about Hong Kong having been turned into a police state, pro-Beijing lawmaker Alice Mak, said there was nothing wrong with being a police state:

Mak later withdrew her comments and Stanley Ng, Hong Kong representative of the National People Congress blamed the journalist who raised the question for misleading public opinion. 

The term “police state” describes a state where police forces play a significant role in government institutions and suppress civil liberties. 

A Human Rights Watch assessment of the human rights situation in Hong Kong one year after the passage of National Security Law indicates that many civil liberties have been dismantled by China:

Beijing is systematically erasing the civil and political rights people long enjoyed, including freedom of expression, association, and peaceful assembly, access to information, and academic freedom. Citizens no longer have the right to participate in free and fair elections and to run for office. The authorities are shutting down the free media, cutting off funding for the pro-democracy movement, and depriving those accused of political crimes of their fair trial rights. Impunity for police abuse is expanding.

Mary Hui, a reporter from Quartz, argues Beijing has relied on police forces to exercise its control — thus transforming the city into a police state. Her first graph shows how the city’s national security expenses soared in the past two years: 

Among the 61 individuals who have been charged under the National Security Law as of June 25, 2021, only one case involves violence, all the other cases are related to speech and elections:

To date, 47 pro-democracy activists have been charged with subversion for participating in the primary elections of the 2020 Legislative Council elections. The speech-related charges vary greatly, for instance, there is the case of Tang Ying Kit who was charged on July 1, 2020, for displaying the slogans “Liberate Hong Kong, revolution of time” and more recelty Jimmy Lai who was charged with foreign collusion for publishing commentary supporting foreign sanctions of Hong Kong. 

Chief Executive Carrie Lam flew to Beijing to celebrate the 100th anniversary of the Chinese Communist Party and the 24th anniversary of Hong Kong handover to China on July 1 2021, making John Lee the current acting Chief Executive.

Benedict Rogers from London-based Hong Kong Watch is terrified that John Lee might eventually become the highest government authority — as before Carrie Lam became the Chief Executive, she was also the Chief Secretary:

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