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Politics

Hong Kong starts new year with heightened crackdown on dissent

Agnes Chow in maximum-security prison; Ted Hui on the run in UK

Hong Kong activist Agnes Chow has been jailed since Dec. 2. She says she wears seven layers of clothes to fight the chills of her cell.   © AP

HONG KONG -- Bundled up in seven layers of clothing, pro-democracy activist Agnes Chow tries to buoy her spirits in a maximum-security prison here by reading letters from supporters.

Chow, serving her seven-month sentence on charges of illegal assembly, was moved to the Tai Lam Center for Women at the end of last year. Hong Kong media cited her continuing influence on the pro-democracy movement as a reason for the transfer.

In social media postings from last year, Chow said she was assigned to the prison's laundry facility and was planning to take a baking class.

Chow, along with Joshua Wong, is among the high-profile activists who have been incarcerated over the past six months, a move aimed at removing democracy movement leaders from society.

Hong Kong has also put former lawmaker Ted Hui, who has fled to the U.K., and Baggio Leung, who escaped to Washington to seek asylum, on the wanted list of 30 or so people.

Hui said Saturday that his and his family's credit cards had been suspended. Being on the wanted list makes it hard for them to return to Hong Kong to continue their activism.

In the six months since Beijing imposed sweeping national security legislation on Hong Kong, the authorities have sharply ratcheted up their crackdown on pro-democracy activists, changing the political landscape of this financial hub.

The city has arrested 40 under the law for allegedly plotting a breakup of the country, resulting in indictments against four. A hotline set up by Hong Kong police became flooded with tips from citizens.

Hong Kong Chief Executive Carrie Lam insists the city has become more stable under the national security law.   © AP

Media tycoon Jimmy Lai -- the founder of Apple Daily, a Hong Kong newspaper critical of its home city and China -- has also been returned to jail after a brief release.

Prosecutors on Dec. 11 charged Lai with colluding with foreigners. Lai was sent to jail before being granted bail on Dec. 23. a decision slammed by the People's Daily newspaper.

In an unsigned opinion piece published online, the People's Daily labeled the 72-year-old businessman an "insurgent" who could be punished by law in mainland China under article 55 of the National Security Law.

The national security law allows Chinese authorities to take over jurisdiction of certain cases, allowing for the extradition of suspects to the mainland to be tried in the Chinese court system.

By calling Lai "extremely dangerous," the People's Daily hinted that Beijing could take over his prosecution. The city's main daily, Ta Kung Pao, chimed in, criticizing Hong Kong judges for not "correctly understanding the spirit of the national security law."

The city's highest court subsequently revoked bail on Thursday, returning Lai to jail, where he is expected to remain at least until February.

The case against highlighted the mounting pressure facing Hong Kong's court system, the very symbol of the "one country, two systems" doctrine.

The anonymous tip hotline about possible violations of the law received 30,000 calls within a month of the launch, according to the local newspaper Ming Pao.

The Hong Kong security law amounts to a Band-Aid approach to deep-rooted problems that are difficult to solve, said Hualing Fu, Dean of University of Hong Kong's law faculty. The city is full of political and economic contradictions that are difficult to solve, he said.

In the long term, the solution to the territory's social problems depends how Hong Kong's Basic Law article 45 is implemented, said Fu. The law states that the city's chief executive shall be elected by universal suffrage.

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