Hong Kong pro-democracy leaders say police reports of a foiled bomb plot and warnings about violent protests ahead of a key vote on Wednesday are part of a “smear campaign” by Chinese authorities against the semi-autonomous city’s democracy movement.
"We don't tolerate any kind or any form of illegal activities, whether it is violent or non-violent," Hong Kong's pro-Beijing Chief Executive C.Y. Leung said at a press conference on Tuesday. Security has been tightened throughout the region, a day after Hong Kong police said they had arrested 10 citizens on charges of “Conspiracy to Manufacture Explosives.” Police have yet to identify the suspects but said they belong to a “radical organization."
A police press release about the foiled bomb plot advised Hong Kongers to keep “a safe distance from the violent protestors,” in what democracy activists say is an attempt to link the alleged bombers to their Umbrella Movement. “If it’s not a smear campaign, then what else?” said Hong Kong lawmaker Leung “Long Hair” Kwok-hung, who was arrested last year for his role in the protests.
Chan Kin-man, one of the democracy movement leaders, said the lack of detailed information about the arrested bombers have raised suspicions that this is just another attempt to discredit his campaign. During the so-called Umbrella Movement pro-democracy protests last fall, which brought tens of thousands of people into the streets, the protesters said police and government authorities turned a blind eye to the violence provoked by pro-Beijing counter-demonstrators. “People can’t trust the authorities now,” Chan told Al Jazeera.
The Hong Kong Police Force and the police office in Sai Kung, where at least two of the suspects were arrested, did not respond to an interview request from Al Jazeera.
Although Chan maintains that his movement is entirely non-violent, “sooner or later, a radical force like this will emerge in Hong Kong,” he said. “When many young people believe there’s no way for dialogue with the government – people like me have spoken out for decades and not been heard – they will resort to violence,” said Chan, who is also a sociology professor at the Chinese University of Hong Kong.
Hong Kong’s Legislative Council will vote on Wednesday on a proposal by China’s central government to allow Hong Kong residents to vote for the region’s top office of chief executive by choosing from a ballot of pre-selected candidates. Democracy movement activists say this measure would effectively bar candidates who are critical of the central government's policies and are urging a “no” vote.
Emily Lau Wai-hing, a Hong Kong Legislative Council member, said the proposal falls short of “true democracy” and plans to vote “no” on Wednesday. “We have been fighting for democracy for so long,” Lau said. “And now we’re being presented with a fake package.”
Beijing and many Mainland Chinese commentators say the proposal offers a degree of electoral freedom that would be unthinkable in the rest of the People’s Republic. “Beijing’s reform package, though not ideal, is pragmatic and a step in the right direction,” said Zhiqun Zhu, a professor of Chinese politics at Bucknell University who supports Beijing’s electoral reform package. “For Hong Kong and eventually China to become genuinely democratic, it will take time.”
Lawmakers like Lau and Leung, who plan to vote against the reform package on Wednesday, comprise a large enough contingent in Hong Kong’s Legislative Council to deny Beijing’s proposal the two-thirds majority that it needs to pass. A top Chinese official overseeing Hong Kong affairs warned lawmakers last week against voting down the proposal — saying it would be tantamount to a sign of disloyalty to Beijing, Hong Kong’s leading English-language newspaper South China Morning Post reported.