MIRROR: Dr. Ho, Beijing has announced plans to introduce new security laws for Hong Kong. How serious is this situation?
Ho: Very seriously. It can get even more serious, and I don’t want to talk about Hong Kong’s “darkest days” yet. But the situation is very bad. Beijing is now intervening directly, we can expect a State Security office to be set up in Hong Kong.
MIRROR: What does this mean for Hong Kong citizens accused of violating such laws?
Ho: They will be told: We will not bring you to mainland China to try you out. You will be brought to justice in Hong Kong, but under the provisions of the State Security Act. I cannot yet say how far these provisions have been worked out, I have not yet read every word.
MIRROR: Are you concerned about your own safety?
Ho: Of course, and I have every reason to do so. There are already eight charges against me for unauthorized assembly, inciting and organizing unannounced demonstrations, and the like. All of that will be enough to put me in jail. But I always had to reckon with that, and that won’t change my determination. But many are very afraid.
MIRROR: So far, Hong Kong was considered a rule of law. Hong Kong’s judges are independent by law.
Ho: Yes, but in truth we no longer have independent jurisdiction. The scope of the courts has been tightening for months. And of course the judges feel that the pressure is now increasing even further. However, a constitutional state can only survive in an environment of freedom and not under the conditions that are now emerging.
MIRROR: Beijing has been pushing to tighten security laws for years. Has Hong Kong’s protest movement underestimated this danger?
Ho: No, we don’t. The problem is that the protest movement has become emotionally charged, that a feeling of radicalism has spread among the demonstrators at the front. That puts every politician under pressure. Anyone who opposes this trend would commit political suicide. I hope the radical wing of the movement learns. That he is not trying to implement his demands in the most radical way. We have to sit down, think, use reason and properly assess the dangers.
MIRROR: Do you expect public protests again? What would it look like under the strict distance rules that also apply in Hong Kong?
Ho: Of course this is to be expected. Today, a good 20 members of my party, which is considered moderate, have demonstrated in front of the Liaison Office of the People’s Republic of China. They divided themselves into small groups and kept a clear distance. That didn’t help them at all. They have already been charged with allegedly violating the distance rules. If someone from the other, the Beijing-loyal camp, takes to the streets, no one will ever be charged. The police look away, even if you bump them into it. The police are under pressure.
MIRROR: What does this mean for the protest movement?
Ho: We certainly won’t give up. We will continue to fight and resist. But we have to think better about the consequences of our actions and calculate more carefully.
MIRROR: What steps do you expect from the other side?
Ho: I think they will close the media that are close to the protest movement, such as the Apple Daily.
MIRROR: It belongs to the entrepreneur Jimmy Lai, who like you belongs to the so-called Hong Kong four-gang.
Ho: They have wanted to change this ownership for a long time, so much they hate “Apple Daily”. But I also expect a stricter Internet law to be introduced, schooling to be “cleaned up” – something that is already happening now.
MIRROR: Why has Beijing decided now to introduce stricter security legislation?
Ho: I believe that this decision was made after the 17th Communist Party Congress in 2017, and the first steps were taken during the protests last year. One reason is, of course, the election of the new city parliament in September: the aim is to keep the Beijing-loyal majority there.
MIRROR: Do you think this election will still take place?
Ho: At the moment it looks like this, but of course there is always the possibility that it will be postponed. In the end, this will also be determined by the political environment, i.e. the relationship between China and the USA.
MIRROR: What do you advise the USA, what do you advise the European countries?
Ho: I will be careful not to advise the United States under the current conditions. I think we should just report on the situation we are in – especially those countries whose universal values we share. We should also inform the United Nations about our situation, because Hong Kong is finally protected by the joint Sino-British declaration registered with the United Nations.
MIRROR: Beijing, on the other hand, invokes Hong Kong’s Basic Law, Article 23 of which requires Hong Kong to introduce national security laws.
Ho: When this law was presented to the Legislative Council 17 years ago, we proposed substantial changes. All of these changes have been rejected. Indeed, Article 23 states that Hong Kong “itself” enacts these laws. So if the decision is up to Hong Kong, then this decision can also mean that we don’t need these laws.