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A Hong Kong deputy to the National People’s Congress (NPC) says Beijing will likely remove district councillors’ power to help choose the SAR's chief executive, so as to reduce the opposition camp’s political leverage.
Of the 1,200-strong election committee tasked to select the CE, 117 are district councillors.
They are elected among 452 district councillors – and more than 80 percent of them are currently from the pan-democratic camp after its sweeping victory in the elections of 2019.
Speaking before flying to Beijing to attend the NPC’s annual plenary session, Ip Kwok-him said he agreed that district councillors should not be empowered to pick the top leader.
“It’s likely the 117 seats for district councillors on the election committee will be cancelled. We see that members from the opposition camp won a lot of seats in the district council election. If they can get into the election committee, it will affect the CE election,” he said.
“How can people against the central government or even advocating Hong Kong independence become members of the election committee? It’s important that we ensure the CE is a patriot.”
He said he expected the matter to be added as an ad hoc item on the NPC session’s agenda.
A marathon national security law hearing resumed at West Kowloon Court on Tuesday lunchtime, with 47 pro-democracy politicians and activists seeking bail after being charged with subversion.
Six of the defendants were absent, however, with Chui Chi-kin, Clarisse Yeung, Roy Tam, Leung Kwok-hung and Mike Lam all in hospital after Monday's prolonged session, while Benny Tai had to attend another court hearing.
Defence lawyers are attempting to fight off a prosecution bid for the group to be denied bail for at least three months as police continue to investigate, arguing that their clients should never have been charged if the case against them wasn't ready.
But the national security law has done away with the presumption of bail for non-violent crimes, and requires a magistrate or judge to have sufficient grounds to believe that defendants will not "continue" to commit acts that endanger national security.
Sweden's deputy consul general in Hong Kong, Joakim Ladeborn, was one of those queuing for a seat in the court on Tuesday.
"We are following these cases closely. We are concerned about the implementation of the national security law... I was surprised there were so many people who lined up. It just shows the interest, I guess. And that people are concerned," he said.
Former Legislative Council member Emily Lau said she was angry that the group had been brought before the court even though the prosecution didn't appear to be prepared for the case.
"I think the prosecution even said, 'oh we haven’t finished. We just have allowed a few of you to speak. Never mind, we’ll lock you up, the rest come back in three months’ time to finish, to continue'. That’s ridiculous, how can you do that? I mean, the whole world is watching. They can see how ridiculous the system has become. And people are very, very upset," she said.
The 47 pro-democracy figures are accused of plotting to overthrow the SAR government, with the Legco primary polls they held last year part of the alleged conspiracy.
On Monday, hundreds of supporters gathered outside the court, with police eventually warning that some of the crowd could themselves be arrested under the national security law for chanting various protest slogans.
Last updated: 2021-03-02 HKT 12:21
The Secretary for Innovation and Technology, Alfred Sit, on Tuesday said the government has increased the capacity of its vaccination booking website, but he said people might still have to queue online for some time when appointments open for the coronavirus jabs made by German drug-maker BioNTech on Wednesday.
He said more than 100,000 people logged on at the same time when bookings for mainland-made Sinovac vaccines reopened on Monday morning for people in high priority groups, and some of them had to wait for more than an hour to gain access.
Sit told an RTHK programme that when the vaccination programme was rolled out last week, the website could accommodate 250 users per minute. He said the capacity has since been increased to 1,300.
He appealed for patience, saying there will be enough jabs for everyone in Hong Kong.
“We understand very well that people would like to have the vaccination as soon as possible, but the supply of vaccines at the beginning is limited. Please be patient. We do have sufficient vaccines to be provided to all people in Hong Kong,” he said.
“We have already enhanced our system to increase the handling capacity. But I would expect there would still be some possibility there will be some waiting time.”
Sit also said he was happy that more than three million people had downloaded the government's LeaveHomeSafe app, which alerts users if they were at a venue at the same time as a newly confirmed Covid-19 patient.
He said so far 70 coronavirus patients had recorded their whereabouts on the app before they were confirmed to have the infection.
West Kowloon Court sat into the small hours as it tried to process the cases of 47 pro-democracy figures accused of national security crimes over their involvement in Legco primaries last year.
The suspects are accused of intending to abuse Legco's power by plotting to indiscriminately overturn government budgets and eventually force the Chief Executive to resign - after gaining a majority in Legco.
Defendants have been fighting a prosecution bid to keep them behind bars as police continue with investigations.
The prosecution sought to have the cases adjourned for three months, and asked the court to refuse bail to all 47 defendants, saying there was a strong chance they would continue to endanger national security.
The prosecution also cited a decision by the Court of Final Appeal to refuse bail to media tycoon Jimmy Lai last month, saying the threshold for bail for National Security cases was higher than for other types of criminal cases.
But defence lawyers objected to the prosecution's request, arguing that remanding them in custody for three months would be a serious infringement of their rights.
They said that normally police would only bring defendants to court when they had sufficient evidence to prosecute them.
Some protesters remain outside the court overnight, and police said that as of 8.30pm on Monday they had issued fixed penalty notices to 19 men and 19 women for breaching social distancing rules. They said a 34-year-old man had also been detained for obstructing police.
As of 2am on Tuesday, RTHK was told that only 20 cases had been processed.
Shortly before 3am, the hearing was adjourned until 11.30am on Tuesday for the remaining bail submissions to be heard.
The defendants were held in custody although at least one was reportedly taken to hospital, although there were no further details.
Last updated: 2021-03-02 HKT 05:51
The new cabinet of the student union of Chinese University of Hong Kong (CUHK) announced its resignation on Monday, citing increasing political pressure after the school cut ties with it last week.
Syzygia said it was taking "political responsibility" for the decision to withdraw their manifesto and election platform earlier, saying it'd lost its mandate as a result.
The Chinese University Student Union (CUSU) also blamed what it called pressure from the university for the withdrawal.
CUHK had said the election platform and certain statements made by members of Syzygia might be in breach of the national security law, and that the cabinet failed to clarify "potentially unlawful statements and false allegations".
In a press conference on Monday, Syzygia said the school management made it clear in private meetings that it would “completely renounce and disqualify” the cabinet.
"From the moment of CUHK's renouncement... the executive committee of CUSU will not be able to take an interest in current affairs, and the university will only be able to accept associations that are indifferent to society," said union president Isaac Lam.
"From the moment they released their statement, CUSU has ceased to exist except in name. We cannot accept becoming an apathetic cabinet that goes against our conscience, our morals and the CUSU constitution."
Lam also said cabinet members had received nuisance calls and even death threats over the saga.
However, the Chinese University issued a statement denying that it had intimidated or isolated the student union office or any other student group.
In a statement, it accused the student body of distorting its actions.
The university said its action was based on alleged illegal and untrue statements by members of the organization.
It said it respected freedom of speech - but university members still had to obey the law.
Last updated: 2021-03-01 HKT 23:57
The Civil Service Secretary, Patrick Nip, has defended the promotion of a former director of the Food and Environmental Hygiene Department (FEHD) who was the target of an attack by a top pro-Beijing newspaper.
Vivian Lau was named the Permanent Secretary for Food and Health last week.
In an article over the weekend, Ta Kung Pao alleged that during her tenure as FEHD chief, Lau had adopted double standards towards the posting of banners and messages across the city during the unrest in 2019, allowing anti-government ones to remain while removing swiftly those in support of the administration.
When asked about Lau's appointment in a press conference on Monday, the Secretary for the Civil Service Patrick Nip said the promotion of civil servants has an established mechanism and criteria, with a panel picking the best candidate.
Nip added that with some senior postings, he himself would offer his assessment of the appointment.
He also pointed out that permanent secretaries – like all civil servants – have already signed an oath to pledge allegiance to the SAR and the Basic Law.
Hong Kong University microbiologist Yuen Kwok-yung said bad ventilation at a restaurant in Tsim Sha Tsui might have caused a coronavirus cluster there.
Forty-eight cases -- including 22 customers and nine staff at Mr Ming's Chinese Dining, along with their close contacts -- have been confirmed with the virus, and there was also a preliminary positive case.
Speaking after inspecting the restaurant on Monday, Yuen said ventilation pipes were not supplying enough fresh air to the restaurant, and there was “an area of stagnation” so there might have been airborne transmission within a short distance.
“We find that the pipes carrying the air are very narrow. And then, when the [Electrical and Mechanical Services Department] staff measured the fresh air being supplied, it is only one-third of the expected amount,” Yuen explained.
“That, in an indoor situation, with such a low degree of ventilation, will definitely be predisposing to an outbreak,” he said.
Yuen said he also saw that dirty dishes were put in the same area where tea was being prepared. As clean and dirty items were not separated, he could not rule out cross-infection.
The expert said he'd also inspected other parts of the K11 MUSEA shopping mall where the restaurant is located, and has found the mall to be generally safe as ventilation is good. Authorities have earlier ordered mandatory testing for everyone working at the mall.
The mall has announced that it will be closed until Friday to make sure all staff get tested.
Speaking alongside Yuen, the Centre for Health Protection’s Dr Ronald Lam said what happened at the restaurant is “a little worrying” as a second generation of infections has emerged.
He said authorities are still tracing 15 more customers who ate at the restaurant after February 18 so they can be tested and quarantined.
Lam said since some patients had sought treatment at the clinic of private practitioner Wong Chung-yan, health officials are ordering people who have been to the clinic in Tai Kok Tsui since February 22 to get tested.
Lawmaker and Basic Law Committee member Priscilla Leung has called for a special committee to be set up to vet potential candidates who plan to take part in local elections.
The Business and Professionals Alliance legislator made the suggestion on Monday at a forum in Shenzhen to discuss electoral reforms in Hong Kong, a day after former National People's Congress Standing Committee member Rita Fan put forward a similar idea.
Leung said the responsibility of determining a person's eligibility to stand in an election should not be left to a returning officer.
“There have been many occasions in the past when a person was allowed to join an election after signing a declaration form [promising to uphold the Basic law and pledging allegiance to the SAR]. However, after being elected into the district councils, they started advocating ‘Hong Kong independence’ or ‘self determination’. This situation is not ideal,” she said, adding that the loophole could be plugged if the screening work was carried out by an “eligibility vetting committee”.
Separately, Chan Wing-kee, a standing committee member of the Chinese People's Political Consultative Conference, said there were calls during the seminar for local CPPCC and National People’s Congress delegates to take up a more proactive role in the governance of Hong Kong.
He told reporters that there’s a pressing need for electoral reforms in Hong Kong, saying the election committee that selects the chief executive should consist of more NPC and CPPCC members.
“The number of district councillors on the committee should be reduced. Another option is to remove the participation of district councillors altogether,” he said.
Under current arrangements, Hong Kong's leader is chosen by a 1,200-strong committee made up of members from business sectors, religious groups, and office holders such as Legco and NPC members, as well as district councillors.
Calls for electoral reforms have been rife since pan-democratic candidates won the 2019 district council polls by a landslide, with some in the pro-Beijing camp describing the outcome of the elections as “highly abnormal”.
Mainland officials and pro-establishment politicians have since highlighted the need for “patriots” to rule Hong Kong, and it’s widely expected that Beijing will submit plans to reform the SAR’s electoral system at the upcoming National People's Congress meetings.
The head of the Hong Kong and Macau Affairs Office, Xia Baolong, has reportedly called for “severe punishment” for Apple Daily founder Jimmy Lai, jailed activist Joshua Wong and former HKU legal scholar Benny Tai.
In a transcript published by the pro-Beijing Bauhinia magazine, Xia apparently called the trio “the most vicious traitors” while attending a forum in Shenzhen to discuss election reforms in Hong Kong.
"In terms of those rioters who are anti-China and who instigate riots with extremely notorious acts, for example, Jimmy Lai, Benny Tai and Joshua Wong, they are not only prohibited from interfering in any public power of the HKSAR, they also need to be punished severely in accordance with the law," Xia was quoted by the magazine as saying.
Wong and Tai are among the 47 pro-democracy figures charged with subversion, while Lai has his own national security case for allegedly colluding with foreign forces.
Last month, Xia warned that people who "oppose China and disrupt Hong Kong” have been able to exert their influence in the city because the principle of letting "patriots" rule Hong Kong has not been fully implemented.
He said Beijing will have to lead work on political reform in the SAR to ensure that those who "hysterically attack the central government, openly advocate 'Hong Kong independence', bad-mouth or spread pessimism about China and Hong Kong in the international community or beg for foreign sanctions against China and Hong Kong," cannot hold positions of power.
The Health Secretary, Sophia Chan, said on Monday that authorities will investigate whether an elderly man who became ill after receiving the Sinovac coronavirus vaccine was suffering from any side effects.
The 72-year-old man, who had hypertension, started developing heart palpitations on Saturday within half an hour after the jab. He was sent to hospital and was said to be in a stable condition.
Chan said the government would follow established procedures to assess the case.
“The Department of Health and an expert panel will study whether the case is linked to the vaccine. They will then see if the patient is eligible for the indemnity fund after the assessment,” she said.
Chan was speaking as online appointments reopened for the city-wide inoculation programme for high-priority groups to book 270,000 Sinovac shots against Covid-19.
About 830 private doctors will help administer 63,000 doses of the Sinovac jabs from Tuesday.
People who would like to receive vaccines made by German drug-maker BioNTech can start booking from Wednesday. There are 140,000 available spots at a handful of vaccination centres.
The Secretary for the Civil Service, Patrick Nip, said people are keen to be vaccinated.
He said more than 20,000 people have received their first doses of Sinovac vaccines since the vaccination programme was launched last week.
Hong Kong recorded 14 new coronavirus cases on Monday, 11 of which were local cases.
Five had no known source of transmission.
Chan said an outbreak at a Tsim Sha Tsui restaurant involving more than 40 people is worrying.
She appealed to members of the public to avoid eating out together, especially during peak hours.