Hong Kong's Chief Executive Carrie Lam announced on Friday, July 31, that she has invoked emergency powers to postpone legislative elections scheduled to be held on September 6, citing challenges posed by the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) pandemic. The vote has been postponed by a year, and Lam has stated that China's National People's Congress Standing Committee will address outstanding legal issues regarding the move. The postponement comes after 12 candidates associated with the pro-democracy movement were disqualified from running on the grounds that they had subversive intentions linked to their opposition to the recently-introduced security law. Opposition groups have criticized the move, stating that it deprived Hong Kong residents of their right to vote and have questioned the legitimacy of postponing the vote on COVID-19-related grounds.
Due to the controversy surrounding this decision and recent political developments within Hong Kong, there is a potential for protests following the announcement. These protests may result in confrontations with security forces. A heightened security presence and transportation disruptions are to be expected in the vicinity of all protests.
Demonstrations have been held throughout Hong Kong since June 2019 to protest a controversial extradition bill, which would have allowed authorities in Hong Kong to extradite fugitives wanted in mainland China and other territories. While the bill was withdrawn in September, mass protests continue to be organized to demand government reforms and police accountability over violence since the start of the demonstrations.
After a break in protests due to the ongoing coronavirus disease (COVID-19) pandemic, demonstrations have increased in frequency since the relaxation of COVID-19 measures in late April. There has also been an uptick in protest activity since Beijing proposed introducing the controversial new security law in May 2020, with the law coming into effect on June 30. Under the new legislation, individuals can be arrested for being directly or indirectly involved in secession, subversion, terrorist activities, or collusion with a foreign country or other external elements that could endanger national security. The maximum sentence for violating the law is life imprisonment. A new Office for Safeguarding National Security of the Central People's Government will also be set up in Hong Kong to assist in dealing with national security issues. Under certain conditions, the new Office will be allowed to prosecute individuals under mainland Chinese law. The postponed September 9 legislative election would have been the first since the introduction of the security law.
Those in Hong Kong are advised to monitor developments, avoid all protests as a precaution, and adhere to all instructions issued by local authorities and their home governments.
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