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The Lunar New Year celebration has begun in China, but it comes as Hong Kong security forces continue to prosecute those swept up in a wave of arrests under the new national security law imposed by the mainland, including some pro-democracy members of Hong Kong's legislative body. China is also testing Hong Kong's legal system and moving to overhaul its education curriculum. Divya Gopalan reports.
The lunar new year celebration has begun in China, but it comes as Hong Kong security forces continue to prosecute those it has swept up in a wave of arrests under the new national security law that mainland China imposed.
Even as pro-democracy members of Hong Kong's legislative body were arrested last month when they held an informal primary election, the education curriculum is being overhauled, and judges are facing increasing pressure to issue harsher sentences on activists.
"NewsHour" special correspondent Divya Gopalan reports.
Praying for good fortune and better days. As Hong Kong people start their Chinese new year, many will be relieved to bid farewell to the punishing Year of the Rat.
Like the rest of the world, the pandemic took away loved ones, jobs and businesses. But, for Hong Kong it also brought one of the biggest clampdowns on freedoms and rights, the national security law. The wide-ranging law imposed by Beijing opens the door for China's communist government to intervene in all aspects of the autonomous territory's affairs.
The law criminalizes several categories of broadly defined offenses, which include secession, subversion, terrorism, and collusion with foreign or external forces. But there is one institution seen as the last holdout against Beijing's increasing assertive rule.
It is my mission, as I say, to do my utmost, to uphold the independence and impartiality of the Hong Kong judiciary.
In a ceremony in January, Andrew Cheung was sworn in as the city's top judge. Taking the helm in unprecedented times, he admitted he has his work cut out for him.
Political pressure is just one form of pressure that judges face and have to deal with. So, we all do our best to deal with these pressures.
It's a situation that American lawyer John Clancey is familiar with. On January 6, he was caught up in the biggest sweep yet under the national security law.
We need to work for democracy and human rights in Hong Kong.
Clancey was among 53 opposition activists and former lawmakers arrested for subversion for taking part in an unofficial primary poll to choose the best democratic candidate for the now delayed legislative council elections.
The longtime Hong Kong resident, who speaks Cantonese fluently, came to the city in 1968 as a Catholic priest when it was still a British colony. He later trained in law and is known for his work championing democracy and human rights.
There's going to be a need for the courts to deal with two conflictual things hitting at one another.
On the one hand, we have, as I mentioned earlier, the basic law, which entrenches these basic human rights, freedom of speech, expression, voting, standing for election. On the other hand, there's a new national security law, which, unlike most other laws in Hong Kong, it was drafted in China. It's very vague. It seems to be having a lot of implications of what it could be.
The courts will have to decide whether this national security law trumps basic rights.
Beijing says the national security law is necessary to make scenes like this, the anti-government protests of 2019, a thing of the past. Almost 100 people have been arrested under the law since it took effect on July 1.
While most of the focus is on high-profile national security law cases, the legal system here is being tested regularly. Almost every day, there are cases going through the city's courts related to the 2019 protests and other demonstrations calling for democracy. Those being prosecuted includes former protests, human rights and democracy activists and even journalists.
According to official figures, around a fifth of the 10,200 people arrested in connection with the social unrest of 2019 have been prosecuted, and roughly 200 have been sentenced to prison.
In November, one of the top Chinese officials in Hong Kong said reforms were needed for the city's judiciary, saying that the word patriotism needs to be included in the core values of Hong Kong society. The details of the reforms are unclear.
But Holden Chow, a lawyer, legislative councillor and vice president of Hong Kong's biggest pro-Beijing political party, agrees that changes are needed. He is calling for the judiciary to set up a sentencing council.
Over the past two years, we have seen the violent protests in Hong Kong. And when the rioters are brought to the court, when their verdict is being handed down by the court, it seems that, on many occasion, the sentence is too lenient.
I am very concerned about the impact of that is you are simply encouraging people to commit those sort of crimes.
The majority of the front-line protesters were university and high school students. Pro-Beijing politicians and China's state media blamed teachers and the curriculum for the social unrest.
And so, in the latest effort to tighten the leash on the younger generation, authorities have pushed through one of the biggest overhauls of the education system.
Mr. Owl, what is national security?
With teaching material that includes animation to help younger children, the new national education curriculum brings Hong Kong classrooms in line with the communist-controlled schools of mainland China. Teachers will be forced to warn students as young as 6 of secession, subversion and foreign interference.
While many were expecting changes to certain subjects like liberal studies, it's come as a shock to students who have enjoyed an education system where free thinking and open discussions have been encouraged.
I am a Hong Konger. And I believe my identity as a Hong Konger, and this is very important for us to reveal the truth of what is happening in Hong Kong to the public, not the way that the central government wants to tighten its control over us.
Regardless of which subject 16-year-old Angel and her classmates choose, they will be exposed to the new curriculum. Almost every subject, whether it's biology, geography, and even music, will need to incorporate the tenets of national security.
But as Angel is due to graduate soon, she feels it's the next generation who will be most affected.
If the curriculum has changed, they will just think in the way that the government wants them to think, because they will only possess the information that is given directly by the government.
Also, they cannot voice their opinions freely. They cannot decide whether the news is right or wrong. And this definitely affects the future of the Hong Kong political movement.
For many in Hong Kong, with no avenue for dissent anymore and no power to resist the changes imposed by Beijing, there is a sense that the writing is on the wall.
Many feel, if they want a glimpse into what the Year of the Ox holds for the city, all they have to do is look across the border.
For the "PBS NewsHour" in Hong Kong, I'm Divya Gopalan.
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