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Half a Million Hong Kong Residents Defy Government Warnings to Vote in Pro-Democracy Primary

People wearing face masks following the coronavirus outbreak line up to vote in the primary election aimed at selecting democracy candidates for the September election, in Hong Kong, China, July 12, 2020. (Lam Yik/Reuters)

Upwards of half a million Hong Kong residents turned out over the weekend to vote in the semi-autonomous Chinese city’s unofficial primary election despite warnings from government officials that they could be in violation of a new national security law imposed by Beijing.

More than 600,000 people voted at more than 250 polling stations across the city for candidates who support the pro-democracy demonstrations that have rocked Hong Kong for months, according to early returns. Organizers had set a goal of only 170,000 voters.

The primary is to determine pro-democracy candidates for the Hong Kong Legislative Council election, scheduled for September.

“So many people came out to vote despite the threat that it may violate the national security law,” Lester Shum, 27, the race’s pro-democracy frontrunner, told the New York Times. “That means Hong Kong people have still not given up.”

China had suggested that voting in the primary could break Hong Kong’s new national security law, which Beijing passed unanimously last month. The controversial measure, aimed at tightening Beijing’s control over Hong Kong, earned strong condemnation from pro-democracy critics, who say it will erode the civil liberties of Hong Kong residents.

“Those who have organized, planned, or participated in the primary election should be wary and avoid carelessly violating the law,” Erick Tsang, Secretary for Mainland and Constitutional Affairs, told the Sing Tao Daily.

China claims that the national-security law is necessary to crack down on separatism, subversion, terrorism, and foreign intervention in Hong Kong. The measure reportedly went into effect immediately and also allows China’s state security agencies to operate in the territory. Critics have warned that the law will erase the “one country, two systems” arrangement between Hong Kong and Beijing and will subvert the freedoms currently enjoyed by Hong Kong residents, including the right to assembly, a free press, and a judiciary system independent of mainland China.

Earlier this month, local officials charged a man with terrorism and denied him bail under the national-security law, making him the first person to be charged under the law. The man carried a “Liberate Hong Kong” sign and drove his motorcycle into police, knocking over and injuring several officers, video footage of the incident showed.

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