Lee Cheuk Yan, general secretary of the independent Hong Kong Confederation of Trade Unions (HKCTU), was arrested on February 28 and charged with ‘unlawful assembly’ before being released on bail pending a May 5 court hearing.
Lee was arrested at the same time as pro-democracy politician Yeung Sum and publisher Jimmy Lai in what the HKCTU denounced as “a well-coordinated operation carried out by the Hong Kong Police” and “a plot to further suppress Hong Kong citizens and workers’ rights to freedom of association”.
The charges stem from their participation in the August 31 mass demonstration last year to mark the 5th anniversary of the Chinese authorities’ decision to deny the people of Hong Kong their right to universal suffrage. Police that day violently and indiscriminately attacked and beat demonstrators and citizens.
The HKCTU notes that 47 public assemblies have been banned since the wave of pro-democracy protests began last June. Thousands of Hong Kong citizens arrested since then face ongoing judicial investigation and persecution. The charges against Lee Cheuk Yan and others – arrested in February for a demonstration the previous August – testify to the authorities’ determination to stamp out the democracy movement.
‘Workers against extradition’ – HKCTU contingent in a 2019 demonstration against the proposed extradition law.
The HKCTU is the only independent trade union in China and has been a key support for the movement. The ILO has repeatedly affirmed the crucial importance of freedom of assembly for workers to exercise their right to freedom of association. The IUF joins with the HKCTU in calling on the Hong Kong authorities to immediately and unconditionally drop the charges against Lee Cheuk Yan, Yeung Sum and Jimmy Lai, lift the restrictions on peaceful assembly, stop the arrests and persecution of citizens exercising their right to freedom of assembly and conduct an independent investigation into police brutality and arbitrary detention of protestors.