Sign up for our daily briefing

Make your busy days simpler with Axios AM/PM. Catch up on what's new and why it matters in just 5 minutes.

Please enter a valid email.

Please enter a valid email.

Subscription failed
Thank you for subscribing!

Stay on top of the latest market trends

Subscribe to Axios Markets for the latest market trends and economic insights. Sign up for free.

Please enter a valid email.

Please enter a valid email.

Subscription failed
Thank you for subscribing!

Sports news worthy of your time

Binge on the stats and stories that drive the sports world with Axios Sports. Sign up for free.

Please enter a valid email.

Please enter a valid email.

Subscription failed
Thank you for subscribing!

Tech news worthy of your time

Get our smart take on technology from the Valley and D.C. with Axios Login. Sign up for free.

Please enter a valid email.

Please enter a valid email.

Subscription failed
Thank you for subscribing!

Get the inside stories

Get an insider's guide to the new White House with Axios Sneak Peek. Sign up for free.

Please enter a valid email.

Please enter a valid email.

Subscription failed
Thank you for subscribing!

Catch up on coronavirus stories and special reports, curated by Mike Allen everyday

Catch up on coronavirus stories and special reports, curated by Mike Allen everyday

Please enter a valid email.

Please enter a valid email.

Subscription failed
Thank you for subscribing!

Want a daily digest of the top Denver news?

Get a daily digest of the most important stories affecting your hometown with Axios Denver

Please enter a valid email.

Please enter a valid email.

Subscription failed
Thank you for subscribing!

Want a daily digest of the top Des Moines news?

Get a daily digest of the most important stories affecting your hometown with Axios Des Moines

Please enter a valid email.

Please enter a valid email.

Subscription failed
Thank you for subscribing!

Want a daily digest of the top Twin Cities news?

Get a daily digest of the most important stories affecting your hometown with Axios Twin Cities

Please enter a valid email.

Please enter a valid email.

Subscription failed
Thank you for subscribing!

Want a daily digest of the top Tampa Bay news?

Get a daily digest of the most important stories affecting your hometown with Axios Tampa Bay

Please enter a valid email.

Please enter a valid email.

Subscription failed
Thank you for subscribing!

Want a daily digest of the top Charlotte news?

Get a daily digest of the most important stories affecting your hometown with Axios Charlotte

Please enter a valid email.

Please enter a valid email.

Subscription failed
Thank you for subscribing!

Please enter a valid email.

Please enter a valid email.

Subscription failed
Thank you for subscribing!

Illustration: Eniola Odetunde/Axios

Last week, nine high-profile Hong Kong democracy activists went on trial on charges related to the 2019 mass protest movement there.

Why it matters: The trial is another step in Beijing's heavy-handed destruction of Hong Kong's liberal political traditions.

What's happening: The defendants include Lee Cheuk-yan, who has organized Hong Kong's annual Tiananmen candlelight vigil every year since 1989; venerated politician Martin Lee; former legislator Margaret Ng; and Jimmy Lai, owner of news outlet Apple Daily.

  • The defendants are charged with organizing an illegal assembly after they led a march of 1.7 million people in 2019 despite a police ban on protests.

The big picture: The charges are politically motivated and represent a degradation of Hong Kong's traditionally independent judiciary system.

  • "Martin Lee is the personification of the rule of law. He knows the law, he practices law, he reveres the law," wrote Fred Hiatt, editor of the Washington Post editorial page, in an op-ed published Feb. 21.
  • "That Chinese leader Xi Jinping now wants to put this distinguished 82-year-old barrister in prison perfectly illustrates the dictator’s contempt for the law. It shows, as it is meant to show, that no one in Hong Kong is safe any longer from the arbitrary repression of the Chinese Communist Party," Hiatt wrote.

Context: The charges are not related to the national security law that Beijing forced on Hong Kong in 2020. That law cannot be invoked for incidents that occurred before it took effect in July 2020.

  • But Hong Kong authorities, under China's guidance, have pursued every avenue of prosecution against pro-democracy activists. Several activists already charged with lesser crimes under existing laws, including Lai, have recently seen additional charges under the national security law, which carries far harsher punishments including up to 10 years or even life in prison.
  • "I have four trials for four incidents," Lee Cheuk-yan told me in a phone call on Monday morning just before he entered the courthouse for his trial.
  • When I asked him if he had been charged under the national security law, he said, “Not yet.”

What to watch: China is considering replacing the 117 seats in Hong Kong's lawmaking body currently held by largely pro-democracy representatives, according to a Wall Street Journal report, and giving them to Hong Kong-based members of the Chinese People's Political Consultative Conference, whose members are pro-Beijing.

  • The Hong Kong government also said it had found "deficiencies" in the editorial management of RTHK, the city's public broadcaster, and announced that the independent news outlet's director would be replaced with a bureaucrat with security experience but no journalism background.

The bottom line: The national security law has made it far more dangerous for Hong Kong residents to openly oppose politically motivated prosecutions, even if the charges themselves aren't under that law — making it that much easier for Beijing to further entrench authoritarianism in the city.

Go deeper: With Hong Kong arrests, China outlaws democracy itself

Go deeper

FBI, Homeland Security warn of increasing threat to Capitol

Photo: Eric Baradat/AFP via Getty Images

The FBI and Department of Homeland Security predict violent domestic extremists attacks will increase in 2021, according to a report reviewed by Axios.

Driving the news: The joint report says an unidentified group of extremists discussed plans to take control of the Capitol and "remove Democratic lawmakers" on or about March 4. The House canceled its plans for Thursday votes as word of the possible threats spread.

20 mins ago - World

Pope Francis set to make first papal visit to Iraq amid possible turmoil

Data: Vatican News; Map: Danielle Alberti/Axios

Pope Francis is forging ahead with the first papal trip to Iraq despite new coronavirus outbreaks and fears of instability.

The big picture: The March 5–8 visit is intended to reassure Christians in Iraq who were violently persecuted under the Islamic State. Francis also hopes to further ties with Shiite Muslims, AP notes.

"Neanderthal thinking": Biden slams states lifting mask mandates

States that are relaxing coronavirus restrictions are making "a big mistake," President Biden told reporters on Wednesday, adding: "The last thing we need is Neanderthal thinking."

Driving the news: Texas Gov. Greg Abbott (R) said Wednesday he will end all coronavirus restrictions via executive order, although some businesses are continuing to ask patrons to wear face masks. Mississippi is lifting its mask mandate for all counties Wednesday, per Gov. Tate Reeves (R).