Sunday, October 1, 2023

Absolutely NOT in a celebratory mood on China's National Day

Yesterday in Hong Kong. (Just imagine how many more
cops there would have been on the street today.)
Any mood one has to celebrate anything quickly dissipates
when seeing the police (vehicles included)
The proverbial "they" say that "A picture paints a thousand words".  I trust that the above images tell you that Hong Kong is NOT back (to normal).  And that the prevailing mood is far more police state than "Happy Hong Kong" -- so much so that when this evening's fireworks display began, my first thoughts involved "Hong Kong is being bombed" and a thunderstorm having arrived to rain on non-existent parades rather than, well, anything festive in nature.  
And oh, I'll spare you the images of tens of thousands of literally red flags on display in various parts of the territory -- including inside a Church of England cathedral! -- as I frankly have already seen enough of them -- particularly after Hong Kong's second, scarier Handover -- to last a lifetime.  This even though I did NOT venture out of my apartment all of today (though some brave, defiant souls did).
Should you wish to view more photos though, here's a link to my blog post from nine years ago today.  Frankly though, viewing that blog entry saddens me more when viewing it today.  Because, well, we had so much hope then... especially compared to now.     
My blog post from four years ago also makes for sad reading (what with it including a report of a young man -- who we now know is named Tsang Chi-kin -- having been shot by the police that day).  At the same time though, re-reading those blog entries only makes me convinced that the resistance needs to go on; this not least because people were indeed right to demand to have genuine universal suffrage and protest against police brutality then, and still are.  

Thursday, September 28, 2023

Nine years on from the beginning of the Umbrella Movement

My blog entry from nine years ago today.  And seven years ago today.  And six years ago today.  And four years ago today.  And three years ago today.  And two years ago today.  Suffice to say that I've not forgotten the (start of) the Umbrella Movement.  And that remembering it is something that is part of ensuring that Hong Kong will not be a part of the People's Republic of Amnesia (which, for me, is not only about forgetting what happened in Mainland China on June 4th, 1989, but, also, what's happened  to Hong Kong since its Handover by the British to China).            

In the words of Milan Kundera (which, of course, was quoted in the recently banned short story Our Time): 'The struggle of man against power is the struggle of memory against forgetting".  And for the record, this is what preceded those lines: "The first step in liquidating a people is to erase its memory. Destroy its books, its culture, its history. Then have somebody write new books, manufacture a new culture, invent a new history. Before long that nation will begin to forget what it is and what it was..."
So, remember, remember... not just the 5th of November and 4th of June but also the 28th of September, the 9th, 12th and 16th of June, the 21st of July, the 31st of August, etc.  And, also, remember that "Resistance is not futile" (and even the Borg can be, and were, defeated)!.

Tuesday, September 26, 2023

Political prisoners in the news, and press freedom under threat some more in Hong Kong

Hopefully, they can't imprison us all too!
Old habits can die hard. Often, when I pass by a newstand, I find myself looking at tthe copies of the South China Morning Post (and thinking "Wow, the newspaper looks so thin now compared to what I was used to seeing of it").  I also find myself looking for copies of Apple Daily and it still can be a jolt to remember that it is no more, and that its founder-owner, Jimmy Lai, is behind bars.
As it so happens, "Jimmy Lai marks his 1,000th day in Hong Kong’s Stanley Prison on Tuesday [i.e., today], an ignominious anniversary that should remind the world of Mr. Lai’s bravery and China’s disdain for international treaties and the rule of law.  As the Wall Street Journal's Editorial Board reminds us, "What makes his sacrifice so compelling is that Mr. Lai could have avoided a prison cell by fleeing to one of his homes abroad. China and its Hong Kong factotums have sought every way possible to target Mr. Lai for daring to advocate for freedom for Hong Kong’s people. 
"The 75-year-old has been convicted for his peaceful participation in three protests, including a vigil to commemorate the Chinese victims of the 1989 crackdown on Tiananmen Square.  He was also convicted on business fraud charges the U.S. State Department has rightly denounced as “spurious.” But his biggest trial, on national-security charges that could carry a life sentence, is scheduled for December. The government has denied Mr. Lai his choice of lawyer in the case." 
A reminder: Hong Kong's national security law trials are jury-less trials. Instead, three judges handpicked by the government try the cases. Consequently (and tragically): "Everyone in Hong Kong knows he will be found guilty—an example of how Hong Kong is following China’s dictates despite the promise Beijing made to Britain of autonomy for 50 years after 1997 in a formal treaty."
Speaking of China: this really is a country with so many political prisoners -- the global leader, in fact!  Another prominent political prisoner recently in the news due to a sad anniversary passing: Uyghur scholar Ilham Tohti, held incommunicado since 2017 and whose 9th anniversary of sentencing was on September 23rd.  Also in the past week came confirmation that another Uyghur (AKA Uighur) scholar, anthropologist Rahile Dawut, has been sentenced to life imprisonment -- and has, in fact, been behind bars since 2017, when she was "disappeared" by the Chinese authorities.
And lest it be not realized that it's not only people in the "periphery regions" (be it Xinjiang, Tibet, Inner Mongolia or Hong Kong) who are made political prisoners, my Twitter timeline today also contained information about jailed human rights lawyer, Li Yuhan, being in ill health ("walking w difficulties due to spinal injury, eye sight deteriorating, looking gaunt and aged, depressed, sorrowful, and helpless").  For the record: Li Yuhan is 74 years old; just one year younger than Jimmy Lai.  So yeah, I'd understand fears people have of elderly folks like them dying in prison.  

Bringing the focus back to Hong Kong: yesterday saw Ronson Chan, the head of the Hong Kong Journalists Association (HKJA), sentenced to five days of jail for obstructing a police officer who asked him for his identification card last September in Mongkok.  But he's lodged an appeal against the decision and -- somewhat surprisingly, given what Hong Kong is like these days -- was granted bail in the meantime.
By the way: Chan’s arrest occurred two weeks before he was set to pursue a six-month journalism fellowship programme at Oxford University. He was granted bail then without travel restrictions, so that he could indeed go to Oxford, and his trial was postponed until after his return.  
I remember Ronson Chan stating when he was in England that he would definitely be returning to Hong Kong and some people labelling him foolhardy and having a marty complex for doing so.  But, like Jimmy Lai, he really obviously f**king loves Hong Kong -- and I truly hope that their doing so will not be in vain and, instead, pay off in the long run.

Sunday, September 24, 2023

Looking ahead to some upcoming events without being inclined to celebrate all of them!

What's that blue inflatable object in Victoria Harbour?
On closer look, I'm guessing it's supposed to be a blue moon! :D
Some days ago, I read a post over on Bluesky (which I'm now also on!) from a man living in the USA complaining about how he's already seeing lots of Halloween decorations up in stores and such in his area.  I've already seen some here too in Hong Kong but, for the most part, their numbers (still) pale in comparison to the decorations for two other events that will take place before October 31st comes along.  

The first of these is variously known as the Mid-Autumn Festival, Lantern Festival and Mooncake Festival and is one of my favourite Chinese traditional festivals even though Hong Kong's temperatures whenever it comes along never strike me as autumnal, never mind mid-autumnal!  I do love mooncakes though, and also the lantern displays that are set up in locales such as Victoria Park.  An added bonus for this mid-autumn: the fire dragon will be parading through the streets of Tai Hang again for the first time since September 2019!

A few days after the Mid-Autumn Festival will come an anniversary that I'm not all that inclined to celebrate.  Some people and organizations are though -- or, at least, seek to look to be -- and have opted to bypass putting up lantern displays in favor of those involving the flags of the People's Republic of China (and sometimes -- but not always -- the flags of the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region).  On even an aesthetic level alone, I tend to find this disappointing and, often, horrifying.
Maybe my mind's playing games on me but I can recall a time not so long ago when, even on October 1st, PRC flags weren't flying or hanging about in so many parts of Hong Kong.  In any case, as I told a few friends yesterday, I am planning to celebrate World Sake Day on that day since it also falls on October 1st, and -- let's face it -- I would be lying if I were to deny that I love sake far more than I love the People's Republic of China!

Friday, September 22, 2023

The sad, the ludicrous and the inspirational in contemporary Hong Kong

Freedom (graffiti and otherwise) can be hard to see in Hong Kong
Some months back, a friend and I were talking about a political prisoner she knows and has visited in jail.  When she voiced her worries that he might die in prison, I didn't know how to comfort her; this not least because the possibility does exist.  Here's the thing: a number of Hong Kong's political prisoners are not in the best of health.  And it's also the case that some of them are not only senior citizens but also facing the prospect of lengthy, even life, sentences.  
Just look at the ages of some of the Hong Kong 47, which ranges from individuals in their 20s all the way to the late 60s.  And then there's Jimmy Lai -- whose son, Sebastien, was quoted in an AP article that came out yesterday as saying "I don’t want to see my father die in jail. He’s 75, he’s in prison, he does risk just dying. It is very worrying"

As readers of the piece are informed, reminded, Jimmy Lai "has been in detention since he was arrested in 2020 under a sweeping national security law imposed by Beijing. The Hong Kong businessman faces up to life in prison if convicted. He has already been sentenced to five years and nine months in a separate case.  He also is a former media mogul who has a whole host of people waging a campaign to free him (albeit, sadly, thus far to no avail).
At the other end of the spectrum are political prisoners who are not household names and considerably younger in age -- yet also have got caught by Hong Kong's web of (in)justice thanks to their involvement in the anti-extradition bill-turned-pro-democracy protests.  Individuals whose names we only learn about if their cases are so ludicrous, and/or the verdicts involving them so unjust, that they end up being reported by news outlets.
Take, for example, Carrie Lui, a 30-something-year-old woman who has already served the nine month sentence that she was given but had sought to appeal her conviction anyway, only to be denied that opportunity at the Court of Appeal.  In view of the far lengthier sentences that many Hong Kong protestors have been given or are facing, hers doesn't sound all that harsh on the face of it.  But consider this: her nine month sentence came about after she was found guilty of possessing articles with intent to destroy property because she was found to have three spanner -- yes, SPANNERS -- on her at the time of her arrest in Central on November 13th, 2019!
As per the Hong Kong Free Press report on her case: "Lui’s legal representative said on Thursday that the District Court had erred in refusing to consider Lui’s testimony. During the trial last October, Lui testified that she was on the way to Central that day to meet her colleagues, and that she took three spanners from a toolbox with her because she needed to adjust lighting appliances." (Lui is a designer by trade.)  "She said she also wore a mask to protect herself from tear gas."  Something that, frankly, many people were doing at the time since the police was unleashing so much tear gas in Hong Kong at the time!
"Her representative added on Thursday [i.e., yesterday] that videos showed that the scene was quiet at the time of the offence and that there was no violent behaviour observed. Therefore, Lui did not necessarily know that people were taking part in illegal acts. She also stayed on the pavement and avoided the roads, her representative said."  (Reading that last line made me nostalgic... for a time -- which really existed not that long ago! -- when we truly believed that doing such would help us to stay on the right side of the law.)
Another case that has caught people's attention is an on-going one involving a pair of students who have pleaded not guilty to rioting near a university campus in late 2019.  Fan Tsz-suet and To Mei-yi were Hang Seng University students at the time of their arrest on November 12th, 2019.  Early that day, some 10 to 20 people had set up roadblocks outside Tate’s Cairn Tunnel, which Hang Seng University's campus is located close to.  After the police arrived at the scene, people sought to run away upon catching sight of them.  
Among the people bidding to flee from the police were Fan, who was heading in the direction of an academic building, and To, who was making her way towards a university dormitory.  The prosecution has admitted that " There was no evidence that Fan and To engaged in any violent acts".  Yet they are on trial for rioting, a charge that carries a maximum sentence of 10 years (although jail terms delivered for District Court cases -- which is the level of their trial -- are capped at seven years)!
Truly, when you look at the details of many of the cases involving "rioting", "sedition" and the national security law here in Hong Kong, the "crimes" don't seem to merit the punishments being meted out to those found guilty of them.  Take Wong Yat-chin, the 22-year-old former convenor of Student Politicism (a now defunct pro-democracy student group), who just came out of prison after serving a 2 year sentence for chanting protest slogans on the street that were deemed to "incite subversion".  

Upon his release on Wednesday, Wong was reported as saying about Hong Kong that "I'm inseparable from this land....I'll try my best to stay here & share its joys [and] sorrows."  Truly, I'm in awe -- that he appears to have emerged from prison being able to still think, believe and assert this.  
When reading about the likes of him, and Jimmy Lai, I can't help but thinking of the following lines from Nelson Mandela's favorite poem, Invictus
I thank whatever gods may be
  For my unconquerable soul...
It matters not how strait the gate,
      How charged with punishments the scroll,
I am the master of my fate,
      I am the captain of my soul.

And long may that continue for these incredible people, and many others who really f**king love Hong Kong.

Tuesday, September 19, 2023

Thinking of Jimmy Lai even as Hong Kong continues to add to its total number of political prisoners

This sight got me thinking of Jimmy Lai... and I wouldn't be 
surprised if that's the case for a number of others too
A 20-year-old Hongkonger was sentenced today to two and half years imprisonment for "rioting" when she was 16 years of age.  The case of Tsang Ling-yi revolved around a protest which took place on October 6th, 2019, the day after the government’s controversial Face Covering Regulation – meant to deter pro-democracy protesters from hiding their identities – came into effect
A Hong Kong Free Press piece on Tsang's case reported that "Tsang’s sentencing was previously pushed back to allow more time for mitigation and for the judge to decide an appropriate punishment. Given her age, the court had twice sought background reports to assess if Tsang should be sentenced to a training centre, according to local media. Training centres are an alternative to imprisonment for young offenders and place emphasis on rehabilitation."
The following remarks by Goose Lee prompted by the news of this case also hit home for me: "People outside of Hong Kong regularly ask me how things are now and I tell them that people are still being arrested and imprisoned EVERY DAY. It’s unrelenting and extremely depressing. They’re generally stunned to hear this".   And add to this that there already are so many political prisoners behind bars in Hong Kong; some of them because they have been denied bail rather than having actually been found guilty of any crimes.

Among them is, of course, Jimmy Lai -- whose name was mentioned a number of times in the British government's Six-monthly report on Hong Kong: 1 January to 30 June, 2023 released today. An example: "British national Jimmy Lai’s national security trial has been further delayed. His prosecution is highly politicised and I raised his case in Beijing last month. We continue to press for consular access. The international community is paying close attention to his case and many others. We urge the Hong Kong authorities to uphold the rule of law and to comply with international norms and standards."
Still, Jimmy Lai's supporters are persisting in ensuring that he is not forgotten and that his story will be known to more people.  For example, yesterday saw a thoroughly sympathetic National Review piece on him, a number of whose sections I'm quoting here:
He is a legendary businessman. A champion of liberal democracy. And a political prisoner in Hong Kong. His story is heroic...
He is an ardent democrat, yes. A freedom fighter, in a sense. He is also an ardent Catholic. Lai wanted to devote himself to what he held to be the higher and most important things in life...

Jimmy Lai has been in prison since the last day of 2020. The authorities raided his newspaper, twice — first with 200 agents, then with 500 — shutting it down and arresting various executives, in addition to Lai.

[Jimmy Lai's son,] Sebastien points out that [the Apple Daily staff] worked valiantly till the end. “Reporters were staying up until 5 in the morning, because 5 is usually when they knock on your door and grab you away to the police station...
The Chinese authorities have invented charges against Jimmy Lai... They have convicted him of fraud. They have convicted him of unauthorized assembly... They want Lai out of the way and shut up. They are also sending a message: “If we can do this to the great and famous Jimmy Lai, we can do it to anyone.”
According to reports, Lai is kept in solitary confinement for 23 hours a day. He is in his mid 70s. What the government is doing to him, as Sebastien says, “is cruel. Just cruel.”
Sebastien is a key part of the worldwide campaign to highlight Jimmy’s case and win his release. The Chinese government has put bounties on the heads of Hong Kongers in exile — exiles who continue to speak out against tyranny in their home city. Asked whether he is taking precautions, Sebastian pauses. He then says, “Look, my father does not deserve to be in jail, and I’ll keep fighting until he’s out.”...

He admires his father a great deal, and he understands his father’s decision to stay: to be imprisoned, rather than seek exile. “You don’t get to choose where you were born,” says Sebastien. “But often you get to choose where you call home. And Dad chose to call Hong Kong home, and when someone comes for your home and your people, you stand firm.(my emphasis)

Sunday, September 17, 2023

Hong Kong after dark in the national security law era and Covid times (Photo-essay)

As the famous saying goes: "A picture says a thousand words".  So while I've already blogged about Hong Kong's reduced nightlife, here's offering the following photo-essay of photos taken on different evenings this past week that will help give an idea of what different parts of urban Hong Kong look like after dark these days.  And yes, ironically, I was out at night more than usual this week as it so happens -- include earlier this evening, in fact! ;b

From a distance, the lights look far from out in Hong Kong

And the views of Victoria Harbour from the Star Ferry
still can look downright magical

But when one turns one's attention to the interior of the 
Star Ferry though, I'd wager that Hong Kong's status 
as Asia's World City doesn't look super solid :S

I really wish it were otherwise but many of Hong Kong's
neon signs have seen better days  -- and we're talking here 
of those that remain (as opposed to have been taken down) :(

have highlighted but few locals under the age of 60 (or is it 70?)
would seriously think of spending an evening in!
As for Four Seasons Pot Rice: the queues are long gone -- seemingly due 
to a combination of jacked up prices, the food no longer tasting all that special, 
and people not dining out that much anymore at night in these Covid times
Still, what really hammered home how quiet Hong Kong now is
after dark was seeing how empty Times Square was this evening
I realise that this was a Sunday (as opposed to Saturday or Friday) 
night -- but even so, right??!!  (Put another way: I'd never have
imagined a sight like this in the pre-national security law era)