Thursday, June 1, 2023

Already thinking of June 4th on the first of June

It may not look like much but the corner building
used to house a museum I'd visit annually
I used to make a point to visit the June 4th Museum (that commemorated the Tiananmen Square Massacre) around this time of the yearMy most recent visit there, on June 1st, 2021, coincided with a number of Food and Health Department Services also paying a visit to the premises.  As a result of their visit, the museum closed down -- and no longer exists.   

For a number of years, it also was a tradition of sorts for me to attend the Candlelight Vigil at Victoria Park on June 4th.  Again, that option no longer exists for me; with the authorities having closed the whole park -- Hong Kong Island's largest urban park -- on June 4th last year and in 2021 to the public.  (So people couldn't just not assemble to remember and mourn on the football courts, as had been the case for 30 years, but also avail themselves of other park facilities including tennis courts and children's playgrounds.)
In 2020, 2021 and 2022, the pandemic was the reason/pretext given for banning large public gatherings like the June 4th candlelight vigil.  But despite the pandemic no longer being considered to be at an "Emergency" level, there will once again be no candlelight vigil at Victoria Park on June 4th this year; this not least because the Hong Kong Alliance in Support of Patriotic Democratic Movements of China, its organizing body, no longer exists and a number of its key members, including Chow Hang-tung and Lee Cheuk-yan, are currently behind bars.     

So Hong Kongers are having to come up with other ways to comemmorate June 4th this year; with many determined to do so despite the authorities very clearly trying to extend the borders of the People's Republic of Amnesia to include Hong Kong.  In addition to the removal of books about the Tiananmen Square Massacre from public libraries, a number of incredibly petty moves have been undertaken in recent days.

This includes the harassment of establishments such as a store in Sai Kung run by former pro-democracy District Councillor Debby Chan after she announced on Facebook that her shop will give away free candles to commemorate June 4th and the Hunter Bookstore operated by another former pro-democracy District Councillor, Leticia Wong, after she made known that she had trilingual scripts of May 35th, a play about June 4th, in stock by the police and representatives of such as the fire services and the housing department.  (As has been seen with the June 4th Museum and also a number of "yellow" restaurants and bars, the shops get accused -- often with no basis -- of violating minor regulations.  For example, Debby Chan's store was visited by the police who were there ostensibly to check if it was selling alcohol to underaged customers!)    
For the record: the film in question is To Be Continued, a local documentary about an iconic North Point entertainment landmark and its founder, legendary impressario Harry Odell, which had its world premiere in April at the Hong Kong International Film Festival.  And having been one of the people who saw it at the Hong Kong International Film Festival, I can personally attest to it not being about the Tiananmen Square Massacre (unlike, say, The Gate of Heavenly Peace, which I viewed not so many years ago -- but which can now seem like another life time now -- at the Hong Kong Arts Centre, and is available to be viewed on Youtube)!
In any case, Dora Choi, one of To Be Continued's co-directors (along with Haider Kikhaboy), has confirmed that all three screenings of her film scheduled for this Sunday have been cancelled. "It’s a great pity that To Be Continued cannot be screened on June 4 (Sunday). Since the film was screened in April, weekends have always been a peak time for audiences. Also, the two directors are only available to meet the audience on weekends", she told the Hong Kong Free Press. 
More than by the way, this is not the first time that the Golden Scene Cinema has felt obliged to cancel screenings of films as it was the cinema where screenings of Inside the Red Brick Wall, the award-winning documentary about the PolyU siege, had been scheduled to take place back in March 2021.  And I must admit to wondering if the Golden Scene Cinema folks are feeling particularly targeted by the powers that be and thus feel a greater need to be more careful than most because the cinema and its parent organisation is considered to be part of the Yellow Economic Circle.    

Seeing how To Be Continued was my favourite of the films I viewed at the 2023 Hong Kong International Film Festival, I do hope that people will have more chances to view it (and take the opportunity to go do so).  I've just checked the Golden Scene Cinema website and see that there are other screenings scheduled for it: on June 9th, 11th, 12th, 16th, 18th and 19th.  Seeing as they all appear to already be sold out, I hope that more screenings will be added -- though I guess public as well as private screenings will not be taking place on June 4th.

Over on Twitter, HK Hemlock (of the Big Lychee, Various Sectors blog) has jokingly asked: "Why not shut all all cinemas on June 4? Indeed, why not close everything on that 'sensitive' day? They could call it a Number 64 Signal."  Thank goodness for small mercies that Hong Kong cinemas will, in fact, stay open on June 4th.  And, if one were to look at the offerings, one might even see films playing on the day in which resistance and rebellion are depicted as positive, admirable actions too!

Tuesday, May 30, 2023

Amnesty International hands the Hong Kong government a publicity victory even while other events taking place don't place in it a great light

Inside an airport that Ugyhur folks would do well to steer clear of
In a statement issued earlier today, the international NGO revealed that "Abuduwaili Abudureheman spoke with Amnesty International and told us he did not travel to Hong Kong, contrary to previous information received".  Amnesty International also stated that: "We are pleased that Abuduwaili Abudureheman is accounted for. We will continue to strive to offer support to people who reach out to us when they believe they or their loved ones are at risk of human rights violations." 
It's worth noting that the NGO's international reputation already has taken a major knock in the past year with the stance they've taken on Ukraine.  And with regards to Hong Kong: what this Abuduwaili Abudureheman incident has done is provide a stick for the authorities to attack the credibility of the news outlets that carried the disappearance story, and to be able to say "See? We were telling the truth" and have proof to show for it -- something which I'm sure they'll make a big deal of for some time to come!

Something that I'm not so sure that the Hong Kong government would like the world to take note of is the trial that began yesterday of 13 individuals accused of "rioting" when they broke into the Legislative Council on July 1st, 2019.  Among them are actor Gregory Wong (who plead not guilty along with five others), and former University of Hong Kong Student Union president Althea Suen and pro-democracy activist-politician Ventus Lau -- both of whom are not even 30 years old yet.
Another brave Hong Konger who has tried to do what he thought was best and good for Hong Kong, at his own peril is former Apple Daily boss Jimmy Lai. He too was in the news again yesterday; thanks to a Hong Kong court's denial of his "request to terminate his national security trial, pressing ahead with a landmark case seen as part of Beijing’s crackdown on the city’s pro-democracy movement."
As an Associated Press piece noted, Jimmy Lai's "lawyers [had] filed an application to halt the trial, raising concerns that his case was being heard by three judges approved by the city’s leader, instead of a jury.  When Hong Kong returned to China in 1997, it was promised that trials by jury, previously practiced in the former British colony, would be maintained under the city’s constitution. But in a departure from the city’s common law tradition, the security law allows no-jury trials for national security cases.  
But: "On Monday, Judges Esther Toh, Susana D’Almada Remedios and Alex Lee unanimously rejected Lai’s request, saying there was no reason to believe they “would be biased, actually or apparently, against” Lai."  Many people are less sure about that. After all, Jimmy Lai has long been a thorn in the flesh of their bosses, the Hong Kong government, and their bosses' bosses, the Chinese government over in Beijing.
Also, more than by the way, thus far, the jury-less national security law trials have had a 100% conviction rate -- something very different from the conviction rate of jury trials in Hong Kong. So even if the judges aren't necessarily specifically biased against Jimmy Lai, the evidence would seem to point to their having a predisposition to find all defendants of national security law trials guilty as charged.
For the record: Jimmy Lai's national security law case is the first one where the accused has been charged with "collusion against foreign forces".  Also, for the record, that's one of three national security law crimes that he has been charged with.  And, again, let the record show: this is the case for which he has been denied his choice of lawyer: Timothy Owen, King's Counsel.  When it finally gets going on September 3rd, I do hope that the world will not have forgotten this brave man and his beloved Hong Kong.  

Sunday, May 28, 2023

The Civic Party disappears from Hong Kong's political landscape, and a Ugyhur man "disappears" after arriving at Hong Kong airport

Civic Party member Audrey Eu on July 1st, 2012 -- less than 
11 years ago but which can seem like it was another lifetime ago now
In its hey day, the Civic Party was Hong Kong's second largest pro-democracy party.  Formed on March 26th, 2007, its co-founders included lawyers -- and then Legislative Councillors -- Margaret Ng, Audrey Eu and Ronny Tong (the last of whom has inexplicably defected to the pro-Beijing camp). 100 member strong at its establishment, "[t]he party was known for representing professionals in Hong Kong including lawyers, accountants and scholars, and was considered a more moderate democratic voice that appealed to the city's large ranks of middle class voters."
If truth be told though, the Civic Party's demise doesn't come as too much of a surprise since it's not been active for some months already.  Of course, it didn't help that "China's imposition of a sweeping national security law in Hong Kong in 2020... saw a number of its members arrested" and some others flee into Hong Kong.  
Representatives of the party that are now in exile include former Legislative Council members Dennis Kwok and Tanya Chan.  Civic Party members currently behind bars include three more former Legislative Councillors Alvin Yeung, Jeremy Tam and Kwok Ka-ki who, as far back as April 2021, had -- together with Lee Yue-shun, who like them was among the 47 pro-democracy politicians and activists arrested under the national security law on February 28th of that year, but had been among the few of them granted bail -- had called for its disbandment, saying that "it has completed its historical mission"
Brave words meant to encourage.  At the same time, I think many of us are only too aware that Hong Kong today is one where being pro-democracy and brave can pose dangers.  And that many people's freedoms and personal safety are at greater risk than just a few years ago; with the national security law that China imposed on Hong Kong on June 30th, 2020, having made Hong Kong (and the world at large) a scarier and less -- not more -- secure place for many folks.
If one needed any more reminders of that, consider the reports in recent days of a Ughyur man having gone missing after he arrived at Hong Kong airport from South Korea on May 10th.  According to Amnesty International: "Abuduwaili Abudureheman has not been heard from since he sent a text message to a friend on 10 May. In the message, Abudureheman said he was being interrogated by Chinese police after arriving at Hong Kong airport... The friend has made Abuduwaili’s disappearance public after becoming increasingly concerned for his safety."
Xinjiang-born Abduduwaili had spent the last seven years studying in Seoul – completing a PhD in Sports Industry and Leisure in 2022.  Amnesty International stated that it "understands that Abuduwaili was on a Chinese government “watch list” of Uyghurs and other Muslims from the Xinjiang region, based on the fact that he had a history of overseas travel. Amnesty International has documented numerous instances of the Chinese government targeting Uyghurs both at home and abroad with arbitrary incommunicado detention, lengthy imprisonment and torture purely based on the fact that they had travelled outside of China" and fears that he has been abducted and taken over the Hong Kong-Mainland China border.

Yesterday evening, the Hong Kong government issued a statement denying "Amnesty International’s accusation that a Uyghur student disappeared after being interrogated at the airport, and said that government records showed that he had not entered or been refused entry to the city."  That may indeed be the case.  But the fact of the matter is that the Hong Kong government very sadly has previous with regards to denying that people had "disappeared" from Hong Kong before they then "reappear" in Mainland China.  
I sincerely hope that Abduduwaili's whereabouts will be revealed soon, and that he will be safe.  In the meantime, his case is, as Joe McReynolds, Tweeted a "[t]ragic reminder that anyone entering Hong Kong now needs to make safety choices just the same as if they are entering the mainland; there's zero practical distinction if you're a dissident, a member of a persecuted ethnic group, or otherwise a target for the [Chinese Communist Party]."  And ditto, of course, for anyone who is already living here.

Friday, May 26, 2023

Hong Kong's not all back to normal (yet) but at least there was a parade again on Tam Kung Birthday today (Photo-essay)

Today is Buddha's Birthday in the Chinese lunar calendar (and a public holiday in Hong Kong).  It's also the first day of the Cheung Chau Bun Festival.  And it's also the birthday of Tam Kung, a Taoist sea deity worshipped in Hong Kong (and Macau) -- in whose honor there is a parade of lions, dragons and unicorns over in Shau Kei Wan.  
Thanks to the Wuhan coronavirus, there was no Tam Kung birthday parade in 2020, 2021 and 2022.  But today saw a return of that annual traditional event (which I last checked out in 2017).  If  memory serves me right, there were a lot more cops in attendance today compared to six years ago and the parade seemed less grand this year.  Still, I've got to say that I enjoyed seeing what I saw over in Shau Kei Wan for the most part this afternoon -- and I once again came away from the festivities with a bunch of photographs of what I thought were pretty cool proceedings...

One of a number of temporary (community) prayer spots 
erected in various parts of Shau Kei Wan today

Unicorn dancer and supporters/crew making its way 
along Shau Kei Wan Main Street

Dancing "lions" duelling by the entrance of 
Acrobatic lion dancers doing their thang!
The lion troupe's drummer put up an impressive show too!
And there were dragons too -- on the street, and temple roof!
It's just a few meters from the Tam Kung Temple in
Shau Kei Wan to Victoria Harbour/the area typhoon shelter
It wasn't Tin Hau's birthday but her temple (which also 
houses a Buddha statue) on Shau Kei Wan Main Street
was festively decorated today too! :)

Wednesday, May 24, 2023

Making mountains out of molehills -- an adding to the mountain of resentment already felt by many people -- in Hong Kong

Flying on Cathay Pacific is not something 
many people are wont to do any more!
A few months ago, I flew on a plane for the first time since October 2019.  Like in 2019, I opted to take Cathay Pacific flights.  Something I noticed on both my flights this year: the level of English proficiency of the cabin staff appeared to have gone down.  So it came across to me as rather ironic that in recent days, reports have cropped up about a Cathay Pacific cabin crew member having made fun of a passenger's lack of English fluency (to two colleagues) after the passenger asked for a carpet (instead of a blanket).      
As it so happens, the passenger in question was from Mainland China (and probably didn't know (much) Cantonese either).  And probably because of that, the Cathay Pacific management felt obliged to take quick and dramatic action.  As chronicled by Aaron Busch over on Twitter: 9.59pm, May 22: Cathay Pacific says they are aware of a complaint aboard CX987, apologises[;] 2.28pm, May 23: CX says they have suspended the flight attendants involved for three days, pending an internal investigation[;] 9.43pm, May 23: Three flight attendants fired"!  As in not just the cabin crew member who did the mocking was fired but also the two of her colleagues who had listened to her! 
As if this wasn't already quite the reaction, the arline's CEO, Ronald Lam, also has said that he will personally lead a taskforce to conduct a review into the company's code of conduct.  But even that does not appear enough to satisfy angry Mainland Chinese social media users and Hong Kong's Chief Executive!  
Wading in to give his two cents on the matter, John Lee proclaimed that "The words and deeds of the flight attendants hurt the feelings of compatriots in Hong Kong and the mainland and destroyed Hong Kong's traditional culture and values of respect and courtesy".  And we also have Secretary for Transport and Logistics, Lam Sai-hung, weighing in to express "his deep concern to Cathay and [demand] that [the] management immediately improve the company's services. "I am very distressed by the inappropriate comments made by some of the Cathay Pacific cabin crew members," he said in a statement. "The incident is a serious breach of Hong Kong's reputation for service excellence, long-standing values, and ethical standards"!
Talk about making a mountain out of a molehill!  But that, alas, appears to be the norm as far as the Hong Kong government is concerned these days.  In recent days, John Lee also has "condemned an unusual rise in the number of requests to withdraw from the city's organ donation system, saying Tuesday that police would investigate suspicious cases.  According to the government, the city's centralized organ donation registration system received nearly 5,800 withdrawal applications in the five months since December, when the government raised the possibility of establishing an organ transplant mutual assistance program with mainland China"; a number that is significantly higher than normal.
Obviously, what is getting the goat of the government is that the withdrawals can be seen as "a form of subtle protest against proposals to establish deeper medical ties with mainland China".  As The Guardian article about this noted: "Many Hongkongers are mistrustful of the health system in mainland China. Fears about organs harvested from prisoners are especially common.
But since organ donation is a voluntary thing in Hong Kong, people surely have a right to decide to change their mind about donating their organs just as they have a right to decide whether to take part in the organ donation scheme or not in the first place?  In which case, it would again be making a mountain out of a molehill to ask the police to investigate the withdrawals.  As is getting the police (and lawyers?) to determine if laws were broken in the process?

If nothing else, this is just going to result in even more resentment along with derision at the authorities on the part of Hong Kongers.  Already, someone has been moved to post the following on the LIHKG discussion forum: "We have nothing for you to take away, you took it away, and now you even want to take our organs, right?"

Speaking of jokes: I'm not sure how long it will stay on Youtube but check out this video in which American comedian Paul Ogata pokes fun at the Hong Kong Tourism Board's "Hello Hong Kong" campaign (and slogan).   As the saying goes, sometimes you have to laugh; otherwise you'll cry.  Sadly, that's a feeling I've come to know too well as a resident of national security law-era Hong Kong. :S   

Monday, May 22, 2023

Three banes of my life are here: political oppression; the pandemic; and the summer heat!

It's (literally) hot out there again now!
The Hong Kong Observatory issued its first “very hot weather” warning of 2023 this morning at 11.45am, indicating the mercury was expected to reach at least 33 degrees Celsius today.  Before the warning was cancelled at 5.30pm, temperatures had risen to highs of 34.7 degrees Celsius in Sai Kung town, 34.4 degrees Celsius in Sheung Shui and Yuen Long Park, 34.3 degrees Celsius over at Lau Fa Shan, and 34 degrees in Tai Po and Ta Kwu Ling.  And even though I did not venture into the New Territories, I still felt on the hot side where I was!
With the issuing of the "very hot weather warning", we've got confirmation that summer has arrived in Hong Kong -- and if this one goes the way of those in recent memory, it will stay into October, some four and half long months away.  As it stands, we've already been warned by the folks over at the Hong Kong Observatory that "2023 is likely to be one of the warmest years on record"; with the possibility of record breaking heat this summer having brought about a decision to issue new "extremely hot" weather warnings when the mercury soars above 35 degrees Celsius this summer.
If it's not already clear: summer is my least favourite season of the year.  And while this has been true of all the places I've lived in which has four seasons, I must say that this is particularly so of national security law-era Hong Kong.  
This is because, along with the high heat, the summer also brings with it bad memories of events that took place on the days and nights such as July 21st, August 5th, 2019, August 31st (and not just because of what happened inside Prince Edward MTR station) and September 15th, 2019.  Oh, and no longer being able to go out and take part in the once annual June 4th candlelight vigil and any more pro-democracy marches and rallies (including on July 1st) really is frustrating and depressing; this even though I suppose I should thank the authorities for making it so that I won't sweat like a pig and risk getting heat rash while out protesting on hot summer day and nights as used to be the case!
During the summers of 2020, 2021 and 2022, I sometimes found myself wondering how much of the oppression -- and sometimes accompanying depression -- I felt was due to the authorities, how much was due to the heat and how much was due to the pandemic.  
In 2023, I have pretty much concluded that the heat does have a negative psychological effect on me; ditto the pandemic.  But, really, what upsets and oppresses me the most is what's happening to Hong Kong politically; this especially since the bad news can feel so relentless and like it will never stop coming.  (A candidate for today's lowlight, by the way, would be it having been reported in the Hong Kong Free Press today that 13 more people were found guilty by a judge on Saturday of "rioting" in 2019, including a man who claimed to be a photojournalist.) 

Professor Ivan Hung of the University of Hong Kong said that there currently are about 220 patients were in a serious or criticial condition in hospital in Hong Kong.  Note: Hong Kong no longer requires everyone who tests positive for Covid to be hospitalized though; so, hopefully, the hospitals will not be overwhelmed like they were last year.  
Also, Hong Kong no longer has a mask mandate in place; but it's noticeably so that more people are masking (again) these days than was the case a month ago.  Still, I do wish that more people masked on public transportation and enclosed spaces such as cinemas as is currently the case.  Also, why oh why are there people who wear masks under their noses and mouths?  Like, I'm sorry, but unless you breath through your mouth rather than the nose, the former option is not going to help you or anyone breathing the same air as you!  And for the latter: Masks aren't talismans, you know!

While the anti-extradition/pro-democracy protests made me really f**king love Hong Kong and feel bonded to Hong Kongers (and a part of a great community), the pandemic has left me questioning the intelligence and humanity of many of my fellow human beings; this not least when it comes to discussions of Covid vaccines as well as the Wuhan coronavirus itself.  For the record: I'm pro-mask and also pro-vaccine; and I believe that if more people were, we would have a better chance of vanquishing this coronvirus -- which, sadly, does not look like it will be just disappear and die off the way that SARS did in 2003 but, instead, will be here and plaguing us some time to come; just like China's national security law for Hong Kong. :(   

Saturday, May 20, 2023

The Hong Kong courts deal another blow to Jimmy Lai and rule in law in the territory

Remember when Apple Daily not only still existed, and people 
 "A Hong Kong court rejected an activist publisher’s latest effort Friday [i.e. yesterday] to use a British lawyer to defend him against national security charges as Beijing tries to crush a pro-democracy movement." The activist publisher in question of course being 75-year-old Jimmy Lai, the founder of the now-defunct pro-democracy newspaper Apple Daily that was a thorn in the flesh of the authorities in Hong Kong and over in Mainland China for many years.
Jimmy Lai already is serving time in prison for a lesser offence that he was found guilty of last December and was already behind bars prior to that after being denied bail post being slapped with the national security law charges. He faces up to life in prison and a possible extradition to Mainland China if convicted under the national security law -- and pretty much everyone knows that's what his enemies dearly want to happen.       
In November, Hong Kong’s top court approved Lai hiring veteran lawyer Timothy Owen for the case, only to have the city’s national security authorities proceed to block that approval.  The political saga over Lai’s choice of lawyer is widely seen as part of the city’s crackdown on dissidents after the protests."
Yesterday's decision by the high court was not unexpected. But it still was upsetting nonetheless; this not least because the "explanations" that came for the decision laid bare how very powerful the national security law is.  As per the AP report: "Judge Jeremy Poon rejected Lai’s request to overturn the committee for safeguarding national security’s decision. Poon ruled courts have no jurisdiction over the committee under the security law." 
A reminder: this is the national security law that Beijing imposed on Hong Kong on June 30th, 2020.  And this is the same national security law which "criminalizes acts of succession, subversion, terrorism, and collusion with foreign forces [which] has led to the arrests of many prominent democracy activists and damaged faith in the future of the international financial hub."
The repercussions of this for more than Jimmy Lai is made clear in by the Wall Street Journal editorial board in a five paragraph opinion piece entitled Hong Kong's Jimmy Lai Rules which pulled few punches and is so good that I figure it's worth quoting in its entirety:
A Hong Kong court ruled Friday that imprisoned newspaperman Jimmy Lai can’t hire the British lawyer he wants for his upcoming national security trial. That came the morning after Mr. Lai’s son Sebastian accepted the Cato Institute’s prestigious Milton Friedman Prize on behalf of his father in Washington. The two events tell the story of the erosion of the rule of law that made Hong Kong a world financial center. 
Sebastian Lai spoke movingly of the father he hasn’t seen in two years because the son may also face arbitrary arrest in Hong Kong. His family’s experience attests to how rights and freedoms that were fundamental to Hong Kong’s success have been eliminated.
The Communist Party hammer is the national-security law that China imposed on Hong Kong in 2020. Hong Kong’s national-security law that was pushed through over huge public protest. It is intended to trump other laws that get in the way of what authorities want to do, such as deny Mr. Lai his choice of lawyer. Now the government will be even freer to act because the High Court said national-security issues aren’t subject to normal judicial review. 
This is a blank check to a government not shy about locking people up. It came about because when Hong Kong Chief Executive John Lee was embarrassed by three courts that sided with Mr. Lai, he took his case to China. In December Beijing ruled that the Committee for Safeguarding National Security—chaired by Mr. Lee—had the power to ban foreign lawyers in national-security cases...
This is more erosion in the rule of law since any national-security charge must already be heard by special judges. And it’s more evidence that the rights that investors once took for granted are no longer protected by Hong Kong law. By awarding Mr. Lai its Milton Friedman Prize, the Cato Institute reminds us that, if a prominent man like Jimmy Lai can have his business shut down and be imprisoned, no one is safe in Hong Kong.

 (my emphasis in bold)