Saturday, January 16, 2021

An enjoyable hike in the interior of southwest Lantau (Photo-essay)

2021 has not shown itself to be all that great a year thus far -- with continued political ructions as well as pandemic problems in the three territories that I hold the most dear (and, not coincidentally, have spent the most part of my life in).  In all honesty, what's been happening in Hong Kong alone seems enough to put more gray into my hair and worry lines onto my face.  But when I factor in what's been happening in the USA and Malaysia too, never mind the world at large, I sometimes find myself wondering how much more my heart can take.   
To help with both my mental and physical health, I've found myself turning to exercise and continued Hong Kong exploration by way of urban walks and countryside hikes.  And even while I was again dealt reminders of Hong Kong now being home to political prisoners on my most recent hike (this time by way of my catching sight of Shek Pik Prison, the maximum security facility where Joshua Wong is currently incarcerated), I must say that my first hike of 2021 was generally very enjoyable, and even outright exhilarating at times.     
For the first time in close to three years, I returned to a part of Hong Kong which I really like -- and would go to more often if it were more easily accessible.  As it stands, going there and back involves two bus and one ferry rides each way for me.  At least, as far as the hiking part of the excursion is concerned, things have been made quite a bit easier by my having discovered that one can access and leave the inland section of southwest Lantau without completing Stages 5 and 6 of the Lantau Trail in their entirety... :b
Cows resting by the trailhead
After warming up by walking for about half an hour along a 
catchwater with some scenic views, it's time to head uphill
Click on the image to get a panoramic view of Lung Tsai Ng Yuen,
whose continued existence I was glad to confirm on this hike
For a good part of our five hour hike, the only other person
I saw was my hike companion for the day!
I really do get the feeling that not that many people
have actually got to cast their eyes on this beautiful vista
The hike's high point: the view from Ling Wu Shan :)
Going down that hill is hairier than ideal but the views 
on the descent really are quite something --
and definitely worth stopping from time to time to savor
The loop route I had decided on took longer (5 hours) 
than anticipated to complete but we did manage to
get to the bus stop at hike end before darkness fell :)

Thursday, January 14, 2021

Eleven more security law arrests and confirmation of the first security law blocking of a website

A message that can be seen in various parts of Hong Kong
Those days when Hong Kong was a safe haven are, alas, now gone :(
I woke up this morning to learn that 11 more Hong Kongers have been arrrested under the national security law that China has imposed on Hong Kong.  On top of the 87 arrested previously, this brings the number of people arrested under this draconian law to 98 -- and it does seem telling that, to date, only four of those individuals have actually been charged (with, among others, all 55 people arrested last week for their involvement with the democratic primaries that took place last July not being formally charged (as yet) for the security law infringements they had been accused of).
At the time of my writing this blog post, I have not heard if any of them have been released on bail or formally charged yet.  I do hope that their cases will get sufficient coverage in the media to ensure that they will not just disappear into the system.  But, with so much happening these days, alas, attention can end up going elsewhere, including to the two members of the Hong Kong 12 who were not tried in Mainland China (and subsequently given jail sentences of up to three years) because they were minors and, instead, sent back to Hong Kong: one of whom, 17-year-old Hoang Lam-phuc, appeared in court yesterday on another, extradition bill protest-related charge; the other of whom, 18-year-old Liu Tsz-man, appeared in court today on a separate, similarly extradition bill protest-related charge and was also remanded into custody.  
Also appearing in court today was investigative journalist Bao Choy, whose shock arrest back in November for, essentially, doing her job was seen as a further blow to press freedom in the territory.  It was gratifying to read -- in a Radio Televion Hong Kong (RTHK) article, no less -- that  members of the RTHK Programme Staff Union staged a demonstration outside the court before her hearing to support her.  But it was disappointing, to say the least, to learn that RTHK took the decision to suspend her from production of Hong Kong Connection, the program she has been working on for some time now.  

Following up on another matter: Confirmation has now been received that internet censorship has indeed come to Hong Kong.  More specifically, internet service provider HK Broadband stated today that it has blocked access to Hong Kong Chronicles, a website that publishes material mainly on 2019 anti-government protests, to comply with the national security law.  Other local internet service providers, such as PCCW and China Mobile, have not come out and stated that they have acted similarly but there's little doubt that they too have been involved in what is the first censorship of a website by the Hong Kong authorities under this sweeping law being used to silence dissent.
To be sure, there are individuals even within the "yellow" camp who don't approve of the doxxing of police officers done on the Hong Kong Chroncicles website  But the point, as we know, isn't that doxxing per se is something that the powers that be here are intent on stamping out.  For, if so, they'd also block those "blue" websites that publish the personal information of "yellow" individuals but, unsurprisingly, have not done so.     
When looking at the big picture, it could be argued that the decision on the part of the authorities to block access to a website has greater repercussions for Hong Kong than the actual existence of the website.  On a practical level, the actions taken to block the website has resulted in the blocking of access to other websites whose only "crime" is to share the same ISP address as Hong Kong Chronicles.  But what's really worrisome is what else on the internet the security law will be used to block: with Wong Ho-wa, an Election Committee member who represents the information technology industry, outlining that such actions are a threat to Hong Kongers' freedom of information.
In the RTHK article about this, it additionally was noted that Wong "expressed concern that without a clear definition of what exactly is allowed online, even news websites could be blocked in the future over alleged national security violations.  "The official government still has no clear clarification or justification on their action or their rationale behind. Would the internet press be also be affected in the longer term? That we don't know," he said."  In other words: watch this cyberspace -- in the case of many Hong Kong netizens, very anxiously.

Tuesday, January 12, 2021

Chilly and chilling musings on a wintry evening in Hong Kong

I think I know how this little bird buffeted by the wind feels...
On cold winter days, misery loves company!
That year saw the Hong Kong Free Press put up a piece entitled "Why does Hong Kong feel colder than it actually is?"  This week, it had sadder cold weather coverage: reporting that Hong Kong recorded at least 11 deaths this past weekend where the cold weather is suspected to have played a factor.  And while none of the deceased have been specifically identified as homeless individuals, I can't help but wonder if they were; this not least since Hong Kong is experiencing a growth in its street sleeper population, who suffer so much when the temperatures hit extremes; due in part to establishments like branches of McDonald's -- which usually are open 24 -- hours shutting their doors, in line with anti-Wuhan coronavirus restrictions currently in effect
Another group of individuals I think and worry about at this time are those currently in prison, particularly those who are new to the experience (like Agnes Chow).  I hope that the men and women of Hong Kong's correctional services will act professionally, even humanely, towards the prison inmates they have been charged with looking after at this trying time.  At the very least, I hope they are aware of how terrible it would look, and be, if a political prisoner -- particularly one who's behind bars even while not found guilty of a crime (like, say, security law arrestees Jimmy Lai, Tam Tak-chi or Tong Ying-kit) -- ends up getting ill or worse, due to a combination of the cold weather and maltreatment (or, for that matter, the Wuhan coronavirus and maltreatment).
Also in my thoughts these past few days have been a number of Hong Kong judges and magistrates.  More specifically: I've been moved to wonder again about not just the genuine impartiality of certain members of the local judiciary but their actual intelligence and sanity after learning about a number of rather strange decisions and comments on their part. 
Take, as an example, Jacky Ip, the magistrate who today sentenced a university student to six months in prison for resisting arrest during an anti-government protest in Tsim Sha Tsui on Christmas Eve, 2019; this despite there apparently being no other charges made against the convicted individual.  Put another way: there appeared to be no real reason for the police to arrest him.  Also, how many people would willingly submit to being manhandled, even assaulted, the way we have seen the Hong Kong police deal with pro-democracy protestors?     

On the very first day of his assuming office as chief justice of Hong Kong (in the wake of Geoffrey Ma stepping down after 10 years on the job last Friday), Andrew Cheung found himself having to clarify that people attending court should be entitled to choose what they wear and arguing that "Hong Kong is a free society".  While I'm happy to see that former statement from him, I wonder aboutt the accuracy of the latter claim: this particularly after reading a Reuters report today that China plans further arrests of Hong Kong pro-democracy figures to stifle any return of a populist challenge to the current regime in Hong Kong (and, by extension, Beijing).    
Also chilling is a Washington Post report that in addition to last week's mass round up of pro-democracy activists being intended to intimidate those who value freedom and want democracy for Hong Kong, other aims of those arrests included the seizure of the passports of those perceived to be protest leaders and the collection of their communication devices -- the last of which the Hong Kong police have started sending to the Mainland China for data extraction.  
And lest it not be clear: hacking into these people's phones to try to lure folks into traps is just the tip of the iceberg of what they are seeking to do.  At the same time though, I wonder when the authorities can and will ever rest since it really may well be nigh impossible to find the leaders of a famously leaderless revolution?!

Sunday, January 10, 2021

A socially-distanced visit to Ikuchijima's Kosenji before the Wuhan coronavirus appeared on the scene (Photo-essay)

I watched my first film of 2021 (and in about three weeks) while holed up in my apartment -- like has become my usual practice on Sundays during this pandemic -- this afternoon.  When viewing Yasujiro Ozu's The Flavor of Green Tea Over Rice (1952), I found myself wishing I could travel to Japan again before too long -- and realizing that I still have by no means finished sharing photos from my October 2019 trip there!  
Suffice to say that 2020 really was quite the eventful year... during which I frequently felt a need and inclination to share about other topics besides vacations, however wonderful they were.  And 2021 is looking to be more of the same.  Still, here's deciding to devote this Sunday's entry to highlighting one of the places I visited back in October 2019: more specifically, the Seto Inland Sea island of Ikuchijima; located not too far away from Okunoshima (AKA Rabbit Island), which I had visited the previous day, but with very different attractions on it.  
Perhaps because the previous day had noticeably sunnier skies, there was a distinctly "off season" feel to Ikuchijima when I visited.  Those who know me will know though that this wouldn't have darkened my mood -- because, among other things, this meant that I could avoid the tourist crowd (see?  I was into social distancing before the Wuhan coronavirus appeared on the scene!)  and I frequently feel when doing so that the places I visit often feel noticeably more atmospheric... :)  
The Kosanji temple complex is Ikuchijima's main attraction and the sight 
alone of its main entrance should get you knowing it's quite the place!
Founded in 1936 and constructed over a span of 30 years, Kosanji
is a vast temple complex with many buildings modelled after some of 
Japan's most famous temples and shrines (in this case, those of Nikko)
Puppet Ponyo posing in front of a building that brings to mind
the Byodoin temple's main building in Uji
I really wasn't kidding when I talked about this temple complex
being large -- and should point out that a lot of it's also very ornate!
There's lots of stuff (statues of the Buddha, etc.) underground 
too in a grotto cave 350 meters (1,155 feet) in length! 
Things get truly surreal when you ascend a hill within the temple grounds 
and find yourself in the vast Italian marble sculpture garden
known as -- yes really -- the Heights of Eternal Hope for the Future!
Covering some 5,000 square meters, that known more succinctly
as Miraishin no Oka in Japanese was created by Kazuto Kuetani, 
a Hiroshima native who now lives in Italy 

Perhaps most astounding of all is that this whole temple complex
was created by a man, industrialist-turned-Buddhist priest 
Kozo Kanemoto, in honor of his beloved mother (a representation of 
which can be found in nearby Choseikaku Villa, where she lived)! :O

Friday, January 8, 2021

Deep into Hong Kong's winter of discontent

People Power's Tam Tak-chi in freer times: specifically, 
at the annual pro-democracy rally back on July 1st, 2018
Joshua Wong too in freer times: this back on October 1st, 2018
The Hong Kong police kept everyone they arrested on Wednesday behind bars overnight but late yesterday, all bar one of the 53 people arrested were out on bail. Yesterday (Thursday), American human rights lawyer John Clancey was the first to be let out.  Following this news, reports trickled in of the others having been released on bail too, including -- after some delay -- Chu Hoi-dick and Leung Kwok-hung, the two Hong Kong pro-democracy political figures who have had been arrested the most since June 9th, 2019 (with seven arrests each).  
The sole member of the 53 people arrested on Wednesday still being held by the police is former Democratic Party leader Wu Chi-wai, who was remanded into custody for the separate offence of violating bail conditions after the police found his British Overseas (National) (BNO) passport when they searched his home.  In addition, the powers that be took the unusual step yesterday of arresting two people who are already behind bars.  
One of them, veteran political activist Tam Tak-chi, was previously denied bail for a sedition charge under Hong Kong’s Crimes Ordinance that is scheduled to only go to court in May; making it so that by the time he is actually tried, he will already spent a full eight months behind bars.  The other is Joshua Wong, who appears to be continuing to be accorded "special treatment" that's quite a bit different from what the likes of Barbara Demick seem to think he is accorded by the Hong Kong Correctional Services.  

More specifically, the 24-year-old political activist was brought to the Lai Chi Kok Reception Centre for questioning without a lawyer present from the maximum security Shek Pik Prison, where he is serving his 13.5 months sentence for instigating, inciting and participating in an unauthorized assembly, in chains and shackles.  Frankly, until I saw Jimmy Lai similarly chained and shackled last month, I don't believe I had seen any arrestees in Hong Kong moving around in more than handcuffs.  And to see that of people accused -- but not even actually convicted -- of fraud and guilty of nothing more than involvement in a non-violent protest, never even mind their "celebrity" status, really beggars belief.

My friend over at The Fragrant Harbour entitled her blog post for yesterday "Winter is coming".  Actually, like Benny Tai, I tend towards the opinion that winter has already arrived in Hong Kong.  (And no, I'm not referring to the weather -- though, coincidentally, another cold snap has arrived in Hong Kong, prompting the Hong Kong Observatory to issue frost as well as cold weather warnings!)
Again, like Benny Tai, I hope -- and do believe that "despite Hong Kong [having] entered a cold winter... many Hongkongers will still use their own way to go against the wind".  To be sure, it is looking like our current winter of discontent will be long and hard as well as cold.  (And the threats keep on coming from the north: with the latest news this evening involving confirmation that the Great Firewall of China is coming to encircle Hong Kong too).  
But I, for one, still am not prepared to give up hope that spring will come again at some point to chase the winter blues away, in Hong Kong as well as elsewhere; this not least because a good number of Hong Kongers remain the most spirited and freedom loving people I know.  (And for the record: yes, I reckon they could give many people in such as the USA a lesson or two with regards the valuing of democracy too.) 

Wednesday, January 6, 2021

The largest wave of security law arrests to date in Hong Kong

today: the woman with the yellow umbrella -- Claudia Mo
Picture from July 1st, 2017, of another those arrested today
Like on too many occasions in 2020 (see here and here for examples), I woke up this morning to learn that arrests had been made of pro-democracy personalities.  Since it's happened so often already, some might say that I -- and the rest of Hong Kong -- should have been prepared for this occurence.  But even while it's not unexpected, it's hard to digest
For one thing, new ground was broken today in terms of the scale of the operation: with some 1,000 police officers having been involved in the arrest of 53 people accused of subversion (and therefore liable to be sentenced to life imprisonment under China's national security law for Hong Kong imposed last summer).  There also was an exponential increase from just the day before in the number of people arrested under the security law Beijing has imposed on what The Guardian's report of today's event described as "the once semi-autonomous city".  (Clearly, an update is needed to the Hong Kong government's "Hong Kong -- the Facts" page -- specifically, that which states that "According to the Basic Law, Hong Kong's political system and way of life remain unchanged for 50 years."
For another, the "crime" that these people (pictures and profiles of whom can be found in this humanizing Twitter thread) are being accused of amounts to their having "conspired to obtain 35 or more seats at the Legislative Council".  In other words, as lawyer Antony Dapiran has pointed out: "they tried to win an election".  
More specifically, as has also been pointed on Twitter, this time by Reuters Global News Desk editor Gerry Doyle: "the crime here, let's remember, is holding an unofficial primary to see who might run for office. that's it".  (And for the record: that primary attracted more than 610,000 voters; many of whom are hardly assured by security minister John Lee's statement today that they will not be targeted for arrest by the authorities.)    
As history professor Jeppe Mulich was moved to note: "If there was ever any doubt that the [National Security Law] was about criminalizing dissent, today's mass arrest of opposition lawmakers should settle it."  To which Hong Kong resident daaitoulaam added: "It also confirms that the reason the [Legislative Council] elections were postponed was the [Chinese Communist Party] knew they were going to lose control of LegCo. *today's subversion arrests are for organising a primary to help pan-dems win that majority in the legislature*"  

By the way, remember the pandemic that was supposedly the reason for the postponement (by at least a year) of the Legislative Council election that was supposed to take place last September -- for which many of today's arrestees would have run for office?  Let the record show that Hong Kong had 25 new Wuhan coronavirus cases today; less than half the number of the political arrests made in the territory just this morning.
Something else of note is that another line was crossed today with the first ever arrest of a foreign national who also happens to be a human rights lawyer.  (John Clancey is an American citizen, Hong Kong resident, the chairman of the Asian Human Rights Commission and treasurer of Power for Democracy.)  How prescient Financial Times journalist Yuan Yang was when she Tweeted the following on June 3rd of last year: "This might be coming to Hong Kong — @cdcshepherd's @ft profile of 6 people imprisoned in China on national security grounds, from a human rights lawyer to a Uighur scholar to the 2 Canadians still held as retribution for Huawei's CFO's house arrest." 
Will this move foreign governments to stronger, if any, action?  Given their records thus far, it would be realistic, not pessimistic, to predict that there will be, at best, just "hand wringing and stern words and waffling" but not much by the way of anything substantive on their parts.  At the same time, Beijing and its Hong Kong acolytes do seem to have deliberately timed these mass arrests (and latest bid to snuff out Hong Kong's political opposition) when much of the world would be distracted by the American senate runoff vote in Georgia, two weeks before Joe Biden’s inauguration, and just after the European Union agreed a trade deal with China.  Which would seem to indicate that they do care to some degree at least about international reaction to their actions.  
Already, the calls have come, both from within and outside the European Union, to call off that trade agreement which has yet to be ratified by the European parliamentHong Kong's last governor, Chris Patten, had particularly strong words on this matter: stating that the deal “spits in the face of human rights and shows a delusional view of the Chinese Communist Party’s trustworthiness”; and is "a massive strategic blunder" on the part of the European Commision.
In addition, Antony Blinken, Joe Biden's nominee for Secretary of State, has issued the following statement: "The sweeping arrests of pro-democracy demonstrators are an assault on those bravely advocating for universal rights. The Biden-Harris administration will stand with the people of Hong Kong and against Beijing’s crackdown on democracy."  And while there of course is the possibility that all this is just "stern words" and hot air, it also is true enough that it's far more assuring for those of us who still care about democracy and human rights to see and hear these utterances from these quarters than if there had been silence all around. 

Monday, January 4, 2021

Small victories and one bombshell on the first Monday of the new year

Some people are really impatient for the future to arrive
(and have put up the Chinese New Year decorations)

...even while others seem stuck in the past (and haven't put 
the Christmas decorations back in storage yet; though, to be fair,
it's still only the 11th day of Christmas after all!)
After ringing in the New Year with a long weekend (that saw colder weather conditions than is usual -- complete with the issuing of frost warnings by the Hong Kong Observatory! -- in this part of the world), the bulk of Hong Kong went back to work today.  On the Wuhan coronavirus front, Hong Kong's 50th day of the fourth wave saw 53 new cases and one additional death today.  As the medical experts made clear though, it's too soon to relax the current social distancing measures and people are pretty much resigned to their remaining in place through to the end of the first month of 2021, if not longer.
At the same time, there are many things that people still are not resigned to -- and have shown that they will fight against, sometimes with winning results even.  At the end of 2020, we had the case of the underground reservoir in Bishop's Hill whose planned demolition has been halted after public outcry.  And the beginning of 2021 now sees the government similarly swiftly reversing a decision, announced yesterday, to move the daily coronavirus briefings online -- to enable, some journalists feared, the filtering out of questions from the press that the authorities did not want to answer; again, after an outcry.       
Ideally, of course, we would have bigger victories than these to celebrate.  But at a time when even an annual online poll for Hong Kong's "Person of the Year" conducted by Radio Television Hong Kong (RTHK) has ended up being scrapped (probably in response to criticisms by pro-Beijing mouthpieces unhappy that the likes of Nabela Qoser and Apple Daily were among the voting options along with the likes of Carrie Lam and Dr Chuang Shuk-kwan), people aren't going to look at even the smallest gift horse in the mouth!   

Once again though, one only has to look at events on the other side of the Hong Kong-Mainland China border to see how much worse things can be, and get.  Today alone saw news reports of two Mainland Chinese lawyers who helped the families of the 12 Hong Kongers arrested by the Guangdong coastguard back in August having been had their licenses revoked by the Chinese authorities and -- this represents quite the bombshell -- the disappearance from public of Alibaba founder Jack Ma (post his earning the displeasure of the Chinese Communist Party).

With regards to the latter: chances are that he'll get back into view at some point (though there's no guarantee of that: remember Xiao Jianhua, the billionaire businessman abducted from Hong Kong's Four Seasons Hotel and spirited across the Hong Kong-Mainland China border back in February, 2017?).  But regardless of whether Jack Ma turns up behind bars (a la Anbang's Wu Xiaohui) or not, you can bet that he'll be, a la actress Fan Bingbing or Wanda's Wang Jianlin, a more subdued version of the personality we thought we knew.

For those who think that doing business in and with China is like elsewhere (and, unbelievably, there still are patsies who believe that, including the head of the European Union  -- or maybe she's less patsy than willing collaborator, or, at the very least, willing to turn a blind eye to human rights abuses and more for monetary gains), here's the latest proof that it is not.