Wednesday, May 5, 2021

Still trying to stand up for one's rights and against injustice even when it's against the odds because it's the right thing to do

Seen in Hong Kong back in November 2019
 
Also from late 2019: Don't say those protestors don't have a point!
 
I went to Yuen Long for the first time in more than two years yesterday.  It used to be that this northwestern New Territories town was a place I liked to go post-hike (because of the good eats to be had there).  But after what happened on the night of July 21st, 2019, there, I've come to associate it with tragedy, violence and police-Triad collusion rather than good things.  
 
Happily, I had a pleasant time yesterday.  I even discovered that there are a good number of yellow shops in the town -- and that many of them have no or few qualms displaying their colors.  In addition, my observation was that the yellow shops are -- like is the case in many neighborhoods, including mine -- better patronized than those which are not.  Indeed, the first yellow eatery I tried to have dinner didn't have a table available and its yellow neighbor only had a place for me because a couple had just paid the bill seconds before I went inside it!
 
So I'm sure that there are many residents in Yuen Long as disappointed as I am -- or maybe more so -- upon learning today that ex-legislative councillor Lam Cheuk-ting and eight other victims of the Yuen Long mob attack of July 21st, 2019, have decided to drop their civil suit against Police Commissioner Chris Tang.  Lest it be thought otherwise, it's not because they've now decided that he's not in the wrong.  Rather, Lam Cheuk-ting explained that the case has become “too expensive” to fight and that resources could be better utilised to help other pro-democracy activists facing prosecution.  
 
In the words of his lawyer, Albert Ho: "“It seems that it would take a very long time for the case to end… we think it is time to stop, in order to save further costs.. The opponent on the other side [i.e., Chris Tang] is not only formidable, but they [the Department of Justice, which is backing him] have unlimited resources. And they are crazy! They would use every method, every possible avenue to try to delay the matter, try to complicate the matter, and to exhaust all our financial resources.”  
 
And I'm sure plenty of Yuen Long residents would have applauded journalist Bao Choy's announcement today that she has filed an appeal against a magistrate’s decision to convict her after she accessed public records to investigate police behaviour during the “7.21” mob attack.  No doubt she will face a costly and lengthy process like that which Lam Cheuk-ting had imagined for the case he had sought to pursue.  But, for now, she has decided to try and fight.  As she explained in a statement: "I have struggled with whether I should be more selfish and let the case and myself go... But, after much reflection, I know that if I give up the pursuit of justice now, I will lose sleep and regret it for the rest of my life."
 
From time to time, I get asked by friends living abroad whether the Hong Kong protests are over.  I tell them that Hong Kong has not seen protests on the streets for some time but this does not mean that the protests are over.  And while, if truth be told, Hong Kongers think the chances of the pro-democracy movement having any success these days are low to non-existent, people still protest to support one another and, also, because they sincerely believe that it is the right thing to do.
 
Take, as an example, what is currently being done to former Democratic Party chairman Wu Chi-wai -- whose courageous actions on June 12th, 2019, few Hong Kongers are going to ever forget.   Currently in detention despite not having been found guilty of any charges (including the sedition that has seen him and dozens of others who took part in the democratic primaries last July been put behind bars ahead of their trial scheduled for later this month), he had sought to attend the funeral of his father that's scheduled for later this week, only to see his request rejected by the government's Correctional Services Department.
 
In a statement issued today, the authorities maintained that it's "too risky" for the long-time moderate politician to be allowed to do so; this not least because "the date, time and location of the funeral have been extensively reported on social media platforms recently, and there were calls on the Internet for showing support at the scene on the day of the funeral."  In other words: Wu Chi-wai has supporters who had wanted to be with him to pay their respects to him and his late father -- and this is something which threatens the authorities.     
 
As journalist Lok Sum-kei observed in a Tweet: "Wu Chi-wai is being held before trial. He has not yet been convicted of a crime. As the only son in his family, he was not allowed to attend his father's funeral. Instead, the govt offers to livestream the funeral via zoom - something Wu said was disrespectful and rejected."  And yes, I can see some people thinking: witnessing the funeral via zoom is better than nothing.  But I, for one, support Wu in rejecting that lame offer and continuing to object to his unjust treatment by the authorities -- because, like in so many other instances, what is offered is unacceptable and makes a mockery of the actual request and situation.   
 
Speaking of pushback against what's unacceptable: The European Union (EU) yesterday suspended efforts to ratify a controversial investment deal with China because of tensions between Brussels and Beijing.  It didn't use the language that Philippines foreign affairs secretary, Teddy Locsin Jr., employed in a Tweet asking China to steer clear off its waters but its message still was clear enough.  And if not, check out this speech by MEP Hannah Neumann about how human rights, and the EU's “solidarity with the Uyghurs and the democratic movement in Hong Kong has to be more important than any potential… economic benefit market access could have.”  (Hear that, New Zealand, and those delusional Hong Kong-based expat business executives who think the press threatens their freedom more than the Hong Kong government, among others?) 

Monday, May 3, 2021

Blows to Hong Kong's press freedom on World Press Freedom Day

Members of Hong Kong's Fourth Estate out in force 
 
The press also have most definitely had a presence
at many a Hong Kong pro-democracy protest
 
Today is World Press Freedom Day.  On its dedicated United Nations website, this year's theme is trumpeted as “Information as a Public Good”, which is supposed to serve as a call to affirm the importance of cherishing information as a public good.
 
 
 
 
 
Make no mistake though: Hong Kong's press freedom has been much impacted by the coming into being of China's national security law for Hong Kong late last June, and if wasn't as though it wasn't already under threat before.  To coincide with World Press Freedom Day, the Hong Kong Journalists Association (HKJA) released its yearly survey on press freedom today and the results were not pretty, with: 99 per cent of its respondents stating that the Beijing-enacted national security law had harmed the city’s free press; 85 per cent of journalists surveyed agreeing with the statement that Hong Kong government was the source of suppression on free press; and the journalists surveyed giving 32.1 points out of 100 for press freedom in Hong Kong – an all-time low since the local press freedom index was introduced (in 2013).
 
Sadly, it really is not looking like things are going to get better any time soon.  And I am saying this about Hong Kong in general as well as the press in Hong Kong.  Among the (other) news covered by RTHK today was that concerning the resignation as People Power's chairman of Ray Chan -- one of the people who ran in the democratic camp primaries last July and was subsequently arrested, then charged with "subversion" under China's national security law for Hong Kong and remanded in custody since February while awaiting trial later this month.
 
Some time ago, Chan and a number of fellow defendants (e.g., Claudia Mo) began deleting their social media accounts. And his resignation from People Power follows in the wake of a number of others (e.g., the Civic Party's Alvin Yeung, Kwok Ka-ki, Jeremy Tam and Lee Yue-shun, and the Labour Party's Carol Ng) feeling obliged to resign from their parties.  (Today also has seen Lam Cheuk-ting's resignation from the Democratic Party, although this piece of news doesn't appear to have as wide reportage in the English language press as yet.) 

These actions presumably were taken to convince the Hong Kong and Chinese governments that they are not dangerous threats in order to be able to released on bail, if not permanently. But what this also means is that, even if the individuals concerned end up being found innocent of the security law charge against them, they may no longer feel able to speak up for Hong Kong

Which gets us back to the press.  Yes, they cover the news.  But sometimes, they also are the news, not least because and/or when they get attacked by the police and the authorities.  And then there are those members of the Fourth Estate who end up becoming political activists and politicians.  Among the more notable examples in Hong Kong are Emily Lau, Claudia Mo and Gwyneth Ho.  And it says so much about Hong Kong that two out of that trio are currently in detention (despite not having been found guilty of any charges -- as yet) and thus adding to the overcrowding at its detention centers that the Correctional Services Department (CSD) has complained of!        

Saturday, May 1, 2021

Disease and discrimination come together in the case of domestic workers in Hong Kong

Why are there still people in Hong Kong who refuse to 
wear masks (and able to get away with doing so)?!
 

Hong Kong reported its first untraceable mutated Wuhan coronavirus case two days ago.  As it so happened, the infected individual is a domestic helper from the Philippines.  This prompted the Hong Kong government to not only issue mandatory testing notices for people who had visited a shopping mall, a park, and a wet market that the she had visited -- normative practice in Hong Kong these days -- but, also, order the entire domestic worker population of Hong Kong (which numbers in the hundreds of thousands) to undergo tests for the coronavirus and plan to make all of them be vaccinated against the coronavirus -- something which most assuredly is not something considered normal or, for that matter, entirely reasonable.
 
 
 
 
Are the authorities trying to ensure the domestic workers are not infected by their employers (something which has most definitely happened here)?  Somehow, I doubt that this government would care so much about the welfare of this long mis-treated and under-valued community.  Still, if the authorities go ahead with their mandatory vaccination plan for domestic workers, it might feel like sweet justice indeed if, at some point in the future, cases arise whereby a fully vaccinated domestic helper is exempt from being quarantined but her -- for the domestic workers are almost always female -- unvaccinated employers get locked away (after Hong Kong quarantine regulations are changed to reflect the fact that vaccinated people are less likely to spread the coronavirus as well as catch it than unvaccinated individuals)!  
 
Getting back to reality: it's become clear that there is now silent spread in the community of the mutant coronavirus strain whose first local untraceable case has caused such a kerfuffle.  And while, at present, no one's talking about a fifth wave having begun in Hong Kong (and today's -- and for that matter, the last 30 days' -- coronavirus statistics for the territory remain reassuringly low), one really shouldn't let down one's guard as yet.      

Worryingly, however, people -- including the not yet (fully) vaccinated, and most definitely not just domestic workers either -- have been out socializing in droves in recent days (and nights) after bars, nightclubs and the like were allowed to reopen on Thursday.  Also, I feel like the number of people not wearing masks as well as not wearing masks properly has increased too (perhaps because people who have been vaccinated, even if with the lower efficacy Sinovac, feel that they are now at liberty to do so?).  And for the record: the people I've seen out in public without masks on are far more likely to be elderly local folks, entitled white expats, South Asian men and smokers regardless of ethnicity rather than domestic workers per se!

Wednesday, April 28, 2021

Fears regarding the restriction of movement out of Hong Kong as well as gripes regarding the restriction of movement and gatherings within the territory

Remember this demand?
 
A lot of people were out protesting this two years ago today
 
Back on August 28th, 2019, some 120,000 people came out to take part in the second protest march against an extradition bill that would send people to Mainland China -- specifically, its prisons.  Two years on exactly, Hong Kong lawmakers approved another bill that has struck fear in Hong Kongers: one which makes changes to the city’s Immigration Ordinance that give sweeping powers to the territory's immigration chief to ban residents and others from entering Hong Kong, and -- this is what really worries people -- will be used to prevent people leaving the city.
 
It may seem ironic that Hong Kongers now fear not being allowed to leave the city whereas, just two years ago, their biggest fear involved people being removed from the city.  But what this tells you is that Hong Kong has become far more like Mainland China as well as under Beijing's yoke in the intervening time (particularly with the enactment of China's security law for Hong Kong), and that Hong Kongers (still) are not happy about their legal and political system (and so much else besides) becoming closer to that of their supposed Motherland.

It's almost unimaginable these days but, for decades, many people hoped that Mainland China would become more like Hong Kong rather than the other way around; and this includes a good number of the participants of the (previously) annual June 4th candlelight vigil in Victoria Park along with the event organizers (who also are the people behind the June 4th Museum).  Sadly, the likes of Lee Cheuk-yan are having problems fighting for democracy in Hong Kong, never mind China, these days; this not least because they have been put behind bars and are facing extended time in prison, no thanks to their often facing multiple charges.   
 
 
And what exactly is the current Wuhan "coronavirus situation" in Hong Kong?  A grand total of seven new cases today; only one of which is local (as opposed to imported).  And if you were to look at the daily new case numbers over the past 30 days for this territory with an estimated population of 7.5 million people, I reckon it's safe to state that most of the rest of the world would consider themselves in a pretty good state if their numbers could match Hong Kong's!  So well is Hong Kong doing, in fact, that the government (also) announced the easing of social distancing measures yesterday (that are set to take effect from Thursday (tomorrow)).   

Of course, this being the Hong Kong government, the new regulations that it has introduced is displeasing a lot more people than should be the case -- and puzzling journalists, restauranteurs and restaurant patrons alike.  And surprise, surprise (not!): medical experts have pointed out that these new rules are not backed up by science and cannot be relied upon to prevent coronavirus transmissions!  In addition, they are not giving much, if any, incentive for people to get vaccinated since, as public health professor Benjamin Cowling has noted, "Vaccinated people here are mostly required to behave in the same way as unvaccinated people, perhaps giving the impression that vaccination doesn't make much difference?"   
 
Perhaps if gathering restrictions were relaxed to allow such as outdoor candlelight vigils attended by people who have been vaccinated as well as would be wearing masks to take place, Hong Kong's anemic vaccination drive would get more willing participants.  (And, medically, it's been determined that the risk of coronavirus transmission outdoors is significantly lower than it is indoors!)  But that's not going to happen here in Hong Kong, is it?  This particularly since there currently is a ban in place on masks being worn at protests!     

Tuesday, April 27, 2021

Hong Kong is still freer than Mainland China but more repression and restrictions are on their way

Scene from what may well be the last June 4th memorial event
I'll be able to get into Victoria Park for (back in 2019)
 
Actually, if the authorities have their way, there won't be pretty 
much any mass protest -- however peaceful -- in Hong Kong again :(
 
 
The silencing of Chloe Zhao over in Mainland China began after an interview she did (and was published) in 2013 -- which contained a quote about the country of her birth being "a place "where there are lies everywhere" -- resurfaced earlier this year.  At this point in time, there is not even a scheduled Mainland Chinese release date for the triple Oscar-winning Nomadland  (whose leading actress, Frances McDormand, also took home an Academy Award yesterday) -- though, in a show of how Hong Kong still differs in many ways from the land over on the other side of the Mainland China-Hong Kong border, this film is currently playing in cinemas here.
 
I've been meaning to check out this highly acclaimed film for some time now, and its triple Oscar win gave me the extra impetus to finally go and view it.  I'm glad I did because Nomadland is truly a beautifully compassionate cinematic offering.  Honestly, it is so sad to think pretty much a whole entire country (minus Hong Kong and possibly also Macau) will be denied the chance to view it, and learn from it and its director.
 
Having now seen the film, I realize that it was entirely in character for Chloe Zhao to have delivered the beautiful acceptance speech she did yesterday, one in which she: spoke about having learnt from Chinese classic literature that 'People at birth are inherently good"; maintained that "Even though sometimes it might seem like the opposite is true, I have always found goodness in the people I met, everywhere I went in the world"; and said that this award was dedicated to "anyone who had the faith, and the courage to hold on to the goodness in themselves, and to hold on to the goodness in each other, no matter how difficult is to do that."
 
I just hope her faith in people to be good will be returned in kind: if not now, then in the not too distant future.  Sadly, her words actually got me thinking of another beautifully talented and sensitive individual, one who wrote in her diary that "I still believe, in spite of everything, that people are truly good at heart".  And while I don't think Chloe Zhao is in any danger any time soon of sharing Anne Frank's fate, I must admit to worrying from time to time in the past year or so (specifically, since the announcement of China's security law for Hong Kong, never mind its actually coming into being) that Hong Kongers will have fates similar to the Jews and other people condemned by the Nazis as well as the Uyghurs of Xinjiang.  
 
Of course there are people (still) who think that I'm over-exaggerating Hong Kong's woes.  After all, it's not even currently in as bad a boat as protestors in Myanmar.  But consider that the authorities here have effectively outlawed even peaceful protests by doing such as sending people to jail for organizing and/or taking part in peaceful assembliesHong Kongers may technically still have the right to free speech, assembly and movement (under the Basic Law, no less).  However, all you have to do these days is to open your eyes and observe what's going on to know that's really not the case any more. 

Just consider the following headlines of a trio of Hong Kong Free Press pieces put up online today (and click on the links to read the articles): Fifth senior official quits Hong Kong public broadcaster RTHK; National security clampdown casts shadow over Hong Kong's annual Tiananmen Massacre vigil; and Organizer of Hong Kong's mass pro-democracy demos faces police probe, as force demands financial records.  In addition, tomorrow will see an immigration bill go on the agenda of the now opposition-less Legislative Council that would give the authorities virtually unlimited powers to prevent residents and others from entering or leaving the territory.  
 
If passed, potentially as soon as tomorrow (since there probably won't be that much discussion of -- never mind voiced opposition to -- it), the bill could take effect as early as August 1st.  Which is why I have friends who have talked about it being imperative that they leave Hong Kong before that date.  This in addition to friends who have already left. :(    

Sunday, April 25, 2021

Wheel of Fortune and Fantasy left me longing for more (Film review)

The poster for the official Closing Film of this year's
Hong Kong International Film Festival features the
lead actresses from my favorite part of the triptych
 
Wheel of Fortune and Fantasy (Japan, 2021)
- Part of the Hong Kong International Film Festival's Galas program
- Ryusuke Hamaguchi, director and scriptwriter
- Starring: Kotone Furukawa, Ayumu Nakajima, Hyunri, Katsuki Mori, Kiyohiko Shibukawa, Shouma Kai, Fusako Urabe, Aoba Kawai
 
Despite Ryusuke Hamaguchi having already won a number of accolades internationally (including at Locarno) as well as his home country, I wasn't familiar with his work prior to checking out this offering from him which won the Silver Bear Grand Jury Prize at this year's Berlinale.  But after viewing Wheel of Fortune and Fantasy, I don't only reckon the award was richly deserved but also am making a point to remember his name and look forward to checking out other of his works.  
 
A short film triptych, all of whose segments feature female protagonists and fate playing a significant part in their stories, Wheel of Fortune and Fantasy begins with an intriguing opening chapter entitled Magic (or Something Less Assuring) which has a young model (Kotone Furukawa) discovering that her best friend (Hyunri) has fallen for her ex-boyfriend (Ayumu Nakajima) whom she still harbors strong feelings for.  While she doesn't disclose this past connection to her best friend, she does go and confront her ex-boyfriend with this fact.  What he decides to do with this information is interesting to behold, and so too are the actions she decides to take after seeing his reaction to her.    
 
The second chapter of the film, this one entitled Door Wide Open, also has fascinating plot developments which are imaginatively constructed yet appear to easily be within the realm of possibility in the real -- not just reel -- world.  In this case, the scenario in question involves a mature student (Katsuki Mori) who, at the request of her young college student lover (Shouma Kai), seeks to set a "honey trap" for a professor (Kiyohiko Shibukawa) she admires but he bears a grudge towards for having failed him in the course he took with the professor.  Suffice to state here that the extended interaction that she has with the professor in his office made for riveting as well as pretty amusing viewing (and, if one's not dependent on subtitles, listening) -- and that I, for one, would have been fine with it having gone on for several minutes longer than in fact was the case!  
 
The sense that the stories he presented are too short is strongest for me with regards to Wheel of Fortune and Fantasy's third and final chapter.  Once Again has a lightly sci-fi premise, in that it's set in a (near) future -- or alternate reality? -- where a computer virus which has disabled most of the internet.  But what matters far more is that it's a gentle, beautiful story about two middle-aged women (Fusako Urabe and Aoba Kawai) who mistake the other for an ex-schoolmate, then continue to share confidences and emotionally connect even after realizing their identification errors!        
 
Even if the chance situations they end up in can see a bit contrived, everyone of the characters in the movie come across as very "real" -- and, especially in the case of the two women in Once Again, worth spending more time with and getting to know.  I wonder if Ryusuke Hamaguchi is thinking of fleshing out these short stories and making feature length films out of them?  If he did, I, for one, would happily view them!  
 
I'd also be curious to find out how much of a part the director-scriptwriter had in casting this film.  This may sound on the strange side but I was struck by how the cast all have really interesting faces and physical traits!  In particular, fashion model-actor Kiyohiko Shibukawa has the kind of look (at least in this offering) and facial expressions that made him ideal to play the eccentric professor character he did in Wheel of Fortune and Fantasy.  In addition, the way that Fusako Urabe was made up and dressed in this offering caused her character to give off the sort of not entirely conventional, and maybe even "doesn't quite belong", vibes that made her particular story all the more touching.   

My rating for this film: 8.5

Saturday, April 24, 2021

Abbas Kiarostami educates with First Case, Second Case, Tributes to the Teachers and Two Solutions for One Problem (Film review)

Information panel for the Abbas Kiarostami films
I viewed at this year's HKIFF
 
- Part of the Hong Kong International Film Festival's Restored Classics program 
- Abbas Kiarostami, director and scriptwriter
 
For some reason that I can't fathom, the people in charge of this program decided to screen the three Abbas Kiarostami offerings that make up it in reverse-chronological order as well as from lengthiest to shortest in terms of their running time.  Because I think it makes more sense the other way around, I'm going to review the films in order of when they were made -- beginning with the 5 minute film made in 1975 that brought to mind a later film that the Iranian filmmaker would make: Where's the Friend's House (1987).  
 
Like that feature length work that I reckon is one of Kiarostami's best, Two Solutions for One Problem's story involves a young boy, a classmate and the classmate's exercise book.  In this short film, the exercise book is torn and two scenarios are presented as to what happens when it gets returned by one boy to its owner.  In just five minutes, Kiarostami manages to infuse quite a bit of humor and also didacticsm into the story.  Truly, if I were to know him from just this one work alone, I'd have already marked him down as quite the cinematic talent!
 
Continuing with the educational theme: The 17-minute-long Tribute to the Teachers is exactly that.  A pretty straightforward documentary which features interviews with various schoolteachers, its primary interest for me was to catch glimpses of what life was like in Iran pre-Islamic Revolution.  Since the bulk of the Iranian films I've viewed were produced after the Iranian Revolution, it was novel for me to see Iranian women with their hair uncovered in public settings and I must admit to also being moved to wonder whether they are able to be as confident, vocal and assertive as they are shown in this 1977 film.  Hopefully, this can be so for contemporary female teachers in Iran.  For in this short offering, some of the personalities who really stood out -- for their charisma as well as devotion to the teaching profession -- were female rather than it just being the men who were dominant.
 
First Case, Second Case is another Kiarostami film with an educational focus.  Like for Two Solutions for One Problem, the director stages two contrasting outcomes for one story: in this instance, involving a teacher irked by the noise being made when he's drawing a diagram on the blackboard who proceeds to kick seven students out of his class and tell them they can only return if he's told who was the troublemaker.  The first scenario involves one student deciding to name the culprit; the second scenario involves all of the students refusing to do so.
 
Unlike the short film, however, the movie doesn't end after the presentation of the alternative scenarios.  Instead, we then see -- much like in Tribute to the Teachers -- a number of different interviewees (women as well as men) giving their opinions on the matter.  In this case, they include the fathers of the seven boys -- who appear to differ quite a bit in class and education levels, and include at least one military man -- but also a range of authority figures, ranging from education ministry officials to religious ones and also involves leaders of various political parties!  And, expectedly, their opinions range pretty widely -- not only regarding what was the right thing for the boys to have done but the reasons why they thought what they did about what the boys should have done, and the teacher too.
 
I have to admit: the "talking heads" part of First Case, Second Case goes on for quite a bit and is visually not all that exciting; so it can be difficult to keep one's attention fully focused on what's going on and even keep one's eyes fully open for a time.  But somewhere along the line, one realizes that far more is going on than just a discussion of classroom discipline -- for the discussion goes so deep philosophically that it also becomes downright political! 
 
More than incidentally, Kiarostami began working on the film when the Shah was still on the throne in Iran. Shooting was nearly complete when the Iranian Revolution occured.  Kiarostami then took the decision to add post-Revolution officials into the mix while retaining his interviews with pre-Revolution officials.  The film was screened at least once in Iran but after the premiere, it disappeared from view for decades until June 2009 when it reappeared and became widely distributed online! 
 
From the story of its production and lack of availability alone, you'd know that First Case, Second Case is one interesting film.  And when you know the context in which he was working, you have to marvel at Kiarostami's daring as well as genius: because what he got out of the mouths of a good number of the people interviewed in the film is dynamite -- specifically, a discussion that addresses key issues to do with revolution (i.e., reasons for rebellion but also attempts to counter it) and society (should one opt for solidarity or betrayal, physical freedom or moral integrity?) itself.                 
 
My ratings for the films: 7 for Two Solutions for One Problem; 7.5 for Tribute to the Teachers; and 8 for First Case, Second Case

Thursday, April 22, 2021

A dark day for journalists and press freedom in Hong Kong

 
 
Yesterday, RTHK's Hong Kong Connection: Who Owns the Truth? episode about the July 21st, 2019, Yuen Long mob attacks was named as this year's recipient of the prestigious annual Kam Yiu-yu Press Freedom AwardOne of the judges, University of Hong Kong’s associate journalism professor Fu King-wa, praised the work and said that: "Through detailed and professional use of public records, examinations of raw surveillance footage and interviews with key figures, the report raised important leads that the people in power refused to respond to." 
 
Today, one of the program's producers, Bao Choy, was adjudged to have been guilty of improper searches of an online car licence plate database while conducting an investigation aimed at identifying some of the perpetrators of the 2019 Yuen Long attack.  Such is the situation in Hong Kong these days that I expected her to be giving a jail sentence and felt relief that she was "only" fined HK$6,000 for her "offences"
 
But make no mistake: Bao Choy's conviction today was a dark day for journalists in Hong Kong.  For, as she herself proceeded to point out: "The court ruled that searching for public information or access to public data is no longer allowed in Hong Kong, a civilised city where once we were well known for our transparency and accountability."  
 
 
Also, her arrest last November on these charges already constituted a significant blow for press freedom as, right there and then, it caused not only a weight to be placed on her but also pretty obviously held her up as an example of what can happen if you seek to uncover the truth that the police and authorities in general would prefer people to be in the dark about (and have taken to trying to present an alternative history of).  At a time when press freedom in Hong Kong has deteriorated (with the latest Reporters Without Borders’ "World Press Freedom Index" placing Hong Kong in 80th spot; down from 18th in 2002), it is important to understand why having press freedom matters. 
 
One easy way to do so: imagine what those who are apt to liar unashamedly as well as attack people even when the cameras are rolling would do if the press were not there to report on their actions (like the likes of Gwyneth Ho did in Yuen Long on July 21st, 2019) and investigate them in depth (like Bao Choy did for Hong Kong Connection).  As a contemporary updating of Pastor Niemoller's famous poem, quoted by Rappler's Maria Resse, goes: "First they came for the journalists. We don’t know what happened after that."
 

Wednesday, April 21, 2021

Film screenings back in the news again even while there's so much to report about what's going on in Hong Kong

Hong Kong can look really calm on the surface still
 
But, truly, it was not so long ago that things like this happened, and 
their reverbations most definitely still are being felt (Picture taken at 
the World Press Photo Exhibition the same day that I took the one above it)
 
Last week was such a terrible week for Hong Kong that I've still been fighting to get back to an even emotional keel in the days that have followed.  One way I've been doing so has been to fill my head with thoughts about movies -- particularly those I recently viewed at this year's Hong Kong International Film Festival (and writing reviews about them).  But the fact of the matter is that even thinking about movies can get me worrying about the deteriorating political situation here.

 
In addition, earlier in the month, what would have been the first screenings of 2019 Hong Kong Polytechnic University siege documentary, Inside the Red Brick Wall, in a commercial setting were cancelled after pro-Beijing mouthpiece Wen Wei Po called attention to, and criticized, those plans.  And today saw another pro-Beijing newspaper, Ta Kung Pao, and pro-Beijing legislative councillor, Holden Chow, mounting a similar attack on the plans by the pro-democracy Hong Kong Confederation of Trade Unions (CTU) to privately screen the 2020 Hong Kong Film Critics Society Best Film awardee and two other protest documentaries, Eternal Springs in the Mountains (about the police siege of the Chinese University of Hong Kong) and the Golden Horse-nominated Taking Back the Legislature (about the storming of the Legislative Council on July 1st, 2019).
 
As has now become too sadly predictable, the private screening of Inside the Red Brick Wall that was scheduled to take place today has been cancelled -- or, at the very least, postponed; this after six officers from the Communication Authority went at the office of the Confederation of Trade Unions late in the afternoon and asked its representative to provide details of the screening.  One wonders whether this documentary (together with the likes of Taking Back the Legislature and Eternal Springs in the Mountains -- the last of which I can't find any English language information for) will ever get screened again in Hong Kong despite their not actually having been officially banned by the authorities (as yet). 
 
Amidst a climate of fear that descended upon Hong Kong after the coming into effect of China's national security law for Hong Kong, what we are seeing far more is self-censorship than official censorship, for now.  And it is not just the world of film festivals, awards and documentaries that are affected.  
 
Just today, we've seen veteran political commentator Michael Chugani announce that he's quitting most of his journalist posts in Hong Kong (and stating that "We all know that there are red lines, and I just want to think carefully [about] what these red lines mean for me, so that’s why I’m taking a break").  With another veteran journalist, Stephen Vines, recently having been dropped as a regular current affairs commentator on RTHK's Morning Brew programme after more than ten years, we could have done with more rather than less of Chugani's voice; and this even more so when one factors in the (self?) silencing of the likes of journalist-turned-politician-turned political prisoner Claudia Mo, and fellow pro-democrats Alvin Yeung and Ray Chan -- all of whom appear to have deleted their social media accounts while behind bars.  

 
In general, it's easy to conclude, as per the title of a Reuters special report out today, Hong Kong activists are retreating as China-style justice comes to the city.  So those who have not given up and are trying to fight back or at least resist are truly to be admired.  I think here of those good members of the League of Social Democrats who still are manning their "Free All Political Prisoners" stall (which was set up today in Causeway Bay), and every single Hong Konger who is still doing such as continuing to support the Yellow Economic Circle and helping provide financial and moral support to Hong Kong's political prisoners.
 
And then there's Jimmy Lai, Martin Lee and Albert Ho -- who have decided to appeal against their convictions and sentences for their roles in an anti-government protest on August 18, 2019 (and, in the case of Lai, also against the 14 month jail sentence he was handed for taking part in an unauthorised march in Wan Chai on August 31, 2019).  In doing so, they aren't only continuing to put up a fight but signalling that they still want to believe in the existence of rule of law in Hong Kong.  At this point in time, many will see their stance as Quixotic but, truly, one can't help rooting for them all the same.