Sunday, May 30, 2021

Hong Kong's fourth Wuhan coronavirus wave has finally ended -- but, alas, not its political persecution

Getting for the candlelight vigil back on June 4th, 2013
At Victoria Park on June 4th, 2014
If only we could say the same of the political persecution that Hong Kong has been subjected to for seemingly forever.  Instead, there's no end in sight of this.  If nothing else, the authorities appear to be doubling down on their efforts in the wake of little, if any, negative international reaction to their doing so.  As Exhibit A, consider that there are reports that when the trial of the 47 people accused of subversion under China's security law for Hong Kong for having taken part in last year's democratic primaries finally begins tomorrow, the prosecutors will apply to move the case from the District Court, where sentences are limited to seven years, to the High Court, where they would face life imprisonment.  

And then there's Exhibit B in the form of the now outlawed June 4th candlelight vigil at Victoria Park (which had taken place for 30 years without incident until last year).  Rather than consider lifting their ban of this year's vigil, which officially was enacted as a "social distancing" measure, the authorities have now (also) threatened those who go to Victoria Park to remember the Tiananmen Square Massacre on the 32nd annivesary of the killing of thousands of civilians by the People's Liberation Army with up to five years imprisonment.   

The following is a sentence from the statement issued by Hong Kong's Security Bureau yesterday: "If anyone attempts to challenge the law, including the Prohibition on Group Gathering, Public Order Ordinance, Hong Kong National Security Law, etc., the Police will deal with it seriously in accordance with the law.  Whether or not the event involves violence is irrelevant as far as the authorities are concerned -- and should it not be clear, in the 30 years that the candlelight vigil has been held, it has uniformly been peaceful in nature

As a friend remarked, it often feels like we are living in George Orwell's 1984 in Hong Kong circa 2020-2021.  And the authorities -- behind whom the Chinese Communist Party looms -- really do appear like the party in that dystopian novel in believing the following: “‘Who controls the past... controls the future: who controls the present controls the past.’”   

There is a general sense that the Chinese Communist Party has largely succeeded in making people living in Mainland China forget, not just deny, that the Tiananmen Square Massacre happened.  In Louisa Lim's The People's Republic of Amnesia: Tiananmen Revisited, a Mainland Chinese man visiting Hong Kong is quoted as telling her that "the Chinese government is very good at covering things up and cheating people" (2014:84). 

Incidentally, Lim had met the individual in question at the June 4th Memorial Museum, which reopened today after temporarily closing its doors because of the pandemic.  Those who run the institution are among the many Hong Kongers unwilling to take part in what Lim has termed "the great forgetting" that has taken place on the other side of the Hong Kong-Mainland China border.

Something that Lim makes clear in her book is that: "The "forgetting" that has engulfed China is not just enforced from above; the people themselves have colluded in this amnesia and embraced it.  Forgetting is a survival mechanism, almost second nature.  China's people have learned to avert their eyes and minds from anything unpleasant, allowing their brains to be imprinted with false memories -- or allowing the real memories to be erased -- for the sake of convenience" (2014:211).

In yet another way that distinguishes from the Mainland Chinese, Hong Kongers, on the other hand, remember and are determined to never forget.  6/46/127/218/31.  Etc.  Indeed, in trying so hard to make people forget and/or keep them away from Victoria Park on June 4th, they have only got people thinking more about that date and how to commemorate it!

A personal example: In previous years, I would only really start thinking about the Tiananmen Square Massacre on its actual anniversary.  This year, I've been thinking about it for some time now -- thanks in no small part to the efforts of the authorities to punish key individuals who had gone to Victoria Park on June 4th last year as well as ensure that people won't be going there this upcoming June 4th.  And whereas I usually just wrote about the candlelight vigil for the victims of Tiananmen Square Massacre once annually, I've already done so more than once already this week.  In short: rather than make me forget, they've got me more fixated about, and determined to not forget, it than usual!        

Friday, May 28, 2021

Multiple travesties of justice within the past 48 hours in Hong Kong

Avery Ng standing up for a free Hong Kong at one of

The last two days has seen Hong Kong register a grand total of zero new Wuhan coronavirus cases. The last time the territory registered consecutive days of zero cases was back on June 11th, 2020.  So people should be feeling really happy about this, even while obviously still not letting down their guard with regards to pandemic prevention.  

Even so, it seems excessive as far as social distancing measures are concerned for the police to confirm that they have banned the June 4th candlelight vigil at Victoria Park for the second year in a row.  Especially when other events involving large crowds (e.g., football matches with thousands of fans in attendance and this year's edition of Art Basel -- Hong Kong which took place indoors) already have been allowed to take place, it smacks of a politically repressive decision akin to the suspension last year of the Legislative Council elections
Speaking of which: on the same day (yesterday) that the Hong Kong police officially banned this year's commemoration of the 1989 Tiananmen Square Massacre, the remaining members of Hong Kong's now Pan-Democrat-free Legislative Council passed a bill to overhaul the city’s electoral system in a move orchestrated by BeijingIn so doing, they have drastically reduced the possibility of democracy to be enacted, never mind prevail, in Hong Kong and turned a legislative body that already was hard for pro-democrats to have significant say in into a rubber stamp congress along the line of Beijing's. 
And today saw a third development which has been expected for some time but nonetheless has been upsetting when they have come into being: the jailing of eight pro-democracy compaigners who had pleaded guilty on May 17th to having organizing and/or taking part in a mass protest on October 1st, 2019, which had not been authorized by the policeFormer legislative councillors Albert Ho, Lee Cheuk-yan and "Long Hair" Leung Kwok-hung and Civil Human Rights Front convenor Figo Chan were sentenced to 18 months behind bars each; Apple Daily founder Jimmy Lai, ex-lawmakers Cyd Ho and Yeung Sum, and former League of Social Democrats chairman Avery Ng were each given 14 month prison sentences; while  former legislator Sin Chung-kai and activist Richard Tsoi received suspended jail terms.  
All of them are unprecedentedly harsh sentences for crimes that, just a few years back, were penalized with mere fines, if that.  What's worse is that a number of these individuals already had been given jail time for other offences and face additional charges which haven't gone to court yet, including security law ones which carry several more years worth of imprisonment if they are found guilty as charged.  For example, Lee Cheuk-yan has been charged with nine different criminal offences while Figo Chan faces more than 10 different charges.  Also, "Long Hair" Leung Kwok-hung is one of the 47 people accused of subversion under China's security law for Hong Kong for having taken part in last year's democratic primaries while Jimmy Lai has been slapped with more than one security law charge already.     
Also today came another trio of court decisions that actually shocked those of us paying attention even more.  As a result of one of them, a 21-year-old student was found guilty and jailed for four years and three months for rioting in Tuen Mun on September 21st, 2019.  The sentence is harsh -- harsher than that of a pro-Beijinger convicted last year for attacking three people at a pro-democracy Lennon Wall with a meat cleaver --  but what's really eye-opening is the evidence given for his having "rioted": that is, Lee Ho-ming was convicted based on video footage showing him using a hiking pole to hit a water barricade (rather than, say, another human being).
Then there's the alarming revelation today with regards to the bail hearing of Claudia Mo -- one of the 47 people arrested under the security law and remanded into custody back in February but whose trial has yet to get going this month.  Specifically, it has come to light that High Court judge Esther Toh used WhatsApp conversations between Mo -- whose mobile phone was seized back in January -- and members of the foreign press as evidence that former journalist turned politician presented a risk of committing national security offences if freed.
However crazy as it seems, it appears that the bar for committing national security offences is as low as talking to the international press (a number of whose organizations have their Asian headquarters and bureaus here in Hong Kong).  And I really don't know what to say or think about the same High Court judge having denied yet Andrew Wan, yet another member of the 47 arrested for having taken part in democratic primaries, bail because he had called for people to "Say no to totalitarianism" other than... so, we are supposed to say yes to totalitarianism?!                 
Having one of these travesties of justice take place over 24 hours is one thing.  But for all of them to have done so over the course of just 48 hours or so?  Honestly, part of me just wants to (permanently) curl up in a fetal position -- and I have indeed spent more hours in bed combatting depression in the past year than is ideal.  And yet another part of me feels obliged to not completely turn away and around -- and, instead, feel that it is really important to bear witness to this all, and more.         

Tuesday, May 25, 2021

A vaccination message from a Hong Kong resident who is both "yellow" and vaccinated against the Wuhan coronavirus

Graffiti written by an extradition bill protestor that I also think 
is pertinent to ask of those folks adopting a "wait and see" 
approach towards Wuhan coronavirus vaccines
No line outside one of Hong Kong's many 
community vaccination centers

Contrary to popular conception, I do not believe both of these conditions to be mutually exclusive.  And this is the case too for a number of my friends who are similarly simultaneously "yellow" and have been vaccinated against the Wuhan coronavirus. 

Still, I cannot deny that a good number of "yellow" Hong Kongers appear to be reluctant to get jabbed -- be it with the BioNTech or or Sinovac vaccine -- because Hong Kong's vaccination program is a government one and their distrust and/or hatred of both the Hong Kong and Mainland Chinese governments makes it so that they refuse to have anything to do with them.  At the same time though, my sense is that a good number of politically neutral or even "blue" (pro-government) Hong Kongers also are among the vaccine hesitant.  
Indeed, the greater divide currently may be between "expatriates" and local residents: with the former tending to be more (openly) pro-vax than the latter; though I feel obliged to point out that I have at least one expat friend who is reluctant to be vaccinated along with a number of Hong Kong-born friends who have gone and had their jabs.      
For those of us who have gone and been vaccinated, our reasons appear clear and shared for the most part.  Specifically, we believe and trust in the science behind the vaccine -- specifically, BioNTech's, and thus feel that getting vaccinated with it helps protect us even more than doing such as just wearing masks alone can.  (And yes, every single one of my friends in Hong Kong who have been vaccinated have all opted for the gold standard BioNTech -- more well known as Pfizer internationally -- vaccine over the way less effective SinoVac vaccine.)  In addition, many of us know that public health is a joint effort and would like to do our bit to help Hong Kong achieve "herd immunity" against the coronavirus (by mass vaccination) sooner rather than later.  

Alternatively, when talking to people who have not gone and got vaccinated, I've found that there appear to be a variety of reasons for their not having done so, with civil disobedience being just one of them and outright fear that their health will suffer after being vaccinated actually appearing to a more commonly cited factor.  To be sure, the latter may mask the former in some cases but I don't think we can deny that the belief that they are more likely to get sick (or even outright die) from the vaccine than to be (fatally) infected with the coronavirus is real in many instances -- and that the fear of their health suffering from being vaccinated is so strong that some people who do go and get jabbed have made a point to prepare and make wills before doing so!   
Something else that needs to be factored into the equation is that, unlike many expats and people in other parts of the world, many Hong Kongers don't feel that there is a "normal" that they can or will be returning to in the post-vaccination/pandemic world.  This is not least because there is zero guarantee that the Hong Kong government will lift many of the more unpopular "social distancing" measures (e.g., the ban on public gatherings and thus protests) even after "herd immunity" has been reached in Hong Kong, through vaccinations or some other measure.  (And, yes, as a Niao Collective Tweet put it, "We don't like to dwell on it too much, but we often lay awake at night, wondering whether if the West had heeded the warnings and took up wearing masks early, stopped COVID's spread and prevented deaths... whether Hong Kong would still be (relatively) free.")
Renauld Haccart Tweeted back in September of last year that: "As noted by other commentators, there’s a fair chance that group gathering rules will be the very last to go, as they provide the perfect cover for police to disrupt any public protest of any size or form and make arrests."  And more generally, Kevin Yam Tweeted earlier this month that: "a substantial portion of the population are convinced (with reason to date) that even if herd immunity is reached, the government will continue to use COVID as an excuse to maintain restrictions as a tool for the continuing political crackdown." 

In summary: I think those here in Hong Kong who oppose the government should have the strongest reason to go and get the BioNTech vaccine.  Sadly though, as the statistics clearly show, mine is a minority opinion at the moment and for the foreseeable future!      

Sunday, May 23, 2021

Much to unpack and take from a viewing of Taking Back the Legislature (Film review)

Protestors and cameras abounded in Hong Kong on July 1st, 2019
Marching from Victoria Park to Admiralty and beyond 
on that fateful day
Taking Back the Legislature (Hong Kong, 2020)
- Hong Kong Documentary Filmmakers

But Taking Back the Legislature pays scant attention to that -- which had felt like the main event for those who had taken part in it (like yours truly).  Instead, this 44-minute-long documentary -- by the same group of filmmakers who also went on to make/be credited with Inside the Red Brick Wall, the feature length work documenting the November 2019 PolyU siege -- focuses on what happened outside and inside the Legislative Council complex at Admiralty that afternoon, even while also providing documentation of what transpired earlier that day at Wan Chai (e.g., the flag raising ceremony, which was held indoors for the first time ever).        

Like with Inside the Red Brick Wall, the faces of many of the extradition bill protestors are blurred in this work, presumably to help protect them from prosecution.  As Claudia Mo -- then a legislative councillor but now, ironically, currently behind bars herself -- pointed out early on in the siege of LegCo, those who were attempting to break into the building were risking getting jailed for up to ten years for the offence.
On the other hand, all the pro-democracy legislative councillors who were also against the extradition bill but, at the same time, were trying to prevent other protestors from breaking into LegCo that day, are easily identifiable to those familiar with Hong Kong politics and politicians.  I reckon it would have benefited the audience of Taking Back the Legislature for the likes of Lam Cheuk-ting, Eddie Chu Hoi-dick and Roy Kwong to have been explicitly and individually identified though; otherwise those who are less familiar with those personalities and about the events concerned will not be able to truly appreciate what was going on that day, and documented in this offering.       

Here's the thing: The storming -- and "taking back" -- of LegCo is/was something which did not have universal backing -- even among those who were against the extradition bill.  This is something Taking Back the Legislature actually does make clear early on; with its documentation of individual protestors imploring those who were thinking of doing so to think twice and carefully about their plans to do so.  Also, to a man (and woman), the members of the pan-democrat camp of legislative councillors who appear in this documentary are shown opposing the decision of the yellow helmetted individuals who decide to do such as ram a shopping cart against the glass door of the Legislative Council's public entrance (locked that day on account of it being a public holiday but usually left unlocked when the Legislative Council is in session, ironically enough).        
At the same time, what should not be in doubt is that all of these people were trying to stand up for and save Hong Kong in their own way.  And even while the general sense one gets is that those who chose to "take back" the legislature were among the considerably more hot-headed of the extradition bill protestors, Taking Back the Legislature also shows that at least some of these individuals actually were political knowledgeable and had logical reasons for deciding to try an alternative mode of protest from what the legislative councillors and wo lei fei (peaceful, rational and non-violent) protestors were carrying out.  (A heated exchange outside LegCo about Leung Yiu-chung's previous actions really cut to the bone and provides context for the white-haired veteran legislator being literally pushed out of the way by more radical protestors at one point.) 
Perhaps it's my personal bias showing but, for me, nonetheless, the true heroes of Taking Back the Legislature aren't those who broke into LegCo but, rather, those who tried to make sure that those who did so, and their supporters who massed outside the building, were not harmed -- by the riot police who inexplicably allowed the protestors to do so and spend more close to three hours in the complex before returning to clear the area.  The courageous efforts of the now exiled Ted Hui and social worker Jackie Chen, in particular -- both of whom put themselves in between the protestors and riot police, and consequently, potentially, in harm's way -- are worth recognizing.  
Strange but true: the latter also (inadvertently) provided some comic relief by way of by her calmly tendering advice to the riot police as to how they should comport themselves amidst the chaos and insanity of it all.  All in all, I find myself wishing that there were more people around who were/are as level-headed as her.  And I can't help thinking that if that had been the case back on July 1st, 2019, Hong Kong might be in a different situation now than it currently is.   

My rating for this film: 7.5

Friday, May 21, 2021

Political woes put a damper on art appreciation on the first day of the return of Art Basel to Hong Kong

Christo's The Umbrellas (Project for Japan and USA) at
Jenny Holzer's
Selection from Truisms:  All Things Are...,
also seen at Art Basel -- Hong Kong 2017
Art Basel returns to Hong Kong after a pandemic hiatus but I'm not in the mood to check out the scaled-down art extravaganza.  For one thing, the Wuhan coronavirus pandemic is still not over by a long chalk; with multiple death and infection hotspots found throughout the world.  And even while Hong Kong is mercifully not one of them, with the territory not having recorded a new local case for five consecutive days now, there really is no guarantee that Hong Kong won't be hit by another outbreak and wave in the future; this especially since we are no way close to "herd immunity" here, thanks in no small part to Hong Kong's high covid vaccine reluctance.       
For another, political persecution really can be such a downer.  And I'm not just referring to the fear of artistic censorship and self-censorship; however real and scary it is.  To wit: Reports have emerged of West Kowloon Cultural District Chief Projects Officer Jeremy Stowe having been "visited" by law enforcement officers and placed on "private leave" yesterday.  Rather, the fact of the matter is that pretty much all of Hong Kong is under threat these days. 

I honestly don't know why the ruling yesterday by High Court judge Alex Lee that the first person to be charged under Hong Kong’s national security law will not be allowed a trial by jury has not received greater attention, both locally and internationally.  Personally, I find it chilling news -- not least because we have confirmation yet again that the Basic Law (Hong Kong's so-called "mini-constitution" has been superseded by China's security law for the territory) -- that the judge -- who, more than incidentally, is one of those designated by Carrie Lam to handle national security law cases – said that, unlike in the United Kingdom, an accused person in Hong Kong does not have a general right to a jury trial (any more). 
As various people have pointed out, prior to the coming into effect of China's security law for Hong Kong, all cases heard at the High Court (AKA The Court of First Instance) took take place with a jury composed of between seven to nine people.  But the case of Tong Ying-kit, the 24 year old accused of inciting secession and terrorist activities after he allegedly rammed a motorcycle displaying a protest flag reading “Liberate Hong Kong, revolution of our times” into three police officers in Wan Chai last July 1st, the dayafter the security law came into force, will not.
In light of this turn of events, barrister Senia Ng has been moved to ask: "What protection does this leave people with?" This since it's now been ruled that the National Security Law (NSL) overrides existing laws in Hong Kong and cannot be challenged as being unconstitutional.  Meanwhile, journalist Ryan Ho Kilpatrick has pointed out that even the Chinese baker accused of seeking to murder Hong Kong's European population with arsenic-laced bread back in 1857 had a trial by jury -- which is probably why he was acquitted of that very serious charge! 
Another piece of news yesterday that dampened my mood involved Eddie Chu Hoi-dick -- who is among the 47 activists chargedunder the national security law having organized or participated in thedemocratic primaries for the LegCo elections scheduled for last year that were eventually postponed (if not outright scrapped), and currently behind bars after being denied bail -- announcing that he will be leaving politics since "he believes he won't be freed for a long time, as he’s also facing five other criminal charges."

Back in September 2016, the then social activist was dubbed the King of Votes after getting the highest number of votes atthe last Legislative Council elections that Hong Kong may possibly see, with the 84,121 votes he garnered for his geographical constituency seat putting Carrie Lam's 777 votes received to be selected Chief Executive of Hong Kong to shame.  I remember being very happy about the victory of the man who has long worked to better Hong Kong; this not least because I had met his acquintance and thus personally witnessed his advocacy and sincerity back in 2009, when I went on a tour of Tsoi Yuen with him as the guide

Chu also has announced that he will be disbanding the political group he formed after the 2016 LegCo election. Nevertheless, he says, he "will never forget the beautiful times he spent working together with his comrades. He wishes everybody peace".  And while that sounds fine and well, the thing is that his voiced sentiment got me thinking of Liu Xiaobo's "I have no enemies" declaration after being awarded the Nobel Peace Prize.  And, sadly, we know what happened to the Chinese dissident.  

Truly, I don't want Hong Kong's political prisoners to suffer Liu's fate.  Or, for that matter, that of others of Beijing's enemies who were sent to prison (and their deaths there).  Actually, I don't even want people to forget them.  Which is one reason why I write on this blog about the likes of Eddie Chu Hoi-dick, Figo Chan, Wu Chi-wai, Jimmy Lai, Joshua Wong, etc., etc.  They may not have been the extradition bill's protest leaders but they also are people who have sought to help make Hong Kong for years now.  Hence their being deserving of our support, now as well as back then.     

Wednesday, May 19, 2021

Thinking of Figo Chan and other Hong Kong pro-democracy political activists behind bars on Buddha's Birthday

Seen in 2014, but even more pertinent now than then
And yet, on a good day, Hong Kong can still seem 
so beautiful, even wondrous :S

After pleading guilty on Monday to organizing an "unauthorized assembly" on October 1st, 2019, Civil Human Rights Front convenor Figo Chan, League of Social Democrats secretary-general Avery Ng, former Democratic Party chairmen Albert Ho and Yeung Sum, Democratic Party executive council member Sin Chung-kai and the Hong Kong Alliance in Support of Patriotic Democratic Movements of China's secretary, Richard Tsoi, were granted bail and thus allowed to walk out of the court as free men.  Just one day later, however, their bail was revoked by judge Amanda Woodcock.   
Thus it is that today, the eighth day of the fourth month of the Chinese lunar calendar -- Buddha's birthday, and therefore a public holiday in the Big Lychee-- sees six more pro-democracy activists behind bars in Hong Kong.  (For those who've not been keeping track: the four others who also pleaded guilty in this case -- media mogul Jimmy Lai, and veteran activists "Long Hair" Leung Kwok-hung, Cyd Ho and Leung Cheuk-yan -- are already serving time in prison for other, similar "offences".)
A friend who was present in the court yesterday told me that there were shouts of shock at this decision as the expectation had been that they this sextet would be free until their sentencing on May 28th.  At the same time though, the activists concerned clearly are expecting to be slapped with jail time -- with Figo Chan having told Lee Cheuk-yan on Monday that “I will join you soon.” and having already prepared for prison for some time now.    
At just 25 years of age, Figo Chan is the youngest of the 10 individuals who pleaded guilty to having organised the demonstration on the 70th birthday of the People's Republic of China which saw tens of thousands of protesters take to the streetsof Hong Kong, as is supposed to be their right under Hong Kong's Basic Law (see in particular Article 27, which states that "Hong Kong residents shall have freedom of speech, of the press and of publication; freedom of association, of assembly, of procession and of demonstration; and the right and freedom to form and join trade unions; and to strike").  For the record: the oldest are Yeung Sam and Jimmy Lai, both of whom are 73 years old.  So, yes, the Hong Kong government is imprisoning generations of Hong Kong pro-democracy activists, young and old.   
For those without a subscription to the Washington Post, its Southeast Asia and Hong Kong bureau chief, Shibani Mahtani has a Twitter thread about its article on Figo Chan.  But because it really is a good one, here's sharing other snippets of it here.  Firstly, here's this for context:
Hong Kong’s jails are filling up with the likes of [Figo] Chan. Some 2,500 people have undergone or are undergoing court proceedings in connection with the protests, which amounted to the biggest rebuke of Beijing’s rule on Chinese soil in decades. The defendants range from prominent activists to unknowns.
Chan’s case underscores the city’s political shift. He is a leader of the Civil Human Rights Front (CHRF), a civil society group that led the largest and most peaceful marches during 2019 — often with permits from the police — and which long operated with the authorities’ blessing. Now, in addition to prosecuting Chan and other front leaders, police have suggested the group might be illegal and have begun investigating its funding — a probable precursor to shutting it down.
And this is to help give a sense of the personality of this 25 year old and the caliber of individual that the Hong Kong authorities have decided are their enemy:-
Chan was 16 when he started attending Hong Kong’s annual June 4 vigil to commemorate the 1989 Tiananmen Square massacre. Straight-talking and unafraid to criticize his political allies, he caught the eye of Raphael Wong, a member of the League of Social Democrats, a left-leaning pro-democracy party, who recruited Chan as a party member in 2015. Chan, then in his freshman year at a vocational institute, finished the application at a bar over drinks with Wong, who described him as “quick-witted” and mature beyond his years...

He admits that he fears getting the maximum sentence for all his charges — a decade in prison. [But] “I think I would still relive this life,” he said. “I didn’t ask anyone to do anything high-risk, just to join rallies and peaceful civil disobedience movements, like activists in Hong Kong always did.”

Prison, he said, will be an opportunity to reflect on the protest movement. He plans to “finally slow down and have time” to jot down his thoughts, and assess what Hong Kong has gained or lost from resisting Beijing’s encroachment...

[On Monday, a]s correctional officers escorted Chan from the court, he shouted for Hong Kongers to “persist” before he disappeared from view as he was taken to a prison van.

 After being transported to Lai Chi Kok Detention Centre, Figo Chan and the five other newly remanded prisoners were filmed disembarking from the prison van.  Check out the still photo of him: still defiant, he's got the "five demands, not one less" hand signs up for the camera to record for posterity

Monday, May 17, 2021

Hong Kong's concerns are primarily political even while much of Asia worries some more about the Wuhan coronavirus

The cry to free political prisoners goes on in Hong Kong
But with each passing day, it feels like more and more
voices of Hong Kongers are being silenced :(
Will this ever end?  For much of Asia, the main concern currently is the Wuhan coronavirus -- specifically, the recent surge in case numbers, even in countries that had achieved "zero covid" for some time like Taiwan and Singapore.  For Hong Kong, which saw one new case today (and it was imported), that which threatens people's peace of mind and overall well being remains political repression.      
One day after the annual June 4th vigil organizers called on the police to respect people’s right to assembly (which, lest we forget, is guaranteed under Hong Kong's Basic Law), 10 pro-democracy figures pleaded guilty to organizing an unauthorised mass protest on China’s National Day in 2019.  Sentencing of Jimmy Lai, "Long Hair" Leung Kwok-hung, Lee Cheuk-yan, Cyd Ho, Albert Ho, Yeung Sam, Figo Chan, Avery Ng, Richard Choi and Sin Chung-kai is scheduled for May 28th.  (And, yes, it can seem like a case of "deja vu all over again" in that a number of the individuals concerned already have been found guilty of other "unauthorized" assemblies -- and by the same judge, Amanda Woodcock.)

Basically, the government's strategy appears to be to slap certain individuals over and over again with the same charges and still more jail time.  And should it not be realized: while being guilty of taking part or even organizing an "unauthorized assembly" would have just resulted in fines or suspended sentences before 2019, it now tends to involve sentences of months (even years) behind bars.  
Still, lest it be assumed that the authorities are out to prosecute and penalize a small number of people, consider that 10,250 people have been arrested since June 2019 in protest-related cases, 2,500 of whom had been prosecuted, and 107 arrests have been made under the less-than-one-year-old national security law to date, of which 57 have led to prosecution already.  Indeed, today also saw the sentencing of a taxi driver to four years imprisonment for transporting more than 40 petrol bombs during pro-democracy protests in October 2019; this despite his pleading not guilty to charges of conspiracy to commit arson and possession with intent to destroy or damage property, saying he was told – and he believed – the box he was transporting in his taxi contained medical supplies.    

Saturday, May 15, 2021

The authorities come gunning again for Jimmy Lai and Apple Daily, who once more could do with Hong Kongers' support

The front page of today's Apple Daily

Should the photo seem familiar, it's because it also appeared 
on the front page of the February 19th issue of the newspaper

As an Apple Daily article reporting the news noted: "This is believed to be the first use of seizure powers granted to authorities under Article 43 of the national security law, which Beijing imposed on Hong Kong last June, to effectively criminalize the city’s once-tolerated dissenting voices."  And should a reminder be necessary: Jimmy Lai's security law trial has not yet begun but the 73-year-old billionaire is already behind bars after being given prison sentences for organizing and participating in two unauthorized assemblies that were part of the pro-democracy/anti-government protests started by Carrie Lam seeking to enact a controversial and highly unpopular extradition bill back in early 2019.
What passes for "usual" and "normal" in Hong Kong is getting more and more troubling by the month, week and day. (Yesterday also saw a pro-Beijing man sentenced to six years and four months in prison, after he admitted to stabbing and slashing a teenager in the stomach at the Tai Po 'Lennon tunnel' two years ago.  As history professor Jeppe Mulich pointed out, "The absurdity is not that the defendant received a ~6 year sentence, but that sentences in the 4-6 year range are routinely handed out to people for "rioting" offenses. None of which involve the type of violence on display here": specifically, the guilty party in question caused his victim's guts to literally spill out!)  
And there's no doubt about Jimmy Lai and Apple Daily being among the Hong Kongers and Hong Kong organizations that are very much in Beijing's sights.  Rather than sow further fear into people here though, Hong Kongers being Hong Kongers, this looked to only encourage more open shows of support for Jimmy Lai and Apple Daily today by way of people going off to buy copies of the newspaper today -- in a repeat of what happened last August after Jimmy Lai was first arrested.  

At the first two places I looked for a copy of Apple Daily today, there were no copies of the pro-democracy newspaper in sight even while there were plenty of copies of other newspapers available.  Presumably, this is because the outlets had sold out of copies of Apple Daily rather than because they weren't stocking it or anything like that.  And at the street stand where I finally got a copy of the newspaper, I saw more copies being delivered while I was there -- so I'm presuming that extra copies were being printed late into the day which, of course, would be a good sign indeed for the publication.  

Almost needless to say, Apple Daily really could do with some support right now.  As was the case the first time I bought it, it was shocking to see how bereft of ads today's issue of the newspaper was -- and interesting to see that a rare ad in it had been placed by the Hong Kong Polytechnic University (which was itself in the news today for having had researchers involved in the successful landing of China's space probe on Mars).  Hopefully, there will be a new round of ads being placed in the pro-democracy publication in the coming days and weeks. 
P.S. It's not escaped my attention that today also saw a tower block in Gaza City that housed media organizations having been destroyed by the Israeli air force.  There's no doubt about it: the press is under attack in too many parts of the world.  And while it can feel like those with guns and bombs have the upper hand at present, one also gets the sense that it's because they fear that the pen really can be mightier than the sword.