Wednesday, June 30, 2021

Who is the most fearful on the 1st anniversary of the coming into being of China's Security Law for Hong Kong?

Apropos of nothing: do you know that 24 sounds like
This has been a month of anniversaries -- many of them sad. June 4th, 6/9 (not entirely sad but still causing sadness when one thinks of what might have been), 6/12, 6/16 (2 million people peacefully protesting in the streets... to what avail?)... and now June 30th: one year to the day that China's national security law for Hong Kong was passed up in Beijing without any member of the Hong Kong government (including Chief Executive Carrie Lam), let alone members of the public, having actually seen actual drafts of it.
The following are the opening lines of an article in The Guardian today: "One year after Beijing imposed a national security law (NSL) on Hong Kong, the city has been drastically and fundamentally changed. Political opposition has been largely crushed, pro-democracy newspapers have been forced to close or self-censor, political and advocacy groups have disbanded. Thousands of residents have fled overseas.
"At least 128 people have been arrested under the NSL or by its dedicated police department, including three minors, dozens of politicians, and journalists... But with the first case [involving an arrest made back on July 1st, 2020] reaching trial just last week, the law – which broadly outlaws acts of secession, subversion, foreign collusion and terrorism – remains untested. Analysts say the rushed arrests and slow prosecutions are a deliberate strategy designed to stoke fear, and that interventions in due process risk the right to a fair trial" (my emphasis).
(It's worth noting that the writer of this article on Hong Kong is based out of Taipei rather than Hong Kong itself. And that if she were based in Hong Kong, The Guardian's policy in recent months would have involved her not being named, presumably to protect her from potential prosecution.)
As unlikely as it may seem though, I sometimes still do wonder whether the authorities in Hong Kong and Beijing fear the people of Hong Kong more than they have succeeded in making the people of Hong Kong fear them.  For even while there's no disputing that Hong Kong has fallen deep into an abyss in the past year, many of the actions of the people in power seem to show fear and paranoia on their part as much as -- or more so than -- a mere willingness to push their weight around and oppress.    

Until this past June 4th, Victoria Park had never been locked down before.  In fact, in normal times, Hong Kong Island's largest urban park is not only open daily but 24 hours of each day.  And while we're on the subject of the anniversary of the Tiananmen Square Massacre, today saw the re-arrest of Chow Hang-tung, the head of the group behind the June 4th candlelight vigil, for allegedly publicising and calling on people to join a banned rally tomorrow -- though the police spokesperson also seemed reluctant (or was it unable?) to provide evidence of her actually having done so.  
The day after the 32nd anniversary of the Tiananman Square Massacre this year, political commentator Stephen Vines had a piece published about what an empty Victoria Park the evening before said about Hong Kongers' feelings for China that contained the following damning assessment: "Instead of boosting love of the nation by acknowledging that it can be manifest in various forms, the Party and its apologists seem intent on making patriotism as unattractive as possible. They are squandering goodwill and forcing people to reconsider their relationship with the nation as a whole."
Today, we learn in the same online publication (the Hong Kong Free Press) why Stephen Vines has announced he will leave public broadcaster RTHK’s Wednesday morning radio programme Backchat.  In a nutshell: a reminder was served that Apple Daily was by no means the only local news source that has been coming under attack by those who want media outlets to toe their line.   
Now tell me: would such articles appear in the current incarnation of the South China Morning Post (SCMP) -- and even if such subjects were reported on, would they be reported in as an objective a manner?  For my part, here's turning once again to Stephen Vines, who wrote a piece published in Hong Kong Free Press back on November 13th, 2018 (my emphasis) entitled "Why I will no longer write for the South China Morning Post" which contained the following statement: "The SCMP, under its relatively new owner, China’s richest man Jack Ma, has decided to lend itself more than willingly to the propaganda efforts of the Chinese state as Beijing seeks a greater role in global affairs." 
In recent days, the South China Morning Post has attracted quite a bit of derison for certain of its editorials (see examples here and here).  Amazingly, though, it apparently is still looked upon as on the yellow side by "blue ribbons" (i.e., pro-Beijingers)!  Getting back to the subject of who is the most fearful in contemporary Hong Kong: I wonder if it's those who decided to back those with the guns, only to now worry that the day may come -- and maybe sooner rather than later -- that the guns will get turned on them too.  

Monday, June 28, 2021

Still more arrests of unlikely folks and the kind of developments that sadly are no longer unexpected in the Absurdistan that Hong Kong has become

When it rains in Hong Kong, it can really pour...
...and even when it's not actually raining, 
it still can look pretty gray and dark, and even bleak :S
It's a new week and Apple Daily's been shut down, but the arrests and assault on press freedom continues here in Hong Kong.  In the wee hours of the morning came the news of the arrest at Hong Kong International Airport of senior editorial writer for Apple Daily and executive editor of the English edition Fung Wai-kong (馮偉光, who used the pen-name Lo Fung 盧峯).  Accused of “conspiring to collude with foreign countries or foreign forces to endanger national security” -- presumably by way of writing editorials asking for such as sanctions to be imposed on Hong Kong officials -- the seventh senior figure associated with the now defunct pro-democracy newspaper to be arrested in recent weeks was believed to be attempting to board a flight to London.   
The past 36 hours or so also has seen pro-democracy digital news outlet Stand News announce that it will remove opinion articles and columns it published before May of this year and stop accepting donations in order to reduce risks under the national security law.  In addition, six of the online media outlet's company directors including, lawyer-activist Margaret Ng and entertainer-activist Denise Ho, have stepped down on company advice, leaving editor-in-chief Chung Pui-kuen -- who happens to be the husband of Apple Daily's now former associate publisher, Chan Pui-man-- and co-founder Choi Tung-ho at the helm.  (Stand News is no stranger to being attacked by the authorities and is widely seen as the next media outlet targeted for closure by the authorities after Apple Daily's demise.)  
New Chief Secretary and acting Chief Executive John Lee, currently filling the place of Carrie Lam while she leads a Hong Kong delegation to Beijing for the Chinese Communist Party's 100th birthday on Thursday (yes, the CCP gave itself a big birthday present back on July 1st, 1997), must be thinking things can't go much better at the start of his temporary watch.  And it surely is entirely coincidental -- and for health reasons -- that the Hong Kong government announced today that it will ban flights arriving from the United Kingdom from this July 1st, right?  (Or maybe not...)
At the time of writing: flights leaving Hong Kong for London and other cities in the United Kingdom have not been banned.  But who can say that such an announcement will not be forthcoming in the near future?  Which, of course, is a major reason to worry -- especially for those who are planning to leave Hong Kong for the United Kingdom, and permanently, in the next few days, weeks and months.  (Also lurking in the back of a number of people's minds: the already passed Immigration (Amendment) Bill 2020 that will empower the government to bar a passenger or a member of a crew from boarding a transportation carrier to enter or leave the territory from August 1st of this year). 
Another development that has really put a damper on today -- and no, I do not mean Hong Kong's first black rainstorm of 2021: the Hong Kong police issuing a letter of objection to -- and thereby effectively banning -- a planned pro-democracy rally for this July 1st, like they did last year.  And while this decision on their part did not come as a surprise at all, I still give credit to the League of Social Democrats, the Tin Shui Wai Connection and the Save Lantau Alliance for trying to revive what had hitherto been a positive tradition of sorts for those who value free speech and democracy here in Hong Kong and an annual event that made many who took part in it to love Hong Kong all the more over the course of doing so.    
Also, here's one more piece of news to get one thinking that Hong Kong has become Absurdistan: a 37-year-old man was arrested for allegedly committing seditious acts by way of having stickers bearing the phrase attributed to Edward Leung on the gate (door?)  of his flat. For those who are uncertain what that now banned phrase is, check out this link where Carrie Lam can be heard uttering it!  
On a more serious note: There's a piece in the New York Times (which can be accessed for free at other websites such as the Deccan Herald's) which outlines how "Hong Kong's march towards an authoritarian future" actually began back in June 2014 -- yes, before the commencement of the Umbrella Movement of 2014, never mind the anti-extradition bill protests of 2019.   And it's not like a good number of people had not seen the warning signs.  Rather, the major mistake they made was assuming, as the social worker extraordinaire Jackie Chen was quoted in the piece as stating, that "it would be a slow strangling" rather than what Chan Kin-man has characterized as moves akin to "crushing a crab to death with a boulder".  Because, well, that seemed way too extreme and absurd not so long ago.

Saturday, June 26, 2021

The police state of Hong Kong

What Hong Kongers wanted
What we got instead

His appointment expectedly raises the spectre of Hong Kong having become a police state -- a state of affairs that many people find appalling.  Not the pro-Beijing Hong Kong Federation of Trade Unions' Alice Mak, however, who's on the record as stating the following in the wake of the announced appointments:  "If it’s a police state, why not? I don’t think there’s any problem with a police state"!
Here's something else to chew on: "Ivan Choy, a senior lecturer at the Chinese University's Department of Government and Public Administration, said he thinks it will become a trend for disciplinary services officers to take up cabinet-level positions, rather than administrative officers (AOs)".  I guess this is to be expected considering how disastrous the most recent former AO (i.e., present Chief Executive Carrie Lam) has been.  Even so, this the security emphasis surely is not a good "look" for Hong Kong to have; as is the fact that both the newly promoted John Lee and Chris Tang are on the US government's sanctions list (along with Carrie Lam).  
In a further sign of Hong Kong having become a police state, a Taiwanese documentary film has been pulled from an LGBT film festival after the Hong Kong authorities refused to approve the film in its entirety, screening venue Broadway Cinematheque announced.  And should it not have been clear: we now have proof that foreign films, not just local cinematic works, are now subject to censorship in ways that weren't the case prior to the amendment of the Film Censorship Ordinance earlier this month.
I know there are many people loath to leave this place, especially if it has been the only home they've ever known.  But I personally know three people who are scheduled to leave Hong Kong for good in the next three weeks as well as know a larger number who have told already told me they will probably leave by this year's end -- and pretty much all of them have security law-prompted police state fears as their primary reason for doing so.

Thursday, June 24, 2021

Bidding a sad farewell to Apple Daily and marking a sinister new era for Hong Kong

The front page of the final edition of Apple Daily


In their going and getting these final copies of this staunchly pro-democracy newspaper, the people of Hong Kong once again sent out a clear message: those who value and want democracy for and in this territory are not a small minority.  And yes, there are plenty of people who believe that even if Apple Daily had put out 4 million copies today, they all would have sold out.   

Apple Daily's website is no longer operational but its final editorial has been saved (and translated into English) here and is worth reading in full.  Suffice to say that it represents such a class act compared to recent editorials in Ming Pao and the South China Morning Post.  A representative paragraph: 
Two years before the handover, foreign media predicted “the death of Hong Kong.” Apple Daily was born in those times. Our first editorial made our stance clear: “What we need to be is a newspaper for Hongkongers.” From the first issue on June 20, 1995, Apple Daily was printed in full color, priced at $2HKD, and came with free apples to seize the market, a successful though imperfect ploy for attention. While Hongkongers have simultaneously criticized Apple Daily for its sensationalism and praised it for its fearlessness, founder Jimmy Lai once said: “Apple Daily has committed many mistakes, and has not been able to fulfil its readers’ wishes in many areas and for that we are deeply sorry. But reflecting on the past quarter of a century, we have a clear conscience.” 
For the record: "Yes, [people] are aware of Apple Daily's failings, their paparazzi arm and all. What is being mourned isn't exactly the paper, but the possibility of its existence in this city that prided itself for its witty discretions - now replaced by a monotonic, absolute drone."  (Thank you, Lok!)  Also, exiled activist Nathan Law outlined in a series of Tweets what Apple Daily's closure means to the city and community: including the loss of more than 1000 workers and the loss of funding for a charity operated by Apple Daily that subsidizes expensive patent drugs for underprivileged patients 

But some interesting details have already come to light in the first two days of the trial (covered here and here by Holmes Chan).  Among them, that pepper balls were fired at Tong Ting-kit when he was riding his motorcycle, including when he was moving away from police officers (as opposed to towards them, as the officer who opened fire had alleged).  In addition, the defence has asserted that Tong could have hit police officers with his bike, but instead chose to avoid them; something which a police officer being examined conceded could have been the case.  Also, the court still has yet to hear detailed discussions of whether the slogan on his flag is advocating secession!             
Furthermore, other publications involving Jimmy Lai are being flagged by trouble by the authorities and making the news today.  More specifically, an investigation is under way as to why around 13 books by Jimmy Lai went on display on the "Librarian's Choice" shelf at Shek Tong Tsui Public Library.  Will this lead to more book censorship in Hong Kong?  Sadly, the answer is looking like a resounding "Yes".  In which case, here's leaving the last words today to Louisa Lim, an author whose book has been pulled from circulation in Hong Kong libraries -- by way of a The Guardian piece published today entitled The closure of Apple Daily marks the start of a sinister new era for Hong Kong:-      
In recent days, I’ve received distraught messages from friends. One wondered whether it was safe to post to Facebook stories; another weeped down the phone that there were no words left to write. That sentiment was echoed by the chairman of Apple’s parent company, the veteran journalist Ip Yut-kin, who simply said: “I have tens of thousands of words in my heart, but I am speechless at the moment.” The national security legislation’s ambit is vague, making Hong Kong a far less predictable environment than mainland China itself. 

The authorities’ retrospective use of the law means its impact stretches backwards in time. One victim is the entire Apple Daily archive, which has disappeared overnight from the internet; 26 years of journalism were wiped out in an act that also affects the collective memories of Hongkongers, who have long spent their weekend yum cha sessions sharing Apple Daily articles with their families.
One moment illustrating how swiftly Hong Kong’s media are being brought to heel was the sacking of the beloved political satirist Tsang Chi-ho last week. His TV programme, Headliner, was cancelled in June last year after a 30-year run, but he continued to host a radio show. Last week he was sacked after coming off air, providing an unceremonious end to 21 years of employment for the government broadcaster, RTHK. The outspoken democracy advocate said he suspected his political views were the reason. He posted a picture of his empty metal locker on Facebook with the message: “Everyone. I’ve already left RTHK. Unfortunately I had no chance to tell the audience goodbye.”

Tuesday, June 22, 2021

Media woes and more in an increasingly sad and absurd Hong Kong

In traditional Chinese characters on a bottle of water: 
"Hong Kong is really beautiful --  There's a 
spirit called persistence [here]"
"Hong Kong is really beautiful --
Neither mountains high, 
nor troughs low can deter the pursuit of dreams"

"Hong Kong is really beautiful -- 
Lift your head 
and eventually you'll see a clear sky"
The end is nigh for Apple DailyI take no pleasure in reporting this -- and at least one journalist friend tasked with writing its obituary has told me she felt like crying while doing so.  For despite the best efforts of the community to support it and the folks of Apple Daily itself to "press on", it is very much looking like Hong Kong's sole pro-democracy print publication's days are numbered as a result of being starved of cash to operate by the freezing of three of its bank accounts -- with its final paper edition being likely to be produced this week and possibly even being tomorrow's (Wednesday, June 23rd, 2021).  
Already, as some 30,000 people tuned in to watch it live, the Apple Daily News Report aired for the last time last night.  And today saw the halting of more Apple Daily news services, including its English language news website, a number of whose pieces I've found of value and interest (including feature pieces about the delights to be found from walking about in the city and highly rated local Cantonese restaurant, The Chairman).  "Dear readers", its final post reads, "This concludes the updates from Apple Daily English. Thank you for your support.".  
An Apple Daily report about the withdrawal from shops of "Hong Kong is so beautiful"-themed Watsons distilled bottled water featuring photos of Hong Kong landscapes and slogans like "No matter if we scatter, our roots are here" an  "Neither mountains high, nor troughs low can deter the pursuit of dreams" sadly never made it into its English website.  And it's been left to others to report in English on other recent absurdities as the government having announced a further relaxation of social distancing rules yesterday as Hong Kong recorded zero local coronavirus cases for 14 consecutive days that nonetheless keeps the four-person cap on public gatherings in place and, also yesterday, over 20 police officers having being deployed to arrest a man who had hung a Hong Kong protest flag outside his window.   
As an aside: I wonder how much longer before Radio Television Hong Kong (RTHK) is completely neutered and the Hong Kong Free Press banned or brought down by the authorities.  With regards to the former: its gutting has already begun and even while its sassiness still manifests itself from time to time, the public broadcaster most definitely is no longer completely its old, beloved self.  With regards to the latter: the popular consensus appears to be that the authorities will take aim first at the remaining independent/pro-democracy local Chinese press first, notably StandNews (whose chief editor, as it so happens, is the husband of Apple Daily's associate publisher, Chan Pui-man).      
Even so, it's not like the English language international as well as local press don't have anything to fear in Hong Kong -- whose Chief Executive refused to clarify how journalists can avoid breaking the vaguely defined national security law following the raid and prosecution of journalists at Apple Daily (despite being specifically asked to do so by a Bloomberg reporter at a press conference today).  Also, as one would expect of her, Carrie Lam chose too to ignore this question from an Apple Daily reporter: "you claimed [the authorities are] not clamping down on press freedom, but many of my colleagues are no longer able to report; you said [the National Security Law] only targeted a small minority, but ~800 people now lost their job. Could you respond?"  
On days like this, it really is hard to see much light anywhere, never mind at the end of the tunnel.  And even while I am glad to learn that activist Owen Chow today became the 12th of the 47 people facing a subversion charge for organizing or taking part in the pro-democracy camp’s Legislative Council primaries last July to be granted bail, the fact of the matter is that the majority of that number remain behind bars (despite their trial not actually even having begun yet) and there are a whole lot more pro-democracy Hong Kong politicians currently behind bars or in exile than out moving about freely here.

At the same time though, don't think that Hong Kongers have lost their sense of humor and defiance.  As proof, check out the response of wags to the Watsons Water bottle insanity: with such as a proposed "Hong Kong is really ugly" series and another showing that "Hong Kong really needs water"!  And should anyone wonder: I really do believe that "small acts of resistance *are* meaningful", with their letting others know that we are not alone and, also, are in fact the sane people in this sadly increasingly absurd city.  

Saturday, June 19, 2021

Apple Daily's still dominating the news in Hong Kong

The headlines of the front page of Apple Daily yesterday
(with the photos of its five arrested senior executives in between)
The front page of today's
Apple Daily
And not only did the staff of Apple Daily respond magnificently to the call of duty once more, so did Hong Kongers --  with many of them queueing from as early as late Thursday evening to buy that whose front page headlines announced that “National security police searched Apple, arrested five people, seized 44 news material hard disks” and, also -- this emblazoned in yellow -- "“we must press on”.  On a personal note: the first two news stands I went to look for a copy of Apple Daily yesterday had sold out earlier in the morning.  At the third new stand that I went to, one man in the line in front of me bought 10 copies of the newspaper, a woman five copies.  And I really did spot a number of neighborhood shops and restaurants offering up free copies of the newspaper to their customers -- today as well as yesterday.  
The stories gleaned from new reports, social media and personal experience about people's support for Apple Daily -- and, by extension, an independent local Hong Kong press -- have been largely heartening.  But there also has been at least one chilling report of a school teacher who bought 10 copies of the newspaper for his colleagues having been reported to his superiors for "bad motives" and subsequently being suspended from teaching for at least one day.
In addition, while three of the five senior executives arrested on Thursday morning were released on bail yesterday evening, Apple Daily editor-in-chief, Ryan Law, and Next Digital's chief executive, Cheung Kim-hung, have been charged with "collusion with foreign or external forces".  And although it's not unexpected, it still was sad to get confirmation earlier today that the duo have been denied bail -- with chief magistrate Victor So's rejection of their bail applications carrying the implication that they are guilty as charged since he reasoned that there was insufficient reason for the court to believe that the defendants would not "continue to endanger national security" (my emphasis).

For one thing, there is very much the sense that "once Apple Daily has been completely shut down, [the authorities] won't stop there. They'll just move on to the next one down the list."  And while press freedom and freedom of speech are things we consider important and have been harping about -- not least because they are supposedly enshrined in Article 27 of the Basic Law -- it is becoming clearer and clearer that we also have to worry about the loss of freedom of information in Hong Kong.  Because, without the likes of Apple Daily, "Within 1 or 2 years we will be on par with the mainland. No genuinely independent local media & a firewall around the internet including foreign media."

Thursday, June 17, 2021

Apple Daily and press freedom in Hong Kong come under attack once more, and more severely than ever before

 Credit: Ah To 阿塗
The authorities' attack on Jimmy Lai's Apple Daily continues. Earlier today, Hong Kong’s national security police arrested its parent company, Next Digital's CEO (Cheung Kim-hung) and COO (Royston Chow), the newspaper's chief editor Ryan Law, associate publisher Chan Pui-man and Apple Daily Digital's platform director (Cheung Chi-wai).  "They are accused of breaking Article 29 of the Beijing-imposed national security law, which prohibits “collusion with a foreign country or with external elements to endanger national security.”
"At 7:30 a.m. on Thursday, hundreds of police officers also raided the headquarters of Apple Daily in Tseung Kwan O, blocking all entrances of the office. All staff members are required to register with their identity cards, staff ID and personal information, before they are allowed in. They can only enter the canteen and are prevented from accessing other areas of the office. Journalists are not allowed to return to their own desks, and are barred from filming or live-streaming the raid."
In a letter to its readers published this afternoon, it's made clear though that "the staff of Apple Daily is standing firm".  This despite it being so that: "After five hours of investigation, [the] police confiscated a large number of items [from the newspaper's office], including 38 computers of journalists, which contained considerable journalistic materials. Hong Kong’s press freedom is now hanging by a thread."
It's been reported that the plan is to print 500,000 copies of Apple Daily for tomorrowIf by some miracle, they get printed and made available for sale, I hope that Hong Kongers will rally once more to support the only remaining pro-democracy print newspaper in Hong Kong and snap them up.  This despite -- or maybe even because of -- security secretary John Lee having urged the public and the media this afternoon to cut all ties with several Apple Daily executives arrested under the national security law, warning people that "would regret it" if they don't do so; a move more than one commentator has described as "chilling"