Saturday, July 30, 2022
Prime view of a Hong Kong sunset
The past few days have seen more jailings and political persecution. On Thursday, former Sha Tin District Council head, Li Chi-wang, was sentenced to seven months imprisonment for "“behaving in a noisy or disorderly manner in a public place” during a demonstration on May 24, 2020 in Wan Chai against the national anthem ordinance and the national security law which came into force a month later." This finding prompted Louisa Lim, the author of Indelible City:Dispossession and Defiance in Hong Kong, to Tweet the following: "Seven months in jail for shouting, “The police are all rubbish.” Every day I seem to post another conviction in Hk which is more ludicrous, more tragic than the day before."
Regular readers of this blog probably won't be surprised to learn that Hong Kong has the second most rapidly increasing population of political prisoners (with Burma being this category's champions). "On May 11, HK had 1,014; June 6, 1,036; June 27, 1,048; July 28, 1,082. Hundreds of political trials are on-going, most for "riot" or under the National Security Law" whose repeal the United Nations Human Rights Committee has urged. But mere days after the United Nations Human Rights Committee did so, four former leaders of a defunct pro-democracy activist group find themselves facing sentences of up to seven years in jail after pleading guilty to inciting subversion under that draconian Beijing-imposed law.
Small wonder then that it's easy to conclude that Hong Kong's "once-thriving culture of political engagement has been obliterated", like in Ian Johnson's fantastic piece in The New York Review which took a look at four recent books on Hong Kong -- including Louisa Lim's Indelible City and Karen Cheung's The Impossible City: A Hong Kong Memoir -- and more. At the same time though, he referred to Hong Kong in a recent Tweet as an/the "Indestructible City" and noted that some of the authors of the books he wrote about "try to stay optimistic -- that somehow, the city's liberties won't die".
Two quotes from a third book that Johnson writes about -- Ho-fung Hung's City on the Edge: Hong Kong Under Chinese Rule -- are instructive. "Any Hong Kong observer would notice how swiftly and fundamentally the social equilibrium underlining the relative political stability of pre-1997 Hong Kong unraveled under Chinese rule." And yet: there seems to be the sense and possibility, Johnson mused, that "China might not want [-- or be able? --] to completely squelch all of its liberties"; leading to a situation where "Hong Kong is a city constantly on the edge. It is on the edge of great powers, on the edge of being annihilated, and on the edge of breaking free" (my emphasis).
So maybe there's some reason to stay optimistic after all. Citing another Johnson Tweet on the subject: "Let's hope so, because Hong Kong is a remarkable city, one of the world's great ones, and its people deserve the liberties that they have struggled for, first under British colonial rule and then under 25 years of largely botched Chinese rule."
Thursday, July 28, 2022
Are there still viable paths to justice now that
The United Nations Human Rights Committee published its findings on Hong Kong together with Macao, Georgia, Ireland, Luxembourg and Uruguay yesterday after examining the implementation of civil and political rights in those territories. Minutes after they did so, political reporter Alvin Lum summed up the section for Hong Kong as follows: The "UN Human Rights Committee has called on Hong Kong to repeal National Security Law and sedition law in a strongly-worded report."
Some people gave the news a luke warm reception as they feel the time for action, not just words, is way overdue. A typical reaction on this end went along the lines of "A nice gesture but destined for the wastebasket. [The Chinese Communist Party] is impervious to UN and any other external pressure." Also, I'm sure many people would agree that Lap Gong Leong has a point when he stated that the committee "Should've said something BEFORE [China] passed the law".
However, certain legal authorities greeted the committee's findings for Hong Kong with much more emotion and enthusiasm than expected. For example, over on Twitter, the Executive Director of Georgetown Center for Asian Law (part of Georgetown University), Tom Kellogg, was moved stated [in Twitter speak which I've taken the liberty of deciphering) that: "In my 20-plus years of working on human rights in China, [the comitttee's Concluding Observations] are among the strongest I have seen from a UN body: The Committee directly calls on Hong Kong to repeal both the national security law and the sedition provision of the Crimes Ordinance, for example. A strong and clear statement on the need for immediate action.".
He concluded his eight Tweet thread with the following words: "The Committee should be commended for its robust and deep human rights analysis of Hong Kong's national security law, and for its clear call for the Hong Kong to live up to its International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights obligations. Hong Kong should act now to respond to the very real concerns expressed by the Committee".
Another Georgetown University legal scholar, Eric Yan-ho Lai, was moved to emphasize that the UN Human Rights Committee had produced a "Strong worded statement without ambiguity". He also Tweeted that the committee had made five demands:-
Inevitably, people made the connection with the Hong Kong pro-democracy protestors' "Five demands, not one less"; with more than one person having noted that the last three of the UN Human Rights Committee's five demands listed by Eric Yan-ho Lai are remarkably like three of Hong Kong folks' "five demands, not one less".
Another legal mind who's weighed on the UN Human Rights Committee's Hong Kong report is Samuel Bickett. The following are some choice points from his substack piece on what he referred to as a "damning report on Hong Kong", in which he opted to "highlight a few key angles that I haven’t seen fully covered elsewhere":
1) [E]ven though the Committee surely knows that the national security law (NSL) is a Chinese national law, not a Hong Kong law, the report called on Hong Kong to stop enforcing the NSL, not China itself. Hong Kong has no authority to repeal the NSL [but it can] "refrain from applying” the NSL. This appears to be a thinly-veiled call for the only Hong Kong body with the legal and constitutional authority to invalidate the NSL — the Court of Final Appeal — to use its power to do so.
2) Several commentators have already noted the apparently unprecedented reference in the report to the unjust imprisonment of barrister Chow Hang Tung on both NSL and non-NSL grounds... But while Chow is the only prisoner mentioned by name, the Committee also specifically raised concerns in paragraph 15 about the sedition charges against several people for “clapping in court.” This case is, in my view, the most egregiously unlawful case we have seen thus far from the National Security Bureau, and it is right for the Committee to highlight it as representative of the absurd nature of sedition arrests in Hong Kong.
3) The unfortunate reality is that the UNHRC has no authority to enforce the treaty. All it can do is name and shame. But that does not mean that this complex effort, which has taken the time of so many Hong Kong activists over the last several months, has been in vain.
For one thing, it is critically important to create records of the deterioration of Hong Kong—for policy makers, for historians down the road, and for the city’s people. And a record from the UNHRC has more authority than most.
Tuesday, July 26, 2022
This year's edition of the Hong Kong Book Fair was in the news even before it opened due to a number of independent, identifiably "yellow" (pro-democracy) publishers not being allowed to have booths there -- unlike in previous years, including just last year. On social media, there were people declaring that they'd give the event a miss this year. But I went anyway yesterday; in part because I was curious to see for myself how much the event had changed from even its first post-national security law incarnation (in 2021).
Also on social media, there had been photos showing displays of books purportedly by Xi Jinping at the fair. But I actually didn't spot them despite having spent around three hours prowling about the exhibition halls. Had they already been sold out by the time I went yesterday (evening) or were they actually on display in a not particularly prominent area of the exhibition halls, I wonder?
Instead, my eyes were more easily caught by the display of copy after copy of such as George Orwell's Animal Farm and 1984, and books featuring popular Japanese cartoon characters Doraemon and Oshiri Tante (i.e., the butt-faced Butt Detective)! And while there no longer are any books by Joshua Wong and Chris Patten on sale (unlike last year), there still was no shortage of books on Donald Trump (ugh!) and Hilary Clinton (interesting, as I hadn't realized that she had many fans in Hong Kong!) at the book fair!
What does this mean in terms of book censorship? As I intimated earlier in this post, there are people who assume that there's wholesale censorship going on now in Hong Kong. But, as Amy Hawkins and Jeffrey Wasserstrom wrote in The Atlantic about China in a January 2019 article, censorship in China is a "complicated reality": i.e., " It’s less comprehensive, less boot-on-the-face—as Orwell might have put it—and quirkier than many Westerners imagine."
For my part: my sense is that, with books (and also with film), the censors tend to go hard on contemporary works that directly address what's been happening in Hong Kong over the past three years, particularly 2019, and sometimes also with regards to the Umbrella Movement too. On the other hand, works with ideas that one could extrapolate and apply to Hong Kong's contemporary situation tend to be allowed -- perhaps because, as Hawkins and Wasserstrom intimated about China previously, "censors take a rather dim view of their audiences’ abilities[: that is,] they believe... citizens are unable to draw a connection between the political situation... described [in such as Orwell's 1984 and Animal Farm] and the nature of their government".
In any case, here are three takeaways from me with regards to the book fair (which ended today):
- 1) Yes, there's a significant Mainland Chinese presence in terms of publishers and organizations -- but it's notable that the Mainland Chinese section of the exhibition hall was the least crowded of the fair'
- 2) Also, yes, there is a notable absence of politically sensitive books one thinks/knows would sell (including Louisa Lim's Indelible City: Dispossesion and Defiance in Hong Kong along with works by Joshua Wong and Nathan Law) -- but look around and you'll also still see Vaclac Havel's The Power of the Powerless and Timothy Snyder's On Tyranny available, and even booths by publishers/companies one would think are on the non-pro-Beijing side, including a very literally yellow one set up by openly "yellow" media outlet Passion Times; and
- 3) the chief national popular culture champion remains Japan, not Mainland China. E.g., apart from the Butt Detective, there also were books about Doraemon, Pokemon, Rillakuma, etc. (but no Funassyi!) on sale -- and not always aimed at kids either!
One caveat: Even though there were fewer books on sale this year than before, a lot of books still were being hawked in the cavernous exhibition halls of the Hong Kong Convention and Exhibition Centre! So I can't be 100 percent certain that I saw every book on sale as well as not on sale there. (For example, I definitely didn't spot, unlike Hong Kong Twitterverse member Razven, a (Chinese language) copy of Adolf Hitler's Mein Kampf on sale at the book fair!)
At the same time though, something I noticed as part of a trend over a number of years is that the number of English language books on sale at the Hong Kong Book Fair have dropped dramatically. But, then, that's the case with regards to the availability of English language books in Hong Kong. Period.
This is no thanks to a number of international book chains (like Page One and Popular) having exited the Hong Kong market in recent years, the 100 plus year old Swindon Books closing down its Tsim Sha Tsui branch a few years back, and the Communist Chinese Party having gotten a grip on Hong Kong's publishing scene some years ago. And to be clear: this happened before 2019. For, yes, those of us warning -- and upset -- about Beijing's grip on Hong Kong for some years now really were on to something way back then, never mind now!
Sunday, July 24, 2022
One of Hong Kong's "treacherous peaks" which I really
haven't had a strong inclination to hike up (and, worse, down!)
Like in a good number of other parts of the northern hemisphere, Hong Kong's been having a really hot summer this year. With the current heatwave showing no signs for several days still, I figure I'm going to be racking up quite the electricity bill this month since, unlike former Hong Kong Observatory chief Lam Chiu-ying (who's famously a no air-con advocate and still has been just using a fan!), I've been blasting the air con for much of the day and night in my apartment. And I certainly don't think that I'll be out on any hiking trail any time soon, never mind the more challenging ones that Hong Kong has to offer.
A part of me has been in awe of those who've still gone hiking in the heatwave, including at least a couple friends of mine (one of whom regularly hikes in the evenings; another of whom only hikes in the day). But I have to admit that I've wondered whether they're foolhardy as well as just plain hardy. And this especially after learning that there have been two hiker deaths in Hong Kong this weekend by way of an RTHK article whose headline is HK bakes under the the third hottest day on record!
(For a measure of how hot it was today, a member of the Hong Kong Twitterverse was moved to observe that: "As at 3pm, HKO has recorded a maximum temperature of 36.1C, the highest ever in July. Sheung Shui has also recorded a maximum of 38.7C, which is the highest ever recorded in July among all automatic weather stations in HK’s territory.")
Returning to hiker deaths relayed in the RTHK article: "a 60-year-old man died after falling unconscious during a hike at Lantau island's West Dog's Teeth" today. Note that the trail in question has been "billed as the hardest hike in Hong Kong", involving "850m of incline and requir[ing] a basic level of bouldering and scrambling to reach the end of the ridge" which connects to Lantau Peak. "It follows the death on Saturday [i.e., yesterday] of a man during a hike at Sharp's Peak in Sai Kung. He's thought to have suffered heatstroke and was declared dead after being airlifted to hospital."
It may stand at just 468 meters (1,535 feet) above sea level but even though I've gone up many higher peaks in Hong Kong than Sharp Peak, I've never been up Hong Kong's 65th highest peak. The reason is that people who've been hiking in Hong Kong longer than I am have told me that they've yet to find a way to go down it without having to "butt it" part of the way on account of it being so steep. (Another reason is that it's so popular that that, reportedly, its trails are not in great condition and have become on the gravelly, and thus slippery, side.)
Something else worth noting about both Wed Dog's Teeth and Sharp Peak: the trails up and down them don't have much tree cover. So it would seem particularly nuts to attempt to hike them in ultra sunny, hot weather. So... I don't want to speak ill of the dead but I think people really need to exercise more common sense even while seeking to exercise during a heatwave.
And while we're on the subject of common sense: Yesterday's RTHK article about the hot weather (entitled Hong Kong swelters on hottest "Great Heat" day ever) had the following lines which, frankly, got me wanting to roll my eyes: "Dr Lam Wing-wo who practises in family medicine... said recently some people went to the doctor thinking they had caught the coronavirus because they had a low-grade fever and headache. In fact these were mild or preliminary symptoms of heat exhaustion or heat stroke, he said."
Said doctor also "called on people to take a break under the shade every 30 minutes after working outdoors." You'd think that would be common sense but, sadly, common sense can be all too uncommon -- in Hong Kong, at least! And while I can sometimes too be lacking in common sense, at least I know that the following is good advice, especially in the current clime: i.e., stay hydrated, drink water, and be careful out there, people! This especially for those folks striving to endure and outlive their enemies.
Friday, July 22, 2022
They look like random numbers scribbled on the wall for
those who don't know but for the majority of Hong Kongers,
they represent dates of great significance
Yesterday, I went to dinner at a "yellow" restaurant and noticed that a sign with the words "Do not forget" had been placed by its entrance. My reaction upon seeing was: how could I not? After all, it's only been three years since the terrorist attack at Yuen Long MTR station which thousands, if not millions, of Hong Kongers witnessed via live streams by, among other others, Gwyneth Ho (who was a Stand News reporter at the time) and then legislative councillor Lam Cheuk-ting -- both of whom were physically attacked on the night and now have been denied bail, and thus behind bars for more than a year now after being arrested on February 28th of last year for taking part in pro-democracy primaries held in July 2020.
To be sure, so much has happened in the past three years. But I remember. I can't not. Earlier today, I read a Tweet (NOT by a Hong Konger) which expressed the following: "You know how when you’re eating spicy food, your mouth eventually goes a little numb and your brain assumes it’s normal for everything to tadte like fire now? That’s how I feel about current events." My reaction: No, I don't know how that is. I.e., my mouth never goes a little numb from eating spicy food. I just feel pain, sometimes horribly so, until I do something to stem it... like drink milk, or eat yoghurt or bananas! And actually, I'm still feeling pain from, and pained, by current events -- as well as those which feel like they took place just yesterday even though it actually was three years ago.
On the subject of anniversaries: today marks one year since five speech therapists were arrested after they were adjudged to be national security threats on account of having produced illustrated children's books about sheeps and wolves. One year on, this idea still seems farcical and would get one laughing except that they have been behind bars since July 2021, denied bail even though they now are charged with sedition rather than breaking the national security law (since, at a pre-trial hearing back in September of last year, the presiding magistrate said that "although they were not charged under the national security law, the allegations in the case relate to the national security legislation").
This past Wednesday, the court heard the closing arguments by lawyers defending General Union of Hong Kong Speech Therapists committee members Lorie Lai, Melody Yeung, Sidney Ng, Samuel Chan and Fong Tsz-ho, all of whom have pleaded not guilty to conspiring to print, publish, distribute and display three books between June 2020 and July 2021 with seditious intention. Instead, the defence argued, the children’s books – alleged to be “indoctrinating” readers with separatism and inciting “anti-China sentiment” – were only printed to recount what happened in Hong Kong, including the 2019 extradition bill protests, the detention of 12 Hong Kong fugitives by mainland Chinese authorities and a strike staged by local medics at the start of the Covid-19 outbreak.
Should you wish to decide for yourself whether the books published are seditious, do check out a Twitter thread by Niao Collective that recounts one of the stories in English, complete with a selection of illustrations from the actual publication. To learn about The Sheep Village Defenders (whose title can also be translated as The Guardians of Sheep Village), start here. And for the record: the other books that have got the five speech therapists into such trouble -- and which were meant for children aged between 4 and 7 years of age to read -- have The 12 Heroes of Sheep Village, and The Garbage Collectors of Sheep Village as their titles: rather innocous and non-seditious sounding, one would have thought; but, then, our minds are not like that of those in the Hong Kong government!
Wednesday, July 20, 2022
Chilli Laugh Story may have been intended to be a Chinese New Year comedy but it still makes for a fun watch in July! (Film review)
A Chinese New Year comedy given a summer release!
Chilli Laugh Story (Hong Kong, 2022)
- Coba Cheng, director and co-scriptwriter (with Matt Chow)
- Starring: Ronald Cheng, Gigi Leung, Edan Lui, Sandra Ng
I finally viewed my first Hong Kong film of 2022 earlier today. This is quite the shocker in view of my being a Hong Kong film fan who lives in Hong Kong and our now having passed the mid year point of 2022. But it needs to be borne in mind that Hong Kong cinemas were ordered to close early on in the year and fifth Covid wave (specifically, on January 7th) and were not allowed to reopen until April 21st. And while it seemed like cinema operators prioritized foreign movies over local ones in the first few months after cinemas reopened, I now realize that it's because they decided to allocate local marquee movies prime summer slots.
Thus it is, that Septet (directed by seven big name Hong Kong filmmakers, including Ann Hui, Tsui Hark, Johnnie To and the late Ringo Lam) will only finally get a general theatrical release later this month, Far Far Away (which was originally scheduled to be released in cinemas on Valentine's Day) will only begin its theatrical run next month, and Chilli Laugh Story (which was originally supposed to be screened during the Chinese New Year period) went on cinematic release last week. (And for the record: the other Chinese New Year comedy made this year, Table For Six, won't be released in cinemas until September!)
Given that Chilli Laugh Story was intended to be a Chinese New Year comedy, I went into the screening expecting wacky fun and a story about, and for, the family. Happily, this movie about a young man named Coba Cheung (Mirror member, Edan Lui, in his first feature film appearance) who sets up an online business selling chilli sauce made at home by his mother (played by singer-actress Gigi Leung) that becomes a far bigger success than they -- and his skeptical father (played by singer-actor Ronald Cheng) -- delivers: both laughs aplenty and feel good moments involving family members (who also include an aunt in the form of actress-co-producer Sandra Ng).
Amazingly, Chilli Laugh Story is also getting theatrical releases in the U.K. and U.S.A. I use the term "amazingly" because Hong Kong comedies are notorious for not travelling well and Hong Kong Chinese New Year comedies particularly so, to the extent that they often don't get screened in Mainland China (even while they do in the likes of Malaysia and Singapore). But it seems that this film's pandemic angle makes it relatable to other parts of the world which have had similar experiences! This is on account of the movie centering on a family experiencing a number of social distancing restrictions that makes working from home make sense -- even while also potentially sowing discord within the household -- and being part of a community where many people end up eating at home, getting sick of their cooking and needing something (like, say, a yummy condiment) to spice things up!
Nonetheless, I can't help but think that one will "get" much more (meaning) out of viewing the movie if one is in Hong Kong and/or (more) familiar with the local culture and politics. A case in point: The Guardian's review of Chilli Laugh Story concludes that "There’s a little dig at the evils of contemporary capitalism, but nothing really controversial that would trouble the censors either back home or here in the UK." But there actually were a number of elements and scenes in the film that I was somewhat surprised did not appear to have incurred the ire of the Hong Kong censors, ranging from there being a number of yellow masks worn by characters in the movie to there being a sad scene involving a son telling his mother that he had decided to emigrate to the UK that was heavy with meaning as well as in mood.
On a lighter note: there's a surprisingly hot -- and daring even? -- sex scene involving Edan Lui's character and his girlfriend (that I'm sure will thrill the boyband member's not inconsiderable number of fans). But its segue into potty humor (literally!) is pure Chinese New Year comedy. Ditto a joke involving Ronald Cheng's character's member and chillis (ouch but absolutely hilarious too!) and another involving "weenies" (as referred to in the English subtitles) later on in the film.
By the way, it's not coincidental that Chilli Laugh Story's director-co-scriptwriter shares a first name with Edan Lui's character. For, as it turns out, the inspiration for this film came from Coba Cheng's own chili sauce making experiences during the pandemic! Something else that I found quite amazing about this cinematic offering: its helmer made his directorial debut with this entertaining movie which also delivered a number of topical, pertinent, heartwarming messages to its target/local audience; ones that require some deciphering but trust me when I say that they should make sense for, and resonate with, people who really f**king love Hong Kong.
One last thing: make sure to stay through to the end credits. Since I don't want to spoil the surprise, I'll just note here that the movie's story is extended past Chinese New Year 2022 and includes references to something that happened in Hong Kong in March that initially freaked out tons of people but ended up being joked about a lot (and uniting people in laughter)!
My rating for this film: 8.0
Monday, July 18, 2022
On sale at the Hong Kong Book Fair last year;
will it be again this year, I wonder?
Let's begin with a look forward (rather than back) for a change: This year's edition of the Hong Kong Book Fair is slated to open two days from now. As with last year, I plan to go again and get some book bargains. But already, I know that at least one local publisher, one of whose books I bought at last year's Hong Kong Book Fair, will not have a booth there -- and not because it didn't want to either.
Hillway Culture (whose marquee tome last year was a bilingual version of George Orwell's Animal Form featuring illustrations by VA Wong Sir) was among the publishers informed that their applications to have booths at the event was rejected. The response of the people behind it was to organize an alternative book fair. But the day before the 1st Hongkongers' Book Fair -- which had attracted a dozen exhibitors -- was set to take place, the venue's owner axed the contract that it had made with the event's organizer, causing the book fair (which is currently ongoing) to have to take place online instead.
Returning to the subject of the Hong Kong Book Fair: Last year was the first time the event had taken place after China imposed a national security law on Hong Kong (on June 30th, 2020) and I was actually heartened when there to see some books on sale that I hadn't thought would be the case. Sadly though, I expect the selection to be much more limited this year.
For example, although it's not illegal for them to be sold in Hong Kong (and certain local bookstores have made copies of them available for sale), I don't expect to see either Karen Cheung's The Impossible City: A Hong Kong Memoir or Louisa Lim's Indelible City: Dispossession and Defiance in Hong Kong -- two of the best books about Hong Kong that I've read -- to be on sale at this year's Hong Kong Book Fair. And neither do I expect to see works such as Johannes M. M. Chan's Paths of Justice (published by the University of Hong Kong press).
Speaking of paths of justice: there have been quite a few court decisions that have made the news in recent days. In addition to the jail terms meted out to veteran activists Koo Sze-yiu and "Grandma" Alexandra Wong, last week also saw six of the 12 youths whose failed attempt flee by speedboat to Taiwan in August 2020 shocked Hong Kong plead guilty to "perverting the course of justice" and seven of the 12 handed prison sentences of between 7 to 10 months that were in addition to the time they served behind bars in Mainland China after being caught illegally entering Chinese waters and separate to other sentences they will be given if found guilty of other, earlier charges levelled upon them (which were the reasons for their having decided to flee Hong Kong back in 2020).
In the latter part of last week, news also broke of Tsang Chi-kin, the teenage protestor shot at point-blank range by a policeman on October 1st, 2019, having been found and arrested in Hong Kong after some two years as a fugitive (despite claims of his having gone into exile). Reportedly, he and three others -- like the 12 youths mentioned in the previous paragraph -- had planned to take a boat and flee to Taiwan by sea; only in their case, they didn't even make it to the pier that they had planned to leave from, never mind the boat they had planned to go on.
Effectively paraded in front of photographers on his way to court this past Thursday, journalists and observers questioned the ethics of showing those photographs of him looking dishevelled and the narrative presented by the police. In a message to the media, Dr Yau Wang-tat, the PhD student who had sought to help Tsang Chi-kin after he was shot (and was arrested and served time for his "sin", and finally released from prison last month) said that "he was confused as the prosecution said in court the defendants remained silent but the police then came out with a story full of details". It was also reported that "Yau added that he was “unsettled for a long while” as he saw news photos of Tsang and other defendants taken within the court premises, where photo taking is normally banned" and, pointedly, "Yau said he doesn’t know what to believe for now and remains confused."
About the only good news that came out of the courts last week was Hong Kong's Court of Final Appeal overturning the city’s first offensive weapon conviction involving zip ties this past Friday. Lawyer Samuel Bickett Tweeted the following measured evaluation of this development: "Let's give credit to the [Court of Final Appeal (CFA)] here—today’s ruling will absolutely help many of our friends in jail or awaiting trial. But CFA is still avoiding genuinely difficult cases. If CFA is too afraid of Beijing's criticism take on these cases, then little will change for the better."
Earlier in his thread on the subject though, he had pointed out the following: The Department of Justice (DOJ) and "lower courts have been applying a Chinese mistranslation of the English law that vastly expanded its scope. This was obvious as soon as DOJ began doing it back in 2019. DOJ didn’t care. Corrupt magistrates didn’t care. Hongkongers were arrested and jailed as a result." Also: the "DOJ’s use of this law was so clearly wrong that it was nearly impossible for the CFA to rule otherwise. This seems to be the CFA’s pattern in political cases: hear political cases & rule in favor of Hongkongers only when lower court practice is so absurd as to be indisputable."
I'll also leave it to Samuel Bickett to make a pronouncement on the decision announced today by the Department of Justice to demand that Tong Ying-kit, the first person found guilty under the Beijing-imposed national security law, pay over HK$1.38 million in court fees for his failed legal bids, including one lodged against the decision to try him without a jury. "This is an extraordinary level of petty vindictiveness by the Hong Kong DOJ against a man who only sought to protect his rights in court. It’s this sort of abuse of discretionary power that really underscores the need for Western sanctions against prosecutors."
Saturday, July 16, 2022
Enjoying a (temporary but still welcome) respite from negative news and the ongoing heatwave at the East Coast Park Precinct (Photo-essay)
It's been a trying week; with lots of bad news about -- and for those who are on the side of -- Hong Kong pro-democracy protestors and activists. I've blogged about the prison sentences meted out to 76-year-old Koo Sze-yiu and 66-year-old Alexandra Wong. Thus far, I've not had the heart to blog about the sad news involving more youthful individuals received in recent days. Oh, and the Covid numbers for Hong Kong have been rising again. Also, like much of the world, we're in the midst of a heatwave.
The last two developments have got me spending more time at home than I'd like. But this evening, I decided to venture out for a bit and was pleasantly surprised to find refreshing breezes blowing and cooling things down a bit. As a result, I found my feet taking me over to the East Coast Park Precinct, where I found myself enjoying the sights -- some of which I photographed and have decided to share a selection of snaps here:
on September 25th, 2021) is popular with kids and adults alike
end of which is the Central-Wanchai Bypass East Vent Shaft
View looking east dominated by Kowloon Peak and a cloudy sky :)
patterns are very Hong Kong :)
Wednesday, July 13, 2022
The senior citizen waving the Union Jack is "Grandma Wong"
Since 2019, a saying one hears often being uttered in Hong Kong is that "Being young is a crime in Hong Kong". This is because it's often assumed by opponents of pro-democracy protestors, including the police, (and also certain "helicopter journalists" who only have a cursory knowledge of Hong Kong) that the vast majority, if not all, of Hong Kong's pro-democracy protestors are youthful university and secondary school students.
To be sure, Hong Kong has (had) its fair share of young political activists -- including 20something year olds like Joshua Wong (who's currently behind bars), Tiffany Yuen (ditto), Lester Shum (ditto), Nathan Law (now in exile) and Agnes Chow (released from prison but seemingly still silenced, like 31-year-old Edward Leung Ting-kei). But anyone who took part in the Umbrella Movement, and the once annual July 1st and October 1st protest marches as well as extradition bill protests -- not to mention the June 4th candlelight vigil, which is particularly known for drawing older crowds -- will be able to attest, there are many gray- and silver-haired folks among Hong Kong's pro-democracy protestors and activists too.
Just consider the not inconsiderable of older folks who have been arrested for on charges to do with protesting (ranging from taking part in "unauthorized assemblies" to those covered by the draconian national security law). Among the more well known are: Jimmy Lai (aged 74 years and currently behind bars); 84-year-old Martin Lee and 74-year-old Margaret Ng (who were handed out suspended sentences); and 90-year-old Cardinal Joseph Zen (arrested in May (along with others including -- again! -- Margaret Ng, and whose trial has not yet concluded).
And joining Joshua Wong, Tiffany Yuen, Lester Shum, Jimmy Lai and co behind bars in recent days are two more senior citizens. Yesterday saw 76-year-old, stage four cancer sufferer Koo Sze-yiu sentenced to nine months imprisonment for his having planned to stage a non-violent protest against the Beijing Olympics in Hong Kong (so, yes, several thousands of kilometers away from any of the Olympic sites) after "the principal magistrate ruled that the offence Koo committed amounted to endangering national security".
Then today saw 66-year-old Alexandra Wong (who's often called "Grandma Wong" as a term of respect by younger pro-democracy protestors and known for her love of the Union Jack) sentenced to eight months jail for "participating in two unlawful assemblies on August 11, 2019 and shouting “offensive words”" in another case where the punishment really seems far more severe than is befitting of the "crimes" committed.
You know the "Captain, it's only Wednesday" meme? And yes, well, it really is only Wednesday. Adding to this week's and today's sense of gloom: News came this afternoon that an alternative book fair planned for publishers banned from taking part in this year's Hong Kong Book Fair has had to cancel the day before it was due to take place after the venue owner decided to disallow the use of his venue for it. Among the planned book fair's organizers and participants was Hillway Culture, whose stall at last year's Hong Kong Book Fair included advertising for, and copies for sale of, a bilingual graphic novel version of George Orwell's Animal Farm with illustrations by now exiled cartoonist VA Wong Sir.
As far as I know, George Orwell's books are still available for sale in many a Hong Kong bookstore. But, truly, it's small consolation for increasingly feeling like one is living in a real life version Animal Farm meets 1984 with doses of works by Kafka, and other dystopian tales thrown in for good measure, though! And this even when/though one hasn't been arrested, charged with some ridiculous crime and thrown in jail -- touch wood/yet!
Monday, July 11, 2022
Upset and horror about planned public control measures on the 600th and 601st days of the pandemic in Hong Kong
Yesterday, July 10th, marked the 900th day of the pandemic in Hong Kong. Yesterday also was the 500th day of Hong Kong’s Covid-19 Vaccination Programme -- and yet, as Joel Chan pointed out over on Twitter, the homepage banner of the Hong Kong government's vaccination website still is touting "Early vaccination for all". Which might, you know, help explain why Hong Kong's such a laggard relative to much of the rest of the developed world when it comes to vaccines, with just around 60% of the population having had three doses of a Covid vaccine (be it either Sinovac or BioNTech/Pfizer) to date.
For the record: Hong Kong reported 2,773 new Covid cases yesterday. In 2020 and 2021, people would feel panicky if the number of new daily cases exceeded 100. But after what we experienced earlier this year, when there were consecutive days of over 50,000 new daily cases recorded and we were seeing numbers of deaths daily there were in the three figures range, people are not freaking out and some might even be said to be on the blasé side with regards to the present situation. We're talking, after all, of 1,251,375 out of 1,271,054 (as of yesterday) of the territory's total numbered Covid cases having occured during the (ongoing) fifth wave.
Instead, what caused more upset and horror yesterday was new health secretary Lo Chung-mau stating that Hong Kong residents may be required to submit real-name registration in order to use the contact-tracing LeaveHomeSafe app in the near future and that the city may also adopt a “health code” system similar to the one used in Mainland China. Lest it not be clear: having a "health code" is not helping Mainland China much in its bid to achieve its "Zero Covid" that the World Health Organisation has described as "unsustainable" and is looking more and more like a sick game of whack a mole. Worse, there's been more than one instance now of the health code being used for non-health purposes to restrict people's movements, block protests and for political surveillance.
A further sign that Hong Kong's going the authoritarian way with regards to dealing with Covid (or is it really more a case of dealing with people at large?) came today -- a day that saw Hong Kong's Covid death tally increase by seven to 9,419 (9,206 of which occured during the fifth wave) -- with Lo Chung-mau announcing that starting this Friday, people undergoing home isolation due to being infected by the coronavirus will be required to wear an electronic bracelet to ensure they will not leave their home. And despite his assurances otherwise, he's not changed most people's minds that the planned arrangements are not about public health but, rather, public control.
As a member of the Hong Kong Twitterverse was moved to comment after this announcement: "Starting to see how Lo Chung-mau got this gig. Embracing mainland tactics, bigger emphasis on punishment and govt authority, people who question it or don't trust it are selfish lawbreakers etc. Pretty much sets the tone for Lee's admin."
A reminder: Lo Chung-mau made himself a laughing stock back in July 2015 with some questionable antics at a meeting of the University of Hong Kong Council of which he was a member. Sadly, we're not laughing now. But, then, all but the most optimistic and naive among us were expecting to be in a cheery mood upon the appointment of John Lee as Chief Executive and, actually, even upon seeing his choices for senior positions (including that of health secretary). Which is saying a lot since the previous holders of many of those positions, including former health secretary Sophia Chan, had not exactly covered themselves in glory or endeared themselves to the Hong Kong public!
Among Sophia Chan's critics was the man whose Hong Kong Covid news compilations many English language speakers have turned to regularly during the pandemic -- bestowing upon her the nickname "word salad" because of her tendency to spout, well, rubbish at press conferences. Back on June 22nd, he Tweeted the following: "I'm slightly concerned there's going to be a day in the near future that I wished Sophia Chan was still Secretary for Health, and that is frankly terrifying." But yesterday, a response to one os his Tweets reporting on Lo Chung-mau's advocating a health code for Hong Kong asked: "Can we have Sophia Chan back as S[ecretary] for Health?"!
Friday, July 8, 2022
Visiting historical sections and locales of the historic Yamguchi prefecture town of Hagi (Photo-essay)
I don't live in Japan and the majority of people I "follow" on Twitter are not Japanese but my Twitter timeline -- and much of the news cycle -- has been dominated by the news of former Japanese prime minister Shinzo Abe being shot this morning while out stumping for a local candidate in Nara and pronounced dead this afternoon. I think part of the great shock at learning of this news is that contemporary Japan is a place where one just doesn't expect to hear about anyone being shot, let alone a senior politician and, also, Japan being a place that many people I know (in Hong Kong, etc.) think very well of.
In all honesty, Japan is the country I miss visiting the most these past two and half year or so (as a result of travelling been made difficult, if not well nigh impossible, as a result of the pandemic that has last far longer than most people expected). Japan also happens to be the last country I visited before the pandemic struck. And, ironically, I happened to spend a significant portion of my most recent visit to the Land of the Rising Sun in Abe's home prefecture of Yamaguchi, from which another prime minister of Japan who was assassinated, Ito Hirobumi, also hails.
I hope people don't think it too macabre but since the next installment in my coverage of that October 2019 Japan trip was actually going to include mention of Ito Hirobumi, I'm going to go ahead and share that photo-essay today. And I hope that, in so doing, it'll show the deep affection I have for Japan, a country with quite the turbulent past but, hopefully, a much more peaceful and happier future...
On the same day that I visited Hagi's old castle grounds,
I also walked through its old samurai district and
the historical section bordered by the Aiba Waterway...
Hagi Meirin Gakusya, a former clan school
which now is home to a visitor centre cum history museum.
outside which can be found two stone installations that brought to
mind ones I had seen at Hanoi's Temple of Literature!
In the building of that which is also known as the Meirinkan can be
found displays of various artefacts include weapons and helmets
Choshu Five (young samurai who
went to study abroad and returned to become leaders of politics
and industry in Meiji Japan), who include Ito Hirobumi
had also studied under Yoshida Shoin, a noted educator
condemned to death at the age of just 29
in his final years is now part of the Shoin Shrine (Shoin Jinja)
that's Hagi's largest (Shinto) shrine
for many Japanese: the former villa of Ito Hirobumi,
the first prime minister of Japan