How many more dark days must Hong Kong,
and Hong Kongers, endure? :(
I had planned to continue blogging about a couple more films I viewed at the 2022 Hong Kong International Film Festival this evening but a few hours ago came (bad) news that I can't ignore and want to help call people's attention to. The first of this involves the shocking news that Hong Kong Journalists Association (HKJA) head Ronson Chan was arrested this afternoon while reporting on a home owners’ committee meeting for online outlet Channel C.
For the record: Chan was arrested on two charges – obstructing police officers and disorder in a public place. What appears to have occured is that Chan and another man were deemed to be acting "suspiciously" by the police for whatever reason and asked to show their ID cards. The other man did so whereas Chan refused to comply.
For those wondering why the head of Hong Kong's largest journalist association would act this way: here's a reminder that back in December 2019, when he was covering the extradition bill protests, a police officer deliberately held up the then Stand News journalist's ID card to a camera recording a live broadcast for close to a minute -- thus revealing what should otherwise be personal information for the world to see and doxxing Chan. And despite a senior police officer (specifically, the force's (then) public relations head, Kwok Kwa-chuen) admitting that was "inappropriate" behavior on the part of the offending officer, no apology was ever issued to Chan, never mind any penalty imposed on the cop who had effectively put Chan in danger, not least by infringing on his privacy.
Earlier this year, Chan gave an interview to the BBC in which he stated that "I haven't broken the law. I haven't done anything wrong. Why should I be afraid?" The HKJA head also revealed this past May that he would be going to the United Kingdom to join the Reuters Institute’s fellowship programme at Oxford University starting in early October (but said that he planned to return to the city after the programme ended).
Now there are people who are saying that he should have been less confident that he would not run afoul of (what passes for) the law in Hong Kong and (permanently) left the city before today. And, at the very least, it is indeed looking like his plans to go to Oxford next month are now in serious jeopardy, if not outright shot.
At least Ronson Chan is now out on bail. It is hoped that the charges laid against him will be dropped. It is worth noting that Reporters Without Borders (RSF) called for his immediate release this afternoon while the Foreign Correspondents' Club (FCC) noted "with concern" the arrest of the Chairman of the Hong Kong Journalists Association and that it "supports journalists’ right to cover stories without fear of harassment or arrest."
A note re the FCC: Its words are mild indeed compared to the RSF's but this also is the same FCC which, just two days ago, revamped its statement on press freedom by removing the lines ""Faced with unprecedented attacks on the media, never has our club’s role been more vital – nor our commitment been stronger" and "The Human Rights Press Awards, now in their 24th year, are the biggest journalist event on the Club calendar" from it. And, frankly, it's a bit of a surprise that it did issue a statement at all about Ronson Chan's arrest.
But while Ronson Chan's case is far from settled, that of the Hong Kong speech therapists arrested for producing illustrated children's books about sheeps and wolves is. General Union of Hong Kong Speech Therapists committee members Lorie Lai, Melody Yeung, Sidney Ng, Samuel Chan and Fong Tsz-ho were found guilty this afternoon of producing “seditious publications” by national security law judge judge Kwok Wai-kin.
For the record: the maximum penalty for sedition is two years. The quintet have already spent more than a year behind bars after they were denied bail post their arrest in July 2021. So this means that even if the therapists get slapped with the full 2 year sentence, they have already served most of it.
Those with a glass half full perspective might see this as a "thank goodness for small mercies" detail. In any case, I think many will agree with the Hong Kong Democracy Council's verdict that " Of the many ridiculous political trials in HK, this tops the list". And this particularly after one sees/reads for onself what the books deemed "seditious" look like (go here for an illuminating Twitter thread that provides an English translation of the book entitled -- yes, really -- The Sheep Village Defenders).
Today's Twitter thread on the matter by the Hong Kong Democracy Council also is worth reading in its entirety, and includes the following point: "This is the 1st time since 1967 that anyone's been convicted of "sedition" for publishing something in Hong Kong". Some other ones worth noting: "In all now 12 people have been convicted of "sedition" in #HongKong in the past year; 0 have been acquitted. 59 have been arrested, 38 charged, & 36 remanded in custody pending completion of trial"; "34 of the 59 sedition arrests have come since Dec 28, 2021. Since then, no one's been arrested & charged under the national security law--an apparent shift in the regime's strategy of repression, extending the [Chinese Communist Party]'s draconian measures to common law & expanding tools of repression"; and "Among the 12 convicted of sedition: 5 trade unionists, a radio host, a leader of a political party, 2 tea shop owners, a minor, a 75-year-old with cancer."
Meanwhile, the sedition trial of two more Hongkongers is winding its way through the courts. Garry Pang, a 59-year-old pastor, and elderly court goer Chiu Mei-ying appeared in front of Magistrate Cheng Lim-chi at West Kowloon Magistrates’ Courts on Tuesday (i.e., yesterday). Their alleged crime: they "continued to clap [their] hands during a hearing in January, even after the magistrate had warned people sitting in the public gallery not to do so".
It does indeed have come to this in Hong Kong. Seditious clapping. Seditious speech therapists. And a senior journalist deemed "suspicious" enough to be arrested, though not -- for now -- seditious. Truly, it's been another dark day for (justice in) Hong Kong today. We have had far too many of them in recent years. But we have to tell ourselves: This is neither normal nor should it ever be. And it's also worth bearing in mind that one of the lessons the sheep in the speech therapists' illustrated children's books sought to impart was that "We must not give up simply because we are scared.”