Why I’ll keep marching for Hong Kong
By Hoe I Yune, Jul 18, 2019
Over the past months, Hong Kong received worldwide attention. Citizens took to the streets opposing to a government-proposed extradition bill. At its peak, the protest drew the support of more than two million people – to put things in perspective, one in four Hong Kongers joined the marches.
Background: if passed, the bill would allow criminal suspects to be sent to mainland China for trial. Protesters fear that the proposed legislation would be used as a means by China to tighten its grip on their home and target political enemies, eroding the civil rights enjoyed by Hong Kong under the “one country, two systems” policy since the handover.
Till date, four people, averaging the age of 28, took their own lives in desperation and out of fear for the uncertain future of the state. A lot is clearly at stake for them. These protests are their cry for freedom and democracy.
Based in Singapore, Malaysia, or elsewhere in the world, it’s easy to disengage. But the unity of the Hong Kongers and the love and patriotism they have displayed for their nation moved us.
We spoke to a native to find out why she’s bravely marching on and speaking up to protect her home as she knows it.
You can call me Sharon. I’m a 26-year-old solicitor who’s born and raised in Hong Kong. I’ve been participating in lawful and peaceful protests against the extradition bill. Sharon’s not my real name but I need to remain anonymous given that it’s a sensitive period to speak up openly against the government.
It has been a trying time for Hong Kong but there were many heart-warming instances that kept us going.
Over the last couple of months, I’ve seen people clearing the path for those in wheelchairs so that they could join the march, and clapping to cheer them on. People would donate water bottles and wearable cooling patches so that protesters can stay hydrated and cool. I’ve even noticed shop owners offer drinks and shelter to protestors who feel unwell.
As late as about 2am, protestors would stay back after rallies to clear rubbish off the street. This is even after pro-government rallies, so protestors are literally cleaning up after their opponent’s mess. If you walk along the same roads the next morning, you won’t see a scrap of trash.
When some of the protestors occupied government offices such as the Inland Revenue Department where people pay their taxes, they apologised to other people for blocking the entrance and inconveniencing them.
In the midst of our protests, we still care about the environment and minimising inconvenience caused to others.
It’s because at the root of these protests stems a love for a place we call home.
Still, what touched me the most is seeing how we are taking care of one another’s well being and safety.
Protestors would share face masks and umbrellas, passing them to the front line, and there’s even this “system” where protestors use hand gestures to indicate items that they need and residents in the area will help out by handing them over.
People even leave coins at ticket selling machines so that we can purchase one-time tickets for travelling, knowing that the government might use the data stored in our octopus cards to prosecute protestors.
There’ve also been mini van drivers who’ve taken the initiative to pick up students from protest sites when there’s a police crackdown.
Everyone has been so united, and it's moments like these that make me proud to be a Hong Konger.
Though, from the way the media outlets and Facebook groups in the pro-establishment camp have been portraying us, you might think otherwise.
They have been circulating doctored or edited footage to portray protestors as violent criminals who hold no regard for the law. They want to give the false impression that protestors consist of rebellious sons and daughters who refuse to obey orders and blame our parents for not supporting the movement.
It’s not uncommon for children to possess different perspectives from their parents, but it’s disturbing how these underhand tactics set out to divide generations within a family.
I’m thankful that my parents have been understanding. My dad might not encourage me to participate in the rallies, but I was relieved to know that he understands that what we’re fighting for is freedom and to have a say in matters that affect us.
Other underhanded tactics by pro-establishment supporters include sexualising photos of women and young girls.
These doctored photos are circulated on social media. In one example, a photo of a female protestor was doctored to look as if she was not wearing a bra in an attempt to embarrass her and draw attention from the real issues. In another example, if a secondary school girl is standing next to a banner or poster, the words are edited to become indecent slogans.
Unfortunately, involving the police is not an option for many of these victims. Protestors have been angry about police officers being biased. It’s unsettling because we would think that the police are meant to protect the people, but here they are exerting disproportionate force with teargas and rubber bullets, rounding up protestors and beating them up.
Hong Kong journalism groups have issued a joint statement saying that police officers stopped journalists from performing their duties. It listed how one photographer was elbowed in the abdomen by a police officer while taking pictures, and another was stopped from filming.
To me, these are actions obstructing the freedom of the press, which shouldn’t be the case in Hong Kong.
There’s also the issue of basic rights. In any circumstances, female protestors should be searched by female officers upon arrest, but I’ve seen female protestors being dragged around by male officers with their clothes lifted up and not being given a chance to tidy up their clothes before being physically forced to another location.
I understand that the situation can be very chaotic, but it’s not critical to the point that it warrants inappropriate treatment.
Once deemed “Asia's finest”, it’s disappointing to see how our police force is now behaving no differently from triad members.
In the course of these events, the faith and confidence people had in the police have been completely destroyed.
At the end of the day, it’s not even about whether you belong to the pro-establishment or pro-democracy camp, but it’s about about preserving basic human dignity.
Given what I have witnessed happening to other women, I have to admit that being female can put us in a vulnerable position at times, but I know many of us will continue to join the protests because we want a say in the future of our nation.
This is not to say that we’re fearless. Our fear of being prosecuted remains, but we are doing what we do because we realise that it’s right for Hong Kong. We want Hong Kong to be what we remember and love it for.
There’ve been four suicides as a result of the stress from the protests, including suicide notes that point towards how helpless they felt regarding the current political climate and how they stopped believing that there can be a way out of this predicament.
It’s heart-breaking to think that anyone could be consumed by so much fear and desperation to take their own life, especially when I think about how it could’ve been any one of my friends.
In a way, their deaths kept us going. We want to make sure that these deaths were not in vain - that their voices and concerns will be heard and answered.
Today, things have escalated to a point where there are incidents of citizens being arrested by the police for what they’ve posted online - content which may not necessarily be criminal or unlawful.
But I think what’s truly frightening goes beyond censorship; It’s self-censorship. I fear the day we become afraid to voice our views and stand our ground.
Those of us in our twenties are among the last who experienced Hong Kong under British rule. In 1997, Hong Kong was returned to China and since then, Hong Kong has operated under a “one country, two systems” formula.
What this means is we enjoy a free press, freedom of speech, freedom of assembly and an unfettered judicial system - unlike the cities in mainland China.
However, China has been meddling with the way things are lately. Take for instance how candidates were banned from running for last year’s election just because they made statements supporting the discussion of Hong Kong independence.
There was also the case of chilling Causeway Bay Books disappearances, in which Hong Kong booksellers were abducted and detained for selling books banned in China.
The latest attempt to introduce the extradition bill is only one example of how it has tried to prematurely undermine the status quo. I say prematurely because Hong Kong’s economic and political systems shouldn’t be changed for at least another 28 years under the “one country, two systems” rule.
Born and raised in Hong Kong, all my life, I see Hong Kong as drastically different from China.
There are certain freedoms that we take for granted which become obvious once you cross the border. On Mainland China, you’re not able to use Google apps or access newspapers and books criticising the government. And there’s the great firewall of China, as we all know.
Here, we embrace the freedom to have different perspectives on politics and religion, and we uphold the independence of powers, unlike in China where the courts are controlled by the communist party.
I believe in having a freedom of speech, the right to vote for our government representatives, and not living under an authoritarian regime which demands strict obedience at all cost.
Hong Kong is the international financial hub that it is today because of our fair judicial system that enables fair trades and businesses. I believe once this judicial system is corrupted, we won’t have a second chance to turn things around.
When I was studying in Hong Kong University, I saw first-hand how China’s central government in Hong Kong infiltrated student organisations.
They handed out benefits such as small sums of money transferred through WeChat, scholarships, and job opportunities in Chinese companies to win political support from the student body.
They solicited support from student voters by asking them to vote for candidates under their control, or solicit students who were willing to serve as their puppets to be elected as members of the student union.
The tipping point was when they used the students’ funds to publish full page ads in mainstream Hong Kong newspapers during the chief executive election, in order to support their own political figures. It was unscrupulous how they drained HKD 400,000 from the student union reserve for the sake of furthering their political agenda.
The mini fiasco that happened in school opened my eyes to how important it is that we have checks and balances to ensure that the union is a fair representation of its members and students.
And evidently, there are many others who feel the same way, which is why we’ve seen a high turnout from students who are driven to defend their home because we fear not being able to see a future in Hong Kong.
On July 9, Hong Kong’s Chief Executive Carrie Lam announced that the extradition bill is “dead”. But we’re frustrated that she’s not declaring a withdrawal – which signifies that the bill can be revived.
There’s this Harry Potter metaphor
that has been spreading online —
“withdrawal” seems like the new Voldemort to Carrie Lam, a word which must not be said under any circumstances.
Some wonder if there will be a large scale immigration in Hong Kong again, like there was in the 90s right after the handover. But many of the young people participating in rallies have not entered the workforce yet and don’t have the resources to relocate, and I believe that those of us who have stepped out of our comfort zone to voice our opinion won’t abandon our hometown so easily.
In 2014, students led a strike against a decision to propose reforms to the Hong Kong electoral system. Called the Umbrella Movement, it was a protest different from the current one against the extradition bill but similar in that it opposed China imposing on Hong Kong’s right to self-rule.
Several of the Umbrella Movement’s leaders were arrested and punished with prison sentences spanning six to 10 years.
This time round, for fear that we might be hunted by the government, the demonstrations have been dubbed a leaderless movement.
Demonstrations are organised on chatting apps, social media and forums, and a decision has to be made collectively to prevent any one person from being accused of masterminding the movement.
This has united us as a collective and the government cannot resort to negotiating with a lone individual behind closed doors.
A government that is doing its job is not good enough. We want a system that we can trust to keep the checks and balances in place. I’m hoping that the people’s voices will be heard for real.
Otherwise, the conflict between authorities and citizens will continue to intensify, and I’m worried about what this will mean for Hong Kong in the future.
Photos by Sharon and Shutterstock.
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