The notion that national security will one day be invoked to silence dissent comes as no surprise to hardened Hong Kongers. Commentators, academics and filmmakers have long prophesied that doomsday scenario. The writing has been on the wall for years, and the arrival of an anti-subversion law is a matter of when, not if. We just didn’t think it would happen so soon, at least not before the return of Article 23 that the city has fought so hard to keep at bay. But that day is now upon us.
July 1, an ambivalent occasion for many, marks the anniversary of Hong Kong’s handover from the United Kingdom to China. 21 years ago, despite widespread cynicism, ex-governor Chris Patten welcomed this momentous occasion labelling it a “cause for celebration.” However, as the story has unfolded, it seems that the scepticism of many has borne more and more weight. After all, the ‘one-country, two systems’ policy for Hong Kong was the brainchild of the same Chinese leader, who less than a decade ago, summoned hoards of armed soldiers and a mob of tanks to commit one of the deadliest massacres of the 20th century.
July 1 – the day which marks Hong Kong’s handover to China. July 1 – the day known for its celebratory fireworks display, but more importantly, for its symbolic annual march. In the two decades since the establishment of the Special Administrative Region, the march has become synonymous with political discontent, serving as a platform for the public and pro-democracy activists to lobby for genuine democracy and universal suffrage. In 2003, 500,000 demonstrators joined the march, forcing the government into an embarrassing climb-down on its proposed national security law.
Progressive Lawyer Group member Jason Y. Ng talks about the free speech controversies at The Chinese University of Hong Kong 香港中文大學 - CUHK and The Education University of Hong Kong, in an op-ed for the Hong Kong Free Press HKFP (views are his own). "Activists fighting for marriage equality or access to medical marijuana should be free to wave rainbow flags or hand out leaflets explaining the health benefits of cannabis. Neither same-sex marriage nor marijuana use is legally permissible, but that’s precisely the point of free speech: to debate whether they should be."
After reading certain recent press articles, one would be forgiven for wondering if one had schizophrenia. In a recent article, conservative columnist Christine Wat Wing-yin (屈穎妍) accused the legal aid system of working to enrich senior counsel Philip Dykes and other barristers. Around the same time, another article referred to the dramatic decline in income of foreign counsel after the handover – with one of the interviewees being Dykes. So which is it: has Dykes been fattened up or has he had to tighten his belt?
The slow-motion disaster that is Oathgate has now spread from the pro-independence firebrands to the mainstream pro-democracy camp. After the High Court disqualified localist lawmakers Yau Wai-ching and Baggio Leung nearly nine months ago, four more members of the Legislative Council (Legco) lost their jobs last Friday. Nathan Law, “Long Hair” Leung Kwok-hung, Lau Siu-lai and Edward Yiu had all strayed from the prescribed oath during the swearing-in ceremony. According to the supreme decisionhanded down by China’s National People’s Congress Standing Committee (NPCSC) in November, that minor infraction was enough for all of them to each get a pink slip.
An independent press is called the fourth estate because it holds accountable the ruling class – from the clergy and the noblemen in medieval times to the three branches of government in modern democracies. In Hong Kong, the press plays an especially critical role because citizens are deprived of a democratically elected government. Both the chief executive and nearly half the legislature are appointed by small committees stacked with pro-Beijing loyalists, which gives ordinary people little leverage over politicians they play no part in choosing. Going to the press is often the most effective, if not the only, recourse available to those who want their grievances heard or injustices righted.
It was less than a month ago when citizens wrestled with the dilemma of whether to take part in the Tiananmen candlelight vigil at Victoria Park. Naysayers argued that the annual ritual, in its 28th iteration this year, had devolved into a night of sing-along and group therapy, as well as a thinly-veiled excuse for political parties to hit up participants for money. Those arguments had traction, especially among the youth, and many chose to stay home on June 4. The turnout was the lowest in years.
Today marks the twenty-eighth anniversary of the Tiananmen Square Massacre, known more delicately in this part of the world as the June 4th Incident. Members of the so-called ‘June 4th Generation’—people born in, or before, the 1980s who feel a deep connection with the thousands of student protesters murdered that summer—have always felt a sense of duty toward them: to vindicate their death, and until then, ensure that the younger generations do not forget what happened.
The Hong Kong National Party (HKNP) has drawn no shortage of vitriol in the short time since its foundation. Liaison Office chief Zhang Xiaoming blustered that its formation “far exceeded the topic of freedom of speech.” Chief Secretary Carrie Lam was equally bombastic, suggesting that “the suggestion [of independence]… violates the Basic Law”.
Hong Kong’s judges have frequently found themselves pilloried by political talking heads of late, and the past few weeks have been no exception. Former ICAC Deputy Commissioner Tony Kwok Man-wai called on Internet users to “hunt down” the judge who granted bail to Hong Kong Indigenous leader Ray Wong Toi-yeung and dig up dirt on judges’ “relationships with pan-democratic parties.”
On the first day of the Lunar New Year, Hong Kongers watched in shock as a series of unfamiliar images unfolded on their screens: a policeman firing two gunshots, burning tyres, and masked men hurling bricks. Such aggression – from civilians as well as police – was unseen on local soil since the 1967 leftist riots.
Just to recap: Superintendent Franklin Chu King-wai, the former commander for the Sha Tin Division, was filmed hitting pedestrians unwittingly caught up in a protest in Mong Kok on November 26, 2014. Some pedestrians were in the path of the said baton and obstructed the baton in the due execution of its duty.
Although the “statement of findings” has not yet been published, and the case is currently under appeal, the court’s decision seems vexing to say the least. It is obviously improbable that anyone who intends to assault another person would choose to do so with her breasts. On the contrary, in most criminal cases involving physical contact between a hand and a breast, it is the person who touches the breast that is convicted of indecent assault.
When I raise the question with women (and some men) about what could be done to address gender discrimination in the workplace, the first response is always: women just need to “lean in.”
Hong Kong is generally perceived as one of the more progressive corners of Asia on the matters of gender and racial acceptance. However, traditional gender roles are still expected of and imposed on women, implicitly and explicitly, in varying degrees. While gender discrimination and rigid gendered expectations for both men and women are widely prevalent, my personal experiences in Hong Kong’s legal industry — where I experienced first-hand the most blatant as well as more subtle forms of discrimination — was a crude but necessary awakening that not even the most privileged and well-educated among us are exempted from gender discrimination, whether as victim or as perpetrator.
I still remember how I became concerned about academic freedom for the first time. I was studying abroad, contemplating whether I should take a class that touched upon the sensitive subject of the Tiananmen Massacre. In the first lecture, a fellow classmate said to me, “Apparently someone went around campus telling other Chinese students not to take the class. So yeah, I’m having second thoughts about whether I should take this class or not.”
I am a Christian and a lawyer, and I support the legalisation of same-sex marriage. As a Christian, I understand the solemnity and sanctity of a marriage ordained by God, and the theological views on homosexuality. As a lawyer, my spiritual heart is given to protecting all marginalised members of society. I do not intend to “convert” anyone from their personal beliefs but I would like to explain how I reconcile the two seemingly conflicting views.
When more high-profile protests such as the Umbrella Movement failed to bring real changes to our political system, what should we realistically aim to achieve through the July 1 marches? When the proliferation of new media allows us to express our political sentiments and views more easily, are protests or marches still relevant? When society is filled with diverse voices, is it still possible to deliver clear and strong messages through rallies? The July 1 march has its unique and symbolic meaning to us. However, if we want to keep on fighting, what is the way forward?
A few weeks ago, Beijing-friendly columnist Chris Wat Wing-yin (屈穎妍) issued a letter through her lawyers to radio host and columnist Tsang Chi-ho (曾志豪), alleging that his article titled “The Wat Wing-yin Phenomenon”, published in Apple Daily, had caused her harm. Wat demanded Tsang publish an apology and clarification. Although the exact contents of Wat’s letter are not publicly available, it is a fair guess that her demands were based on an accusation of defamation.