Hong Kong’s 2020 has been anything but cheerful. Feeling the aftermath of the intense, six-month-long anti-government protests of 2019, the beginning of the new decade had the potential to be a progressive one for the former British colony. After last years waves of demonstrations halted the controversially tabled extradition bill, success in the District Elections 2019 also brought hope to further freedoms for the pro-democracy population.
But this year has turned out to be a nightmare for those Hong Kong hopes, as the COVID19 pandemic soon spread to a city, crushing the momentum many had hoped to continue into the new year. Then with the movement quiet, the Hong Kong Government and Beijing regrouped, ending up with the Chinese Communist Party’s enactment of the national security law.
Since the law came into effect in June – with widely interpretations against succession, subversion, terrorism and foreign collusion being the centre points of the law – the ruling has undeniably been the catalyst for a political crackdown in the territory, with activists, protesters and lawmakers either arrested, jailed or in political exile.
A historic and harrowing year for Hong Kong, with some of the major events captured below:
January witnessed thousands took to the streets as protests continued from 2019 as police deployed tear gas. COVID19 soon came into Hong Kong with residents queuing up for masks
February saw medical professionals go on strike in efforts to close the borders with Mainland China whilst another street protest in Mongkok occurred, whilst a cruise ship was stuck in Kai Tak terminal because of COVID19 cases on-board.
March saw Hong Kong International Airport close amid the spread of the COVID19 virus.
In April Councillor Andrew Chiu Ka-Yin had his ear bitten off by a pro-Beijing supporter in 2019, here argues with police during shopping mall demonstrations in Tai Koo.
In May, The passing of the national security law provokes street protests once again in the city as Mothers Day also saw clashes in Tsim Sha Tsui.
June saw the enactment of the national security law, whilst the Tiananmen Square vigil went ahead despite bans. Jimmy Lai also spoke to me for an interview with The Daily Telegraph.
July saw the first arrests under the national security law, whilst the new purple flag was raised warning crowds of their potential violations against the law. The new national security building was also opened.
August Jimmy Lai was arrested on suspicion of violating the new security law, here he was released on bail after been in custody for 48 hours.
September saw more protests within the city, whilst Agnes Chow answered bail from one of her outstanding charges. A mass COVID19-testing program ensued across the city.
October kicked off with demonstrations on the first day of the month whilst student activist Tony Chung was arrested for four charges under the national security law.
November all pro-democracy lawmakers left their seats in Hong Kong’s Legislative Council, whilst prominent activists Joshua Wong, Agnes Chow and Ivan Lam all were held in custody after pleading guilty to charges over unlawful assembly. Later they would be given jail terms.
December saw Jimmy Lai, Joshua Wong, Agnes Chow, Ivan Lam and Tony Chung all jailed.
How time flies. And yet the beginning of the new decade has moved ever so slowly for many, in the midst of a global pandemic. Before COVID19 spread its contagious wings across the globe, infecting and killing millions, Hong Kong was already dealing with its own crisis. At the height of the pro-democracy protests that punctured the city for seven consecutive months, Asia’s ‘World City’ at times came to a standstill. With waves of tear gas infiltrating streets, the former British colony mirrored urban warfare at times.
And one of its darkest days was one year ago, September 29th 2019, when journalists were under fire, literally, that arguably saw the worst day for attacks on the press in Hong Kong to date.
Police stand behind the cloud of tear gas as protesters volley petrol bombs and press look on, Fleming Road, Wan Chai, Hong Kong 29th September 2019
Leading up to the day, it was another tense week in the city. Bewildered Chief Executive Carrie Lam had held a ‘dialogue session’ with concerned citizens at Wan Chai’s Queen Elizabeth Stadium. With many Hongkongers voicing their growing concerns against her and the issues in the city, Lam was criticised for her attitude and critics deemed it a PR stunt.
Outside the stadium, crowds gathered whilst hardliner protesters attempted to block roads. Lam was made to wait for four hours before leaving safely.
Crowds gather outside the Queen Elizabeth Stadium, Hong Kong, 27th September 2019
Then, on the 28th September marked five years since the 2014 Umbrella Movement, thousands of protesters gathered at Tamar Park, with the majority acting peacefully. Later into the evening, hardliners occupied roads, sprayed graffiti and threw bricks into the government buildings whilst chanting pro-democracy slogans.
The Hong Kong police replied with the use of their water cannons, firing through protective water-barracks surrounding the government complex.
Water cannons were fired through barracks towards protesters after Tamar Park rally, Hong Kong, 28th September 2019
Tension was building.
It was the lead up to October 1st 2019, marking 70 years since China was under communist rule. Several people on the ground were calling that ‘D-day’ because protests were planned, in an attempt to spoil the Chinese Communist Party’s celebrations. With the city fighting clashes since June, many guesstimates suggested China’s Peoples Liberation Army (PLA) were to cross the border to intervene.
But it was the 29th of September that witnessed some of the most harrowing controversies throughout the anti-government protests, that’s still talked about today.
Media liaison police officer during protests and clashes in Wan Chai, Hong Kong, 29th September 2019
Early afternoon on a Sunday. Demonstrations were due to begin by 2 pm in Wan Chai, Hong Kong Island, but thousands of protesters began to gather early. At around 1:30 pm the Hong Kong police suddenly raised the blue flag, asking protesters to leave. Tear gas was fired soon after, and the tone of the day was already set.
Riot police standing outside of Wan Chai MTR Station, Hong Kong, 29th September 2019
On Hennessy Road that goes under the Wan Chai Immigration Bridge saw protesters, donned in their black-clad attire, yellow helmets, gas masks and umbrellas.
Protesters hold up umbrellas as shields awaiting the police, Wan Chai, Hong Kong, September 29th 2019
Hong Kong police were above, pointing their rifles downwards, firing rubber bullets and tear gas into the crowds.
Riot police point their rifles down from Wan Chai’s Immigration footbridge, Hong Kong, 29th September 2019
Protesters used their umbrellas to shield rubber bullets and tear gas canisters.
Protesters under the Immigration footbridge, Wan Chai, 29th September 2019
One reporter I met that day who preferred to be kept anonymous at the time, was a casualty, as a tear gas canister exploded in his face, requiring him for immediate hospital treatment. This incident went unreported in the media, but going by the photo of his injuries I was sent, it should have been. Luckily, his injuries weren’t serious, although there were some visible nasty cuts and bruises on the bridge of the nose and under his eyes.
As violent games of cat and mouse ensued between frontline protesters and the police, the former were building make-shift road barricades.
Protesters cooperate to build road barricades on Hennessy Road, Wan Chai, Hong Kong, 29th September 2019
The sound of sirens grew louder that led to the growing number of riot police appearing, as pockets of demonstrators soon found themselves under arrest.
Special Tactical Squad (aka Raptor Police) were out in force.
Special Tactical Squad aka ‘Raptors’ are often deployed if the police need special assistance normally due to escalating violence, Hong Kong, 29th September 2019
After a while, the tension seemingly eased, at least momentarily. As a squad of police were manning the Wan Chai bridge, others attempted to control crowds, including protesters, press and bystanders. Appearing tactically disorientated, the riot police retreated, descending down from the bridge before a new wave of protesters edged closer. Initially retreating, a couple of officers are irritated by a couple of protesters – armed with a makeshift street sign as a shield – leering closer as petrol bombs are thrown from a group further along the bridge.
Riot police squads regrouping on Wan Chai’s Immigration footbridge, Hong Kong, 29th September 2019
The officer then ascended back up onto the steps, at an awkward angle and fired a stray rubber bullet into the crowd, hitting Indonesian journalist Veby Mega Indah directly into her right eye.
A riot police officer holds rifles on the Wan Chai Immigration footbridge moments before Veby Mega Indah was shot, Wan Chai, Hong Kong, 29th September 2019
It was one of the worst incidents to take place during the demonstrations, as Veby subsequently discovered she would be blind after receiving immediate hospital treatment.
Veby’s story encapsulated the harsh difficulties journalists endured that day.
Veby Mega Indah lies on the ground after a riot police officer shot a stray rubber bullet hitting her in the right eye, Hong Kong, 29th September 2019
In December of that year, I interviewed Veby and although her legal case has changed since then, today she is rightfully on a path to seek justice against the attack.
Unfortunately, the day wasn’t over for the reporters covering events on the ground. The day continued into the night with petrol bombs and tear gas regularly used during clashes.
This is where I come into the story.
Protesters down Hennessy Road, Wan Chai, Hong Kong, 29th September 2019
Later that evening, protesters and police were in a standoff, leading up to the flyover on Fleming Road, Wan Chai. Frontliners were violently throwing petrol bombs towards a squad of stationed riot police, who stood from a distance. At times, the gulf of teargas smoke was so thick and constant, the riot police suddenly weren’t visible.
The scene mirrored something from a video game, urban warfare. The evening light was on the cusp of becoming black, but the clusters of fiery smashed gasoline bottles turned the area into a maroon colour.
Petrol bombs and tear gas add to the colour of the late evening as police and protesters stand off against one another, Fleming Road, Wan Chai, Hong Kong, 29th September 2019
I found myself stood right at the ‘frontline’, mingled between those frontline protesters throwing anything and everything towards the police. As I took photos and quickly started video recording – as simultaneous as possible – a gap in the crowds emerged. I was an open shot and right in the frame of the police. For a few seconds, I quickly sensed I had become in a vulnerable position. As the sound of police firing rang out, I felt a sharp whack to my left abdomen. More in shock than pain, Hongkongers shouted “medic, medic” until I repeatedly said composed myself, realised there was no break in the skin and insisted to those concerned, I was ok.
“What was it? A rubber bullet?” I shouted.
“Yeah,” someone replied.
Taking cover after rubber bullets and tear gas had been fired, Wan Chai, September 29th 2019
Moments later, police fired again
Slightly off balance because of the incident seconds earlier, I was slightly bent down. Suddenly a rubber bullet hit me again, rattling off the centre of my helmet. Two inches lower, and it would have hit me between my eyes. I immediately realised I had been ‘shot’ twice in the space of a minute, in the immediate firing line. That’s when the worry set in. I thought of Veby, shot only a couple of hours earlier. It was clear, at least then, the police were firing carelessly towards crowds. Maybe it was just me, maybe I was unlucky. But it felt erratic. I quickly ran for cover, sliding in the doorway of a store. Tear gas had been fired quickly after and my mask had been loosened during the fracas of it all. The shock, the sting and the need for oxygen were obvious.
After composing myself, I continued covering the protests for four more hours. Fire-clad road barricades, police had deployed the water cannon, and demonstrations clashed into the night.
Fire-clad road barricades were made by protesters to slow police down, Wan Chai, Hong Kong, 29th September 2019
More press attacks occurred later, that saw a photographer pepper-sprayed so deliberately at close range, the photo of the incident went viral.
A photographer is pepper-sprayed by a riot police officer, Hong Kong, September 29th 2019 / Stand News
September 29th was a watershed moment for Hong Kong because arguably since then press freedom has rapidly declined.
On the ground, journalists have found themselves further injured, ridiculed or even arrested, with tensions between local reporters and police, particularly at boiling point.
Fast forward one year later, foreign correspondents have been denied entry into the city whilst respectful journalists have been denied work visa extensions. Amid the widely interpreted National Security Law – that prohibits subversion, secession, foreign collusion and terrorism – The New York Times reportedly has shifted some of its journalist staff out of the city, relocating to Seoul, South Korea.
Under the new Police General Order rules, authorities will only recognise certain media groups / Hong Kong, July 2020
Furthermore, with the recent decision made by the Hong Kong authorities announcing they will only recognise ‘well-known non-local media’ and press ‘registered with the Government’ further indicates further scrutiny on media within the city.
Maybe September 29th 2019 was the beginning of the end for Hong Kong’s once praised, press freedom.
In 2019 I visited Rason, North Korea. For years I’d been so curious about visiting the secretive state, that I’d even had a trip planned in 2014. That one I had to put aside, but as I’ve been based in Hong Kong of late, travelling to North Korea became more viable this time around.
Part of my curiosity with travelling has always been visiting destinations that have no mass tourism, an unknown reputation, and are deemed ‘off the beaten track’. We all know North Korea fits those descriptions entirely, but I wanted to experience more than just most peoples first-time destination, the capital, Pyongyang.
I reached out to Young Pioneer Tours, arguably the top tour agency that provides trips to North Korea, and was offered an opportunity to visit.
Where is Rason?
With no international airport, my trip to Rason saw me take a seven-hour train from Hong Kong’s West Kowloon Station into Beijing, followed by another 36 hours to Yanji, eastern China. A three hours bus trip to the China-North Korea border, it was a further two hours inland.
Here are some exclusive photos of the views during my time in Rason, focusing on landscapes and buildings that were all part of the wandering around in the north-eastern city.
China-North Korea border
‘Beerhouse’ bar, part of a Czech joint venture
As you may have heard, you aren’t allowed to just get your camera out and take photos as you please. You have to have permission by the North Korean guides or incredibly sneaky photo-taking skills.
Their argument is photos can be used as ‘propaganda’ in the west, to make North Korea look poor and impoverished.
According to our Australian guide though, the photo-taking rules were still a little more relaxed in Rason than other parts of the country.
Visitors can open a local DPRK bank account at the Golden Triangle Bank
Joint Venture Seafood Factory, Pipha Island
Rajin Clothing Factory (outside)
Despite the images depicting nice weather, it was bitterly cold in Rason. We visited in February, the breeze was icy and the air brisk.
As Hong Kong exploded in 2019 as the protests covered the city, the new decade has seen the political consequences and fallout for the pro-democracy movement and its millions of protesters.
Recently, Beijing has announced its aim to implement a national security law upon Hong Kong, aiming to take control over the former British colony with its own intervention on muting the city’s unrest. Criticised widely for taking away Hong Kong’s unique freedom, the draft of the law has recently been fast-tracked in the SAR and is due to pass by July 2020.
Avery Ng, a political activist and chairman of the League of Social Democrats, spoke to me on a peaceful night in Victoria Park, Causeway Bay, during the 31-year remembrance vigil of Tiananmen Square. Thousands of residents came out to sing songs, light candles and gather to remember one of China’s most remembered crackdown in 1989.
4th June Tiananmen Square, 31 years on. What do you think of tonight’s gathering?
“Despite the gathering ban and the lack of police, we’ve seen tens of thousands, maybe hundred thousand people turning up, which shows the resilience of Hong Kong people and determination to lost history be forgotten. “
“We treasure our freedom and we do not want a national security law to be enforced, we want our basic freedoms and human rights.”
Today, of all days, the national anthem law has passed. What are your thoughts on this?
*June 4th the national anthem law passed in Hong Kong, criminalising anyone who is to mock or insult China’s national anthem, ‘March of the Volunteers.’
Avery sniggered, knowing he could discuss this topic at length.
“It is extremely ironic that the national anthem law was passed today because one of the verses in the national anthem says, ‘For Those Who Do Not Want To Be Enslaved, Stand Up.’ It’s super ironic, and today marks another day that we cannot even have the freedom to have our own opinions. The irony of the national anthem, I think the police will enact it in the future.
It takes away a small piece of our freedom and is part of the whole process of stripping away our rights. The truth of the matter is the law in place now, police will start to action it, people will be prosecuted and possibly jailed for that. ”
When do you think we’ll see an opportunity for this to be challenged?
“I think the first will be in the schools. My expectation is the government will slowly introduce have this as (a) mandatory (rule).
It doesn’t target adults, we can just not sing or avoid it, and it’s the kids they want to force it on. It’s from a direct order from Xi Jinping himself, from last year, so it’s something the government have had to do.”
The national anthem law, the national security law. Is this really the end of Hong Kong?
With frustration in his voice, Ng conceded,
“It is the beginning of the dark ages for Hong Kong. Obviously with the new national security law in place, in a matter of weeks, our levels of freedom of speech – I think the first wave of causalities will be leaders like us because we are not going to change our mind or what we believe.”
So you’re prepared, expecting you’re going to go to jail?
“I was going to jail without the national security law, so with the national security law, I’m going to be a frequent visitor, for sure. But the thing is it is an incremental step. First, it’s the leaders then the politicians, then the students, teachers, then some of the press then probably then the lawyers.
“It is the beginning of the end of Hong Kong. It is a complete breakdown of a city,” he stressed.
When do you expect to see changes?
“Immediately. It’s going to be immediate. Basically from the news from Beijing and sources, they really want (national security law passed) this done before the September (Legislative Council) elections.
Compared to last year, did you expect similar scenes this year to challenge?
“For the September elections, there will be a large, record turn out to vote. There will be a big win in terms of popular votes but because of the direct structure of the Legislative Council election, it will still be difficult for us to gain anywhere close of the majority.
People are going to come out, and we will win (on popular vote) by a healthy margin.”
How about widespread clashes again like in 2019?
“I’m not sure, I have my doubts. It’s not because of Hong Kong people are not angry, but the year-long blatant police brutality, thousands of us, especially younger protesters, have been arrested and hundreds been jailed, it’s really done some damages in terms of mobilisation.
Also coupled with the facts, even with the Civil Human Rights Front or any other groups who have wanted to host a completely peaceful gathering and marches, have been refused by police, so it’s very difficult for us to see one- million people marching again. It’s not because people don’t want to come out.
The last time the police gave us the commission on 1st January 2020, but within an hour, the police deemed it unsafe and illegal. That puts a lot of citizens at risk.
This year, there will be a lot of sporadic clashes, but it will be very hard for us to have this huge mobilisation.”
Visitors banned until 18th September, coronavirus improve and restrictions will loosen up, do you think events will be immediately put together?
“We’ve been trying to do this, but it’s a question whether police will still approve it, even before coronavirus. The police have been using many excuses to reject our applications.
We’ve said we cannot guarantee after the march things might not stay peaceful, but the police have put that as our responsibility. We are going to keep doing it, Jimmy is going to keep doing it. But the fuckers aren’t letting us do it, that’s a direct quote,” Ng chuckled.
Thoughts on BNO?
“I welcome the UK’s view providing a safety net for BNO holders. For the Chinese government point of view, they wouldn’t care to lose another million people to the UK. It wouldn’t stop them controlling the rest of Hong Kong. It’s about how the international community hopefully lead by the UK, to have a strategy, or a foreign policy to put pressure to the CCP. One single goal, progressing goal, progressing Hong Kong into a free-democratic society.”
What else can the international community do for Hong Kong?
“Follow the money, follow the power. The Chinese government concerns are how they control the flow of capital, both domestically and internationally, and in Hong Kong. The party officials need to be held accountable for what they do, and I’m sure the international has an arsenal at their disposable to do it.
We welcome the U.S government support. We really need to have a coordinated effort, not just individual countries. I think it’s a global effort and reign in CCP in terms of the expansion, domestic and international and in terms of their behaviour.”
The interview was conducted on 4th June 2020, Victoria Park, Causeway Bay, Hong Kong.
*Avery Ng’s comments were also used in an article for Asia Media Centre New Zealand, in a report, you can find here.
*The featured image has also been used for Le Point France, via NurPhoto and AFP, in a report, you can find here.
Agnes Chow is one of the co-founders of activist group Demosisto, and ultimately one of the faces that leads Hong Kong’s pro-democracy movement. Alongside Joshua Wong and Nathan Law, Chow has become a household name in recent years due to her continuous activism work and activities. Furthermore, Chow has continued to build ties with international government bodies, politicians and leaders to support and shine a light on Hong Kong’s issues, mainly revolving around Beijing’s attempts to encroach the former British colony’s limited freedoms.
Due to COVID-19, I recently interviewed Chow via video call, in an attempt to get her reaction on the recently passed national security law to be implemented by Beijing. We also touched on her own personal legal issues and further political unrest in the city.
Q. Thanks for speaking with me Agnes. First things first, what’s your reaction to the national security law?
When I read the news about national security law, I wasn’t that shocked because of the rumours that the Chinese Government wanted the Hong Kong government to implement Article 23 – even though it’s not the same thing. They are quite similar because they are trying to suppress the democratic movement and also suppress our (Demosistos) connection with the international community but the new law is in the name of ‘national security.’
The difference between the both is now China is trying to implement the national security law directly in Hong Kong and that doesn’t need a discussion in the Legislative Council. The CCP (Chinese Communist Party) is totally ignoring Hong Kong, ignoring the system of Hong Kong, and the one country two systems.
Q. What does this mean for Hong Kong?
Before the implementation of national security law, I would always say the ‘one country two systems’ has become ‘one country, 1.5 system.’ If Chinese authorities can make a direct law for Hong Kong, it’s now the total destruction of one country, two systems.
Maybe in the future but if the Chinese authorities don’t like something happening in Hong Kong, they can use the same method to abuse the right of Hong Kong’s basic law and directly make new laws. It’s very dangerous to the system of Hong Kong and also to the basic political rights and safety of the people.
According to the details announced by the NPC (National Peoples Congress), the Chinese authorities can directly set up an institute here in Hong Kong. It is again very destructive because that means Hong Kong people will be directly ruled by the CCP.
So how could the CCP say there is still one country two systems? Where are the two systems? So there is already no difference in Hong Kong and other cities in China.
Q. What’s Demosistos official reaction to the recent announcements?
One of the reasons we think the CCP has implemented the national security law is that they want to stop our connection with the international community. I think this a very important reason or motivation for them, to be so aggressive to announce a national security law. Demosisto is one of the political groups in Hong Kong that has a lot of connections in the international community that especially last year, many members, including me myself, we would go to many different countries to talk a lot about Hong Kong, with politicians, political party and even government. I think to the CCP that is a threat for them. They don’t want Democrats in Hong Kong to have so many connections with the international community, especially the U.S.A – after the Human Rights of Democracy Act on Hong Kong, was passed last year.
One of our predictions or possibilities in the future that has happened the Hong Kong National Party, is Demosisto might be one of the political groups that it’s operations might be banned by the government. There is a possibility this might happen, but for us, we have conceded this type of suppression to stop our connection with the international community and to try to stop street protests from Hong Kong people.
Our message is we want to emphasise that we won’t give up because we believe these connections and communications with the world is very important for our democratic movement.
Q. What do you think of President Trump’s pressure on China and his voiced support for Hong Kong?
I believe the national security law is not only threatening Hong Kong but threatens all of the countries who have a political and economic connection with Hong Kong. Government’s and corporation’s who have set up their headquarters in Hong Kong might have a lot of concerns of whether the one country two systems is been protected by Hong Kong and China authorities because the new law shows China is not protecting autonomy and one country two systems – they are destroying Hong Kong. More international communities, governments and corporations have to pay attention, not just the United States. I hope more governments can react to this law.
Q. What is Demosisto’s mission now?
From last year many of the demonstrations were not helped by one political party, many of them are initiated by normal citizens and young people. At this stage for Demosisto, of course, myself, Joshua (Wong), Nathan (Law) will continue to join the street protest, against the national security law, against the national anthem law, because this kind of suppression will happen more and more happen in the future. Our important mission is to keep our connection with the international community, not just in the media, but NGO’s and governments. Although their attention might be on the coronavirus, I believe the international community might be reawakened and turn their attention towards Hong Kong.
Q. You’re a YouTuber now. Are you going to make a big input for Demosisto still?
I don’t think I’ve ever been leaving the frontline of Demosisto. I know I’m not the Vice Secretary-General of Demosisto anymore, but I’m still joining in the many things what we are doing, I’ll be doing the same thing as before.
Q. Will you go to protest yourself still?
I’m always on the street. We might not disclose where we are going because of the legal risk we might face. Especially whilst within the court bail period because if we are arrested there is more risk. But we are enjoying the street protests and believe more and more Hong Kong people will come out.
Q. Can street protests affect the outcome of the national security law hearing?
I would say (to implement the national security law) it is such an aggressive method by the CCP, and a quite stupid decision in my opinion because they really have no time to get the support from the pro-Beijing businessmen / political parties and lawmakers for the LegCo Elections. The pro-Beijing parties need the votes and support from Hong Kong people, but if there’s a lot of discontent and anger, these parties might think about how they can maintain votes and support in coming elections.
It might not be a good thing if Beijing wants really strong support from the pro-Beijing side here in Hong Kong.
Q. You recently made a post on social media about the ‘new normal’ in Hong Kong, referring to regular police checks and patrolling the streets. Why do you think that will continue?
Well, it really depends on how the Hong Kong governments and CCP do to Hong Kong people. But what we’ve seen in these few months that they never stop their aggressive suppression towards the people. During the coronavirus, we have had lots of demonstrations – not as large scale as last year – but we’ve had many street protests in the last few months. In the future when the coronavirus has been solved, I would say the protests will be again just like last year- against the national security law, and any suppression in the future.
Q. Do you foresee there to be imminent changes in security measures towards activists, protesters and press in Hong Kong?
Well, it is not impossible that Beijing will set up a national security department in Hong Kong, so if they do this but not only for protesters like us but normal citizens and journalists it also can be very dangerous. For journalists, especially international journalists, they are treated as the enemy because they don’t want the media to report the truth to the world. I think it will be dangerous not just for politicians and protests but ordinary citizens and journalists. Things like the Causeway Bookstore incidents – that it may happen more easily if the Chinese government is more directly within Hong Kong.
Q. Are we already seeing that today via social media in Hong Kong?
I don’t think it’s suppression from the social media companies but the CCP is using a lot of money every year to hire people to leave comments positive about the Chinese government. They hire people for comments, likes and to build an atmosphere that everyone supports Beijing.
If they want a Facebook account to blow out, they can use a lot of money to report our posts and our pages, so I think this is the biggest thing because China is a such a powerfully strong and rich country, they can use their resources to suppress our political rights and freedom of speech on the Internet.
Q. Tell me more about your legal situation with your arrest in 2019?
I was arrested on 30th August 2019 and what we are facing are not only the charges (according to police ‘inciting and participating in an unauthorised assembly), but we have to obey to the courts. We couldn’t go overseas without the permission of the courts, we have to go back home before midnight every day, and last year we couldn’t enter a specific area where the courts specified – like near the protests.
So one of the reasons so many politicians are being arrested is to stop us going overseas to have connections with the international community. As you know Joshua was always going to the U.S and many European countries, where he has a lot of connections. I was going to a lot of Asian countries, especially Japan for international work. But after we were charged, we couldn’t do this work. But now one thing they couldn’t predict is the coronavirus, so no one can fly overseas and we are all in the same environment for now.
We will only be allowed to fly overseas after the case. The next trial is 6th July, but it won’t be the end. The procedure is very time-consuming so it could be in 2-3 years time before it’s over. My travel ban also includes Macau and mainland China.
Q. What update can you give?
Now, I and Joshua are having a judicial review regarding our warrants because our phones were hacked by the Hong Kong police. Joshua’s iPhone was hacked but my Google smartphone wasn’t. We are having a review for the warrant which is more time consuming and the trial would have to wait for the results of the judicial review.
Q. Whilst we are talking about 2019, what was your most memorable protest or event in your eyes?
Chinese University Hong Kong, Polytechnic University and the District Council elections were very important but without June nothing would have happened.
June 9th, 12th and 16th, for me, were very important because it symbolised the start of the movement and also without the fight in June the extradition law would be passed already.
Q. As for 2020, what are your thoughts on COVID19 and the authorities rejecting protest approvals?
The health of everyone is important (from COVID19) but the Hong Kong government is trying to use COVID19 as an excuse to stop our street protests. But for me, even if the government uses strong methods to arrest and stop gatherings it will not stop the discontent in peoples mind. I believe many people will come again and COVID19 won’t exist forever. The Hong Kong government has to face our anger, it’s their responsibility is to listen and respect the public opinion.
Q. Is there a way for the protests to focus on the discontent towards the government directly instead of becoming an ongoing battle and campaign versus the Hong Kong Police?
The question is for Carrie Lam. Why is she always using the police as a shield to avoid listening to the public opinion? They should listen to the opinion and implement universal suffrage and democratic system in Hong Kong. They use the police as a political tool to attack people of Hong Kong. We saw the violence of the police last year – tear gas, pepper spray and rubber bullets – so the question to Carrie Lam – why is she always using the police to protect herself and the government?
Her so-called interactions with the public last year were so fake because the public opinion is so obvious. Last year 2 million people came out to the street (June 16th 2019), and are demanding to withdraw the extradition bill and the government refused to do so. And later on, they tried to make a lot of shows to ‘interact’ with people, but it’s meaningless because our opinion is very obvious. Even you can see the results from the District Elections (24th November 2019), it is very obvious the opinion of the people, but the government never tries to listen.
The Hong Kong government are not trying to serve the Hong Kong people, they just a proxy for the CCP, they are not a representative of Hong Kong people and these roots we have faced for the last 20 years.
Q. Does it now matter about the LegCo elections if China can just bypass local laws now?
There is a high possibility the government might disqualify candidates before the election and legislators after the election.
But I think getting more than half of the seats is very important for the Democrats in Hong Kong. The LegCo elections are not the only fight, besides its important for people to go out for protests and have connections with the international community. Before the District elections, the international media said the protests are losing their support because the protests were getting stronger, but the District Council election result shows the support is not decreasing.
Q. Do you have any direct message to Hong Kong residents and protesters?
I would say Hong Kong is at a very dangerous stage right now, last year was quite dangerous already but this year with the national security law and abuse of power to set up an institution in Hong Kong, I think it’s entering a more and more dangerous stage.
So the people need to be ready to go on the street and fight.
This June 4th marked 31 years since the Tiananmen Square crackdown in Beijing. Every year, Hongkongers mark this occasion in remembrance, holding a vigil attracting tens of thousands of people at Causeway Bay’s Victoria Park. Lit candles and mobile phones are held up high, whilst songs and chants are also practised.
But in 2020, it was the first year Hong Kong authorities had banned the annual vigil, citing safety and health concerns over COVID19. Social distancing measures are still in place in the former British colony, with a maximum of eight people per group allowed to gather.
Hong Kong has 1,094 coronavirus cases to date.
On the ground at Victoria Park included several pro-democracy politicians and activists, such as the most well-known, Demosisto leader, Joshua Wong. Sat with his fellow activists, I had the quick chance to approach Wong, leading with Britains recent announcement of potential BNO (British National Overseas) changes for Hong Kong residents.
BNO and Recent Announcements
In case you didn’t know, the UK has pledged to change immigration laws for Hongkongers who are eligible for a BNO (born prior to the 1997 handover of Hong Kong back to China). This is because Beijing has controversially announced a new ‘national security law’ in Hong Kong, which essentially gives them the power to bypass local laws. This goes against the ‘one country two systems’ agreement Hong Kong is supposed to have until 2047. Furthermore, Britain’s pledge will allow BNO holders a better chance for a route to citizenship, extending their allowance of stay within the UK, without a visa.
Currently, 350,000 Hong Kong residents hold a BNO, with a further 2.6 million eligible, out of the 7.5 million population.
Chat with Wong
Joshua Wong had his say on the BNO situation when I asked him, and further issues between the UK and China.
“We welcome the idea of Boris Johnson but apart from providing a lifeboat for Hongkongers, (it’s) more important (for the UK) to put pressure on Beijing with necessary sanctions and restrictions, such as reducing the involvement of Huawei as a state-directed enterprise to enter the UK,” he replied.
As Wong went back to his primary focus, I pushed him for further comments on the BNO. I asked him whether it’s still a positive step for Hongkongers to have an alternative option, whilst asking if Britain should provide this for the entire population, rather than those just been born pre-1997,
“In the short term, the most critical is to urge Beijing to stop the implementation of the evil-law (National Security Law). That is the highest priority for us,” he added.
Clearly Wong was keen to look at the bigger picture internally for Hong Kong, rather than discuss escaping it.
With the national security bill already approved and set to pass before the summer has ended, it’s been labelled as ‘the end of Hong Kong’ and ‘Hong Kong’s dark days’ by pro-democracy politicians and lawmakers.
In case you didn’t know, another controversial law has already become law. It’s now illegal to insult China’s national anthem, and is now punishable to up to 3 years in jail. That was passed on 4th June, the same day as the vigil.
Yet once the national security law is in place, cracking down on dissent towards the Central Government in Beijing, Hong Kong will not be the city we have come to love.
And unless there is a dramatic change in Beijing’s decision or the bill is postponed, Hong Kong is going to move ever closer to being another mainland Chinese city, under further authoritarian control with even fewer freedoms.
I hope it doesn’t come to this, and I hope that Hong Kong can survive as its current self. But being brutally honest, if not already, some Hongkongers will be looking elsewhere to reside for their futures.
From a British perspective, I personally believe an influx of Hong Kong citizens would hugely benefit Britain.
We all know China is on everyone’s doorstep, and sooner or later communications with them will have to improve worldwide. Perhaps with more Hongkongers in Britain, there can be a bigger focus on teaching Cantonese or Mandarin languages? There are plenty of English teachers in the world, but we need more Mandarin speakers given the outlook of a more ‘Chinese’ future. The finance and banking sector in Hong Kong is strong, and so is London, so there are opportunities there, too.
Furthermore, Hongkongers can integrate into British society well. Many speak English, are highly educated and most seek a democracy to live within. Britain would be lucky to have its very own Hong Kong within its borders.
It’s been six months since Polytechnic University was occupied, battled for and besieged in Hong Kong. During the height of the Hong Kong Protests in 2019, PolyU became headline news, as frontliners attempted to protect the university from the Hong Kong Police amid the clashes at Hong Kong Chinese University days earlier.
The police attempted to seize control of the main roads that surrounded the university campus, including the Cross Harbour Tunnel that connects Kowloon to Hong Kong Island.
The battle lasted from November 17th to November 30th when the last remaining protesters escaped or were arrested as the Hong Kong Police eventually moved in.
Tear gas, petrol bombs, arrows, rubber bullets, water-cannons were all used during the clashes as the scenes of the battles were documented across the globe.
Although the siege lasted for 13 days, arguably the most eventful days occurred on 17th November. This was when not only protesters were inside the university, but many journalists and first-aid workers were too. This was the first day which saw the heavy violence including a police truck and a footbridge involved in fiery explosions because of petrol bombs.
My time in PolyU
I spent the whole of the 17th of November until the early hours of 18th November in PolyU but there were other journalists who spent far longer inside. By the end of my day, all of my equipment had run out of battery, whilst I took over 1,500 photos.
Just before midnight point, it was rumoured within the university that anyone who was still on campus would eventually be arrested. The police had given many warnings for everyone to leave by 8 pm and extended it afterwards.
Even though the police had blocked all exits and refused to let anyone leave just after midnight, I still managed to escape. After being screamed at three different exit points, I decided to try my luck at the final exit point, on Science Museum Road. Initially, police shouted at me, but I put my hands up whilst showing my press ID. I was helped by a student journalist who pretended to be my translator, in efforts to help him safely pass. We both got out.
Marking six months on, here are some of my exclusive photos within PolyU on the day and night of November 16th and 17th, 2019.
“Surely if millions of Hong Kong residents endorse each other, whether it be black-clad or back-of-the-line protesters – and still march for the same cause, then the China’s Hong Kong Affairs office shouldn’t even think to attempt making this statement into an argument. Their argument is amateur and blatantly attempts to confuse the truth by putting it out in the press.
What is clear in China is their failure to understand Hong Kong and the logistics of this pro-democracy movement. Even if they were successful at ‘removing’ black-clad frontliners – perhaps by arrest, kidnap or death – do they not realise there would be replacements on the frontline? Do they not understand those black-clad are essentially not a permanently assigned group, but a representation of the masses on that given date?
In any movement, there are always vacancies for additional frontliners. It’s a perpetual position.
Frontliners can go too far, and without context can be blamed for violence outright. But in Hong Kong’s case, frontliners are the representation of all protesters who are at the tipping point. They are the ones who need to make a statement now and above all else, to grab attention at the overall cause. Admittedly, there have been acts of violence we cannot approve, but for most of the chaos coming from the frontiers in 2019, it was in reaction to unacceptable answers from the government and from the Hong Kong Police’s over-the-top responses.
It is paramount for us all to remember, demonstrations in Hong Kong initially began peacefully and gave the government many chances to change rightful laws and to maintain levels of freedom. If the protests were to escalate due to unanswered requests – as naturally it would anywhere in the world – the only issues Hong Kong would face would lie with those who have the ultimate power.
That is the Hong Kong Government and Beijing.
It is obvious to many that those in charge are the ones ignoring these signs and therefore asking for trouble. Whether it’s naivety or stubbornness, their desperation to save face on these matters, rather than to listen to the masses of the people is incredibly old-fashioned and reeks of degeneracy.
Sure, their rhetoric will insist on sticking to the ‘rule of law’ but any law is made as a structure and reference. If laws aren’t working for the majority, laws are meant to be broken, or at least changed.”
“We’ve seen many distorted truths against global norms swelling from only one place in the world, and that is China. In a modern world full of social media windows, rampant sources and dizzying news reports, China believes the regular and relentless output of statements and articles like this will eventually infiltrate and challenge the norm of what the rest of the world perceives as right and wrong. The article above is another example of distorting the truth by China’s Hong Kong Affairs office.”
*I’ve used the term ‘frontliners’ to refer to the protesters who often wear black-clad attire and are usually at the forefront of the recent demonstrations in Hong Kong.
With Hong Kong’s own coronavirus crisis slowing after weeks of low daily cases, the attention in the city has now turned back to the government and Beijing. Last year, for six months protests and social unrest threw the SAR into chaos, and although that had quietened down in regularity by December, recent events have teased a resurgence come the summer.
As the city sleeps, political controversy continues
Whilst the coronavirus has a lot of the world in their respective lockdowns, Hong Kong hasn’t been so restricted. Schools, public facilities and bars have all been closed, but some normality of day-to-day life continues. Public transport remains active, employees who must continue to work, whilst Sundays still show residents flocking to the outlying islands for day-trips. Yet, the coronavirus cases have been remarkably low for such a crammed city – only 1,038 at the time of writing – as daily cases have been only in their single digits for weeks now. For the time being, the social distancing efforts to prevent a rapid spread seem to be working.
Yet, whilst this has reduced residents livelihoods and businesses, it has also limited residents going out in groups and typically crowding the streets. A recent social distancing law now prohibits groups of more than four people gathering at once, with those who break this law, can face hefty fines or even prison.
With all this in place, it has provided a clear run for the Hong Kong authorities to begin its perceived crackdown on last years chaos. This has been evident with the subsequent arrests of leading pro-democracy figures – including Martin Lee (Founder of the Democratic Party) and Jimmy Lai (Founder of the pro-democracy Apple Daily newspaper).
Furthermore, the under-pressure Beijing has publicly stirred the pot with Hong Kong affairs, recently announcing their duty to ‘supervise’ with Hong Kong’s matters, another encroachment of the Sino-British agreement that promises the ‘one country-two system’ agreement. In addition, there have been calls for the enactment of Article 23 to the Basic Law from pro-government supporters and politicians, which essentially prohibits any political activities in the SAR that challenge Beijing.
Regular violent clashes have been rare in 2020, but lately, we’ve witnessed a momentum change that is likely to change that. Small demonstrations may have taken place every month in Mongkok and Yuen Long – normally to remember key controversial events of last year – but by the end of April a surge of rallies have been announced, with much more seemingly in the pipeline.
‘Lunch With You’ has been a long-lasting demonstration that has clung on to its attendees since 2019. Normally taking place at IFC Mall in Central, and although significantly smaller than last year, recent demos suggest voices are literally getting louder, with numbers on the slight increase. The latest rally on the 24th April, no incidents occurred but the fallout and positive reaction on social media showed the want and desire for demonstrations are prevailing again.
On April 26th, a Sunday evening, Tai Koo threw up a surprise event, as a ‘Sing with You’ demo attracted a reported 300 protesters. The Hong Kong Police soon arrived, attempting to disperse angry crowds. Shouting and heckling then proceeded by protesters, with the police raising the Blue Flag as a warning. The event eventually went with the little incident with large groups of protesters specifically, although there were a couple of arrests.
The main incident of the night involved District Councillor Andrew Chiu, the victim of a brutal attack last year where his ear was bitten off. The night saw Chiu seemingly mocked by a police officer who was video documented teasing Chiu by rubbing his own ears. In addition, Chiu’s assistant got into an apparent innocuous confrontation with the police, that saw him floored and later taken to hospital.
“Having seen the protests at its height last year, the recent surge and regularity of demonstrations suggest there is more to come. The small demonstrations last year had significance, often as a build-up to larger events. We may be seeing similarities with this year as summer approaches. With large-scale demos been off the table in the main in 2020, surely smaller demonstrations will escalate into more widespread action, especially as the coronavirus seems to be under control right now.
The police have shown they will hold a further advantage in their battle to keep control of the demonstrations. Going by recent observations, the force looks more coordinated than last year, whilst their knee-jerk reactions seem to have lessened. The biggest change is their numbers on the ground are alarmingly larger. With the current social distancing law amid the coronavirus, they have this to fall back and will no doubt take advantage of it.
But the recent mocking of a District Councillor’s severe injury shows the Hong Kong Police still are naive enough to forget the implications from their audience. Knowing incidents like this will grab attention online and in the media, things like this will continue to infuriate protesters and continuously dismiss their conduct on the ground.
Demonstrations have recently been earmarked for the end of April and beginning of May, which will provide us all with a little insight into how they logistically operate. It looks like it’s time to fasten our seatbelts once more, as Hong Kong appears to be in for another eventful summer.”
Two British backpackers who saw an abrupt end to their dream trip have managed to get on an evacuation flight from Bolivia and arrive home in the UK.
Harry Guy-Walters (23) from Bishop Stortford and Molly Holmes (23) from Kings Lynn were stranded in Bolivia, waiting desperately for the UK government to arrange an evacuation flight home.
Bolivia recently closed its borders and cancelled all international flights. The country has begun mandatory 14-day quarantine whilst the presidential elections have been postponed, initially scheduled for May.
There are currently 123 confirmed cases of the coronavirus in Bolivia, with 8 deaths.
Recently in Bolivia
The couple, who met in Nottingham University, were 7 months into a 12-month trip but found themselves in lockdown in the Bolivian capital, La Paz, the highest elevated capital city in the world.
They were allowed to leave their Airbnb accommodation between 8 am-12 pm, one at a time, to get food. Gun-carrying police are seen on street corners, to enforce the city’s lockdown.
“Initially we thought the borders were open on the 31st March but were being told it was going to be the 5th April at least,” Molly told me.
In the past weeks, the backpackers spent around £6,000 in attempts at arranging flights, hotels and further travel to try and get home to the UK.
How they got stranded
“We started a 3-day tour to the Uyuni Salt Flats but 8 hours in the driver announced the Chilean border was closing, and two people as part of the group needed to get there before it closed,” Harry added.
This turned into a major detour for the pair, including a 3 am wake up call, then went 14 hours to the Chilean border, followed by another 17 hours through the night back to Uyuni, according to Molly’s Facebook post.
Losing two days of their tour and with no refund, they both hopped on a bus to the capital La Paz, hoping for a flight back to the UK.
“The fear of being stranded was the main reason,” Harry admitted.
“Our insurance wasn’t going to cover us unless we leave now since WHO (World Health Organisation) had declared the coronavirus a global pandemic,” Molly added.
Harry had attempted to seek travel guidance from the British embassy in London but was often given little help.
With them having little Internet access their parents booked them both on a flight the next day out of La Paz. Travelling back, further complications ensued. Unbeknown to them, Bolivia had imposed a curfew. This meant passenger night buses weren’t allowed to operate, leading to the driver asking them to hide on the floor in the dark whispering ‘policia curfew’ as they passed military checkpoints.
Finally reaching El Alto International Airport, their flight had been booked incorrectly, leaving from La Paz in Mexico. Abnormally calm, they flew to the Bolivian city Santa Cruz, having been told there were international flights still available from there.
As they reached the airport, they were then told all international flights were cancelled. Now in desperation, they decided to take an 8-hour taxi – costing approximately £250 – to the Brazil border with the hope of getting a flight out of there.
The road trip included breaking the nationwide curfew, torrential floods, a burst tyre, and a police interception whilst the driver was seen taking cocaine. They had a flight booked the next day.
At the Brazil border
Finally reaching the Bolivia-Brazil border, tired and with lack of sleep for days, they had to wait until 8 am.
“By this point, we hadn’t slept for 5 days. We just lay down at the border, covered in mosquitos,” Molly said.
But despite their best efforts, Brazil had begun to restrict its borders and refused to let them in. After further attempts dialogue, things only got worse.
“The atmosphere just absolutely changed, the guards put their fingers on the triggers of their guns and lifted them right at us. They were definitely going to be shooting if we walked forward,” Molly said.
The couple were told they would be quarantined at the Bolivian border if they didn’t leave, so the couple reluctantly took the bus back to Santa Cruz, and another flight to La Paz, where they currently are now.
At the time, Harry admitted they were treading with caution.
“We’ve exhausted most of our financials. But we’re in a good area. We are worried about the riots at night. Once it hits 7 pm, all you can hear is bangs and crashes. But as a whole, at the moment, we’re pretty safe where we are,” he said.
As he finished his sentence, there was an explosion heard outside.
“Maybe, it’s fireworks”, he joked. Harry works for Mark One Scaffolding, and turned 23 on the day we spoke, admitting he won’t forget this birthday in a hurry.
“I’ll be telling my grandkids about when I turned 23,” he later added.
Back in the UK
Molly and Harry both have family currently in self-isolation back in the UK, as they showed coronavirus symptoms. But both are concerned about those in the UK not taking precautions.
“I’m hoping if people back home can hear our story they can start taking things more seriously,” the couple stressed.
On the flight, the staff were wearing masks and handing out sanitizer. As they landed in Heathrow, Harry informed me no-one was wearing masks as they disembarked.