The cage Hongkongers are living in is akin to a prison - GulfToday

The cage Hongkongers are living in is akin to a prison


Agnes Chow, Joshua Wong.

Joshua Wong, The independent

Within two months after the imposition of the sweeping national security law, the city of Hong Kong has undergone massive waves of changes. Of many other shifts to date, there has been textbook censorship in schools, history rewriting, targeting of non-Chinese nationals and protesters captured by the Chinese coast guard while attempting to flee in order to seek asylum.

With the spectre of the sweeping law haunting the city, I could be arrested and extradited to China’s courts immediately in a wink.

Even before being thrown behind bars, dissidents in the city are overshadowed by state-sponsored threats. Pro-democracy activists like me have been tailed by unknown cars for weeks, some of which I believe are linked to the police. In recent days, stalkers even harassed me when I went dog-walking in a park.

In fact, stalking is often associated with formal arrests, just like my former colleague Agnes Chow, who was arrested after being filmed by suspicious men for days. There are also cases in which businessmen, such as Xiao Jianhua and Lee Bo, were seized by Chinese police and spirited across the border right in the heart of the city. Threats are always knocking at the door. Never for one single second have I underestimated the odds of being extradited to China one day.

The cage that Hongkongers are living in is akin to prison itself. Amid Beijing’s tightening grip, our freedoms are gradually ensnared in chains. Our education minister has just imposed massive textbook censorship in schools, with all mentions of separations of powers, police brutality, protest slogans, human rights problems in Mainland China and even Tiananmen Square Massacre erased from textbooks. While high schoolers actively pushed for democracy through class strikes last year, the new move is considered as a new political screening to remove critical thoughts from schools and turn textbooks into pro-Beijing mouthpieces.

As Beijing chips away at the city’s freedoms and our way of life, some Hongkongers choose to risk their lives and flee for asylum by speedboat. Two weeks ago, on 23 August, 12 asylum seekers were captured. They are now being detained in China. Under the national security law, it could be the first case that Hongkongers will send to China’s court. Under the stricter national security legislation and other criminal laws in China, all detainees may face graver offences. Throughout the criminal justice process, it could be a complete black box.

Two weeks on with no further updates about their situations, the detainees have seemingly been thrown into a black hole. Worse still, since the two Canadians, Michael Kovrig and Michael Spavor, have been detained for over 620 days without trials, it is worrying that Hong Kong’s asylum seekers may face indefinite detention, with blocked access to lawyers and high risk of forced confessions, which are sometimes even nationally televised.

For a long time, fleeing by sea has been commonly associated with countries grappling with armed conflicts and repression, as with Syria, Libya and Myanmar. It’s tragic that another is set to join them. What was once a semi-autonomous international financial centre has now turned into a tightly controlled region, after Xinjiang. Fleeing has become the only way for the city’s freedom fighters to seek liberation.

According to Amnesty International, human rights defenders or detainees accused of separatism in China are often exposed to a higher risk of tortures during their pre-trial detention, such as sleep deprivation, exposure to extreme heat or cold, and all forms of physical torture like bending legs backwards forcibly.

As every second passes, the fate of the detained Hongkongers becomes more uncertain. To bring them back safe and free from tortures, we hope the world can keep a close watch on developments and speak up for us when our voices are eventually silenced.

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