Targeted activists vow “the voices of Hongkongers will never be eliminated”

Pro-democracy activists exiled from Hong Kong will never be silenced despite attempts by the Chinese Communist Party to use transnational repression against them, an urgent press briefing held at the UK House of Commons on Wednesday heard.

This is despite what some are calling a “Chinese fatwa” which has seen the Hong Kong Police Force issue arrest warrants againt eight activists, including Christopher Mung, Finn Lau and Nathaw Law in the UK, and others in the US, Canada and Australia. The authorities have also offered rewards of up to one million Hong Kong dollars for information leading to their capture.

Mung and Lau both spoke at the briefing, which was chaired by Bob Seely MP.

Mung stressed the repercussions of the long reach from the authorities, but vowed he will never be silenced.

He said: “The Chinese and Hong Kong governments are extending their hands abroad, suppressing freedom of speech and silencing activists with a chilling effect.

“But they will never eliminate my voice, or the voice of Hongkongers. For the rest of my life, us Hongkongers will fight together.”

Lau said it wasn’t the first time the CCP had tried to exert transnational repression of speech in the UK, citing the harassment of protestors outside the Chinese consulate in Manchester by staff in 2022.

He also issued a set of demands to the British government in response to the warrants. These included an urgent meeting with both the British foreign and home secretaries, as well as calling for legal action against anybody in the UK who passes on information about the activists for reward.

“We simply need concrete action and measures to tackle this,” he said.

Mark Clifford, president of the Committee for Freedom in Hong Kong Foundation, went as far to call the warrants and bounties a Chinese “fatwa”.

He said: “The CCP and their enablers in Hong Kong have crossed a red line here. What they’re saying is democracy is illegal around the world under their National Security Law.

“We need actions because China will keep pushing, and pushing, and pushing.”

When asked why the warrants and bounties were issued now, Lau said that any guess is just speculation.

He continued: “Personally, I think it’s just simply a way of discouraging Hongkongers from fighting for their democracy and speech in the future.”

Benedict Rogers, chief executive of Hong Kong Watch, which monitors freedoms and human rights in Hong Kong, recounted attempts by the CCP to repress his own freedom of speech, while acknowledging these have been less severe than those now faced by the eight activists.

“About a year ago I received a letter from the Hong Kong police informing me that what I do with Hong Kong Watch in the UK violates the National Security Law in Hong Kong, and I could face a prison sentence there,” he said.

“I’ve also received anonymous threatening letters from Hong Kong, some even posted to my mother.”

Finishing off the session, Mark Clifford said that the battle with the CCP’s repression will be a long-term struggle, and to ensure talk of damaging trade relations doesn’t affect it.

“It’s an evil, evil country; and we must remember our values are just more important than economic commerce.”

Read our statement on the arrest warrants and rewards.

Argument for urgent intervention in Jimmy Lai case laid bare in new report

The UK government is failing to acknowledge a British citizen unfairly imprisoned in Hong Kong amid a wider targeting of journalists and pro-democracy campaigners in the city state, said the authors of a new report on issues of freedom in Hong Kong.

On Monday, the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Hong Kong (APPG) met at Portcullis House, London, to discuss their new report, Inquiry into Media Freedom in Hong Kong: The case of Jimmy Lai and and Apple Daily, which offers a sobering look into the state of media freedoms in the once vibrant city. Index contributed to the report.

The session was headed by Baroness Bennett of Manor Caste, the joint chair of the APPG. Other speakers included Lai’s international lawyer, Caoilfhionn Gallagher KC, Baroness Helena Kennedy and Sebastian Lai, Jimmy Lai’s son.

One of the aims of the report is to provoke a response from the British government regarding Lai. A pro-democracy figure, media tycoon and British citizen, he is in a Hong Kong prison after sentencing for unauthorised assembly and fraud charges. In addition to these charges are more serious ones of violating Hong Kong’s national security law, which was passed in 2020. Six of his colleagues at Apple Daily, the newspaper founded by Lai, are also in jail charged under the national security laws.

Kennedy believes the case of Jimmy Lai should be treated as a political priority by the UK government not only because Lai is a British citizen, but also because of the the joint declaration that gives the UK a place in trying to guarantee the rights of people in Hong Kong.

She added: “It is the illegitimate use of law against a citizen by the government, and against the protection of media freedom and expression in Hong Kong.”

Lord Alton of Liverpool, a vice chair of the APPG, echoed Kennedy’s called for Magnitsky-style sanctions against allies of the Hong Kong authorities in the UK as further action is needed. “We have to go beyond sanctions, to freezing the assets and redeploying the resources of those who have been able to use London as a place for their activities,” he said.

Gallagher said the Hong Kong authorities have weaponised their laws to target pro-democracy campaigners and journalists in new ways. Gallagher, who represents Jimmy Lai, as well as Maria Ressa from the Philippines who was charged with tax evasion, says that this is a new tactic – trying to discredit them by painting them as bad people rather than using the more traditional tactic of defamation. “It’s straight from the dictators’ playbook,” she said.

Kennedy echoed this by stating fraud and tax affair charges are common tactics used against journalists in Hong Kong before more serious charges are later served. They added that as a result of supporting Lai they’ve received a series of threats and intimidation from state actors.

Sebastian Lai said he is also a target for the Chinese authorities. He acknowledged international support regarding his father’s cause but expressed disappointment in the UK government’s attitude. He said: “The language the UK government has used has been nowhere close to what America has used for not only a British citizen, but my father.”

However, he did acknowledge thanks for Anne Marie Trevelyan, MP and Minister of State in the Foreign, Commonwealth & Development Office, for meeting him.

Fiona O’ Brien, the UK bureau director of Reporters Without Borders (RSF), said it needed to be waved in the face of those in power, “along with journalists writing stories, lawyers pursuing legal routes and advocates in society. We need to continue to shine a light.”

The report can be found here.

Postcard campaign provides comfort to Jimmy Lai in prison

[vc_row][vc_column][vc_single_image image=”119624″ img_size=”full” add_caption=”yes” alignment=”center”][vc_column_text]On the east coast of the USA around 100 children have sent postcards to a man they do not know who is incarcerated over 8,000 miles away. The man is Jimmy Lai, the Hong Kong media mogul and activist.

The postcards have provided a brief ray of light in an otherwise dark chapter for a man locked up for his political beliefs, and the city state of Hong Kong which is currently in the ever-tightening grip of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP).

Lai is imprisoned on charges most us will, hopefully, never have to face. The billionaire publisher and founder of Apple Daily has been jailed since December 2020 after he lit a candle during a public commemoration of the 1989 Tiananmen Square massacre.

The charges were related to this and his other pro-democracy protests. He is perhaps the most high-profile victim of the National Security Law, which was passed in the summer of 2020 with the precise aim of punishing and stifling dissent. This month he faces a trial without jury, where he will plead not guilty to the national security charges.

April Ponnuru’s daughter with the postcards.

April Ponnuru has organised the campaign on behalf of The Committee For Freedom in Hong Kong Foundation (CFHK). It was her idea for children at her daughter’s school, in Virginia, to send supportive postcards to Lai after learning he is a devout Catholic.

“My children are in a Catholic school and are Catholic, and I was thinking about how Catholics believe in the idea called corporal works of mercy, and they are these physical acts we do for people that import a lot of grace and mercy, and one of those is visiting the imprisoned,” she said.

She explained how Lai being persecuted for his ideas and belief – not only political but also regarding his faith – inspired her to contact her children’s school.

“This is a great example for these kids of somebody who stood up for their faith and is suffering unjust consequences for that. I thought they could write postcards to Jimmy and tell him they know a little bit of his story, and they’re praying for him and admire him.”

Lai is currently held at Stanley Prison, a maximum-security facility in Hong Kong where he has spent time in solitary confinement. Already a believer, he has found strength through his faith. A drawing of Jesus Christ on the cross done by Lai from prison was printed on the postcards the children sent.

This drawing was originally published in Index on Censorship’s spring 2022 magazine, alongside letters of his, many of which reference his faith.

Ponnuru said: “We thought it would be nice to include some religious art by Jimmy, and it would be a really meaningful thing that this art he sent out in the world would come back to him from a lot of children. For the children it was a great way to participate in corporal works of mercy that they ordinarily wouldn’t be able to do so. By sending him a card and message, they are visiting him.”

Jimmy Lai’s drawing of Jesus Christ.

She is eager to point out that she wants any child to have the opportunity to send a postcard, as the message of the project should not be defined just by Catholicism.

“This isn’t limited to Catholic schools. We would love any child to participate, children of all faiths and no faith. It’s about understanding the injustice of what is happening to Jimmy and others in Hong Kong. This pilot programme is just the beginning, and we would be very happy to create a postcard that would be appropriate for students at public and other schools to send as well,” Ponnuru said.

“Overall, a number of people have said to me they would love to bring it to their school, and priests have told me they are interested in copying the programme. We are going to write to other schools to encourage them to join the project.”

It’s understood the postcards were received in prison within three months of being sent, and that Lai is being allowed to read one daily, enabling him to have regular contact with the outside world.

If you would like more information about the project, and to request postcards for Jimmy Lai, please contact [email protected].[/vc_column_text][/vc_column][/vc_row]

You can’t “put the genie back in the bottle”

Mark Clifford, Kris Cheng and Benedict Rogers speak in parliament ahead of the 25th anniversary of the handover of Hong Kong

Mark Clifford, Kris Cheng and Benedict Rogers speak in parliament ahead of the 25th anniversary of the handover of Hong Kong

“The fear of possibly being attacked by the far-reaching Chinese Communist Party is always there.” These were the words of political activist Nathan Law. His background in peaceful activism and outspoken pro-democratic views have made him a target of the Chinese Communist Party.

Law, who is best known as one of the student leaders of the Umbrella Movement and who was the youngest legislator in Hong Kong history, fled Hong Kong in 2020, a few days before the implementation of the National Security Law (NSL). In the same year, Law was listed as one of the 100 most influential individuals in the world by Time Magazine.

Law was speaking at an event organised by Index on Censorship and The Committee for Freedom in Hong Kong inside parliament, the heart of British politics. The purpose? To highlight the actions of the Chinese government and showcase the fearmongering tactics used to manipulate and intimidate all Hong Kongers, both domestic residents and those abroad, ahead of the 25th anniversary handover of Hong Kong from British rule to Beijing rule.

The event was chaired by Index on Censorship’s Jemimah Steinfeld and hosted by Neil Coyle, a Member of Parliament. Other panellists included Mark Clifford, former editor-in-chief for both The Standard and The South China Morning Post as well as president of the Committee for Freedom in Hong Kong, Evan Fowler, a writer and researcher from Hong Kong, Benedict Rogers, the CEO of Hong Kong Watch, and Kris Cheng, a journalist who used to work at Hong Kong Free Press.

Coyle kicked it off by setting the tone of the evening’s conversation: “What we [are] discussing and hearing today in this building would guarantee the panellists’ arrests and imprisonments were they to say the same in Hong Kong today.”

The implementation of the NSL has placed a stranglehold on dissent. While the punishment for violating the law is clear — up to life in prison for some “offences”— how the Chinese government interprets and manipulates the law falls into a grey zone, leaving many Hong Kong residents in a perpetual state of fear.

The NSL was a turning point, though Clifford said that “Hong Kong was always living on borrowed time”. But he spoke of how pre-handover it wasn’t always obvious the direction China would take, as the last governor of Hong Kong, Chris Patten, had created a much more pluralistic society. Speaking of this period, Clifford said that “the Chinese rightly understood that once Hong Kong people tasted freedom and democracy, it was going to be hard to put the genie back in the bottle.”

Rogers also spoke of a time where there was still hope. “For the five years that I lived and worked in Hong Kong, those first five years after the handover, that sense of foreboding when I got there appeared to have largely receded. There was a sense that One country, Two systems, by and large, was working pretty well. Hong Kong felt pretty free.”

By the time Rogers left in 2002, however, he started to see the subtle warning signs turn increasingly more substantial. “I saw some worrying signs that made me decide after five years it was time for me to move on.”

Fowler recalled the days surrounding the Handover. “It’s now being celebrated as this great event where Hong Kong was returned to the Motherland, where all the comrades happily embraced returning to the Communist fold. I really didn’t feel that at all. The feeling that I remember was that people didn’t know what was going to happen. Taking what [Clifford] said earlier about the old colonial saying ‘borrowed place on borrowed time,’ there really was a sense of that.”

Fowler went on to share an analysis of two different eras in history. “I suppose the big transition was before 1997. No matter how things were going in Hong Kong, there was always this feeling that you didn’t know what future lay in store, and ultimately you knew that that future wasn’t to be decided by you.”

Post-1997, Fowler said the general consensus was that people believed most issues had been resolved, but that it certainly wasn’t a wonderful celebration every time. Today though the CCP is trying hard to erase any memories of protest and misgivings from the time, as we recently reported here.

Chinese propaganda is something panellist Cheng was accustomed to throughout his childhood in Hong Kong. At school, Cheng went on a “national education tour” in Beijing. Cheng said the tour was a way to influence the minds of younger generations. “The whole thing is to let you have the experience in the Chinese government and capital, to know what was going on in China, to build that identity. I called it ‘softcore propaganda.’”

Cheng used this experience as motivation for his career as editorial director at Hong Kong Free Press. It also made Cheng realise the dissimilarities between Hong Kong and China. “I don’t think, at the time, that there was some sort of Hong Kong identity in the Hong Kong people, but it actually made me feel like ‘Wait, we [Hong Kongers] are a bit different.’”

Themes of oppression and manipulation were hit on heavily throughout the event. Law argued that the “fight of Hong Kong is not only for Hong Kong people”. He believes that the democratic nations of the world must “stand at the forefront of the global resistance and pushback against the rise of authoritarianism. At the end of the day, if we cannot contain the aggression of the Chinese Communist Party, there will be no ability to make a change in Hong Kong.”

“If the case of Hong Kong can remind us how fragile freedoms and democracy are and how underprepared we have been for the past few decades, then it can remind everyone we need resources and [need] to form global alliances to heckle these dictators’ aggression,” said Law.

He urged individuals on the panel and those within the room to “not let the government forget the atrocities committed against protesters and pro-democracy movements, at least until we have gathered enough mechanisms to hold these human rights perpetrators accountable.”

You can listen to a recording of our Hong Kong event here.