Hong Kong will die under emergency laws

August 29, 2019 08:00
Carrie Lam must reassure Hongkongers that they wouldn’t lose their jobs for exercising free speech, our columnist writes. Photo: Reuters

Let’s put aside for a moment the five demands of anti-extradition protesters. Our chief executive has already implied she is powerless to meet the demands. That power lies with Beijing, which has explicitly said through spokesmen and state media it won’t bow to such demands.

So let’s focus instead on something far more urgent. An indispensable pillar that holds up Hong Kong as a free society is under attack by a form of white terror. This attack requires an immediate pushback if we are to preserve Hong Kong as we know it.

Past claims of white terror, especially during the Umbrella Movement, never bothered me. Occupy Central co-organizer Chan Kin-man said in 2014 a blade he received in the mail was white terror. Former chief secretary Anson Chan Fang On-sang said it was white terror for the media to reveal she had received over HK$3 million from Next Media owner Jimmy Lai Chee-ying.

A single blade in the mail is not white terror. Revealing Lai’s donation to Chan is media freedom, not white terror. In historical terms, white terror means political murders, executions, and jailing without trial as happened in France, Russia, Shanghai, and Taiwan.

None of that is happening in Hong Kong. But a different type of white terror has now arrived. It is intended to scare people into giving up their free speech rights. One of our core values is that people are free to do whatever they want on their own time as long as they don’t break the law.

That includes taking part in peaceful protests, joining police-approved rallies, posting political opinions on social media, having different political viewpoints from their bosses, and even peacefully expressing support for illegal protests. This core value is woven into the fabric of Hong Kong as a free society.

But people have now been fired for having expressed their political views, people are being warned they could be fired if they express political views on social media, companies are being forced to fire people who express their political opinions, and the companies themselves are being forced to support the government or face the consequences.

Is this the Hong Kong we want? Is this the Hong Kong that prides itself as Asia’s world city? Is this the Hong Kong the international business community has placed its trust in as a free society with the rule of law? Is this the Hong Kong Chief Executive Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor wants to showcase to the world?

A rose by any other name smells as sweet. White terror by any other name is still white terror. It began when the central government ordered Cathay Pacific to provide details of flight crews, making clear it would ban flights from Chinese airspace if even one crew member had supported protests.

Cathay had to fire several pilots, crew members, and ground staff because virtually all flights using Hong Kong’s airport have to enter Chinese airspace. But that was not enough. The airline’s CEO and his deputy had to resign. Even more shocking, Cathay fired the union head of Cathay Dragon just for supporting anti-extradition protests on her Facebook page. Several mainland companies have told staff to boycott Cathay.

Cathay, of course, is blameless. Its dependence on the mainland market meant it had no choice but to comply. The depressing thing is even though it is an iconic Hong Kong brand, the central government didn’t mind destroying it for political reasons.

State media, likewise, attacked the MTR, accusing it of helping protesters by keeping trains running during protests. The MTR then shut down stops near protest areas, angering ordinary commuters. Our property tycoons, known for putting profits before people, appeased Beijing by placing advertisements in newspapers supporting the government.

Is this the kind of support Carrie Lam wants? I am not a Beijing basher. That’s why I hope it understands that forced support doesn’t come from the heart. Such support is only done for political expediency.

Lam is now reportedly considering the use of emergency laws to quell protests. She refused to rule out this draconian move when asked two days ago. Not giving a clear answer is in itself a form of white terror intended to scare the people.

Emergency laws would give her sweeping powers to do whatever she wants. It’s worse than Article 23 national security legislation and the now-abandoned extradition bill. It would, in effect, make her a dictator. Such a move would be game over for Hong Kong for sure.

Almost 1,000 people have already been arrested, the youngest just 12 years old, for joining protests. Many of these young people will be jailed because of Lam’s extradition bill. There is speculation the government’s strategy is to arrest all the frontline radicals in the belief this will end the violence.

If the speculation is true, then Lam is tragically mistaken. Even if she arrests them all, doing that will radicalize others. And those who finish their jail terms will come out even more radicalized. Such a strategy is like turning Hong Kong into a time bomb.

I implore Lam to reassure Hongkongers they wouldn’t lose their jobs for exercising free speech. I implore her to make this clear to bosses. I implore her to tell Beijing white terror has no place in Hong Kong. She needs to start leading instead of being on a Beijing leash.

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A Hong Kong-born American citizen who has worked for many years as a journalist in Hong Kong, the USA and London.