The chilling specter of the midnight knock on the door faces HK

January 09, 2016 08:04
What will become of Hong Kong if mainland police can come here and take away whoever they want? Photos: HKEJ, Baidu

The midnight knock on the door, the very thing that concerned many people in the wake of Hong Kong’s reversion to Chinese sovereignty, has now come to pass.

The late newspaper columnist Tsang Ki-Fan wrote a memorable commentary some years ago saying that despite having failed to introduce a democratic system in Hong Kong, the former British rulers presided over "the only Chinese society that, for a brief span of less than a hundred years, lived through an ideal never realized at any time in the history of Chinese societies – a time when no man had to live in fear of the midnight knock on the door".

It had been thought that the Basic Law ensured not only the integrity of the existing legal system but would also isolate Hong Kong residents from the reach of mainland law officers, at least while they remained in the territory.

However, the long arm of the Chinese security services almost certainly explains the disappearance of Lee Bo and his four colleagues who are involved in companies that run a bookshop and publishing house specializing in books banned on the mainland.

Although the usual suspects are doing their best to confuse this issue, it is clear that people who are involved in publishing and distributing material that the Chinese Communist Party wishes to suppress have been detained for questioning across the border. If there is a viable alternative explanation we have yet to hear it.

Moreover, any doubts as to the intensely political nature of this case have been dispelled by the repeated rants against the disappeared men that have repeatedly appeared in editorials of the Global Times, one of Beijing’s more rabid mouthpieces.

According to these commentaries Mr. Lee and his colleagues are responsible for crimes of spreading misinformation and damaging the interests of the state, etc. etc.

So far, so bad, but we are also confronted with the extent to which members of the Hong Kong government and the rabble of Beijing cheerleaders will go in not only ignoring their responsibilities but also actively collaborating in the worst aspects of this case.

At the deepest end of the sewer we find legislator Ng Leung-sing, trying out one of the oldest smear tactics in the book by alleging that all the disappeared people are somehow involved in a prostitution scandal; even when "apologizing" for this smear, the despicable Mr. Ng claims he was doing no more than passing on information from a "friend".

This sort of low-level smearing comes straight out the dictators’ playbook that stretches from accusations of sexual depravity made by the Nazis in their condemnations of the Jewish people, to Stalin’s mouthpieces accompanying purges with lurid stories of sexual excesses by those being purged. Mr. Ng is no more than in the junior league of smearers, but this is no excuse.

Nor is there any excuse for the behavior of someone like legislator Regina Ip who did her best to defuse the issue by making misleading and largely irrelevant statements about what is permitted under the immigration laws as a way of avoiding the crucial issue of abduction.

Mrs. Ip, as ever, is focusing on her main ambition, which is to obtain the permission of the masters in Beijing for her appointment as Hong Kong chief executive.

However, much graver charges of dereliction of duty must be laid at the feet of the Leung Chun-ying administration, which simply refuses to look after the interests of the people it claims to govern.

Mr. Leung himself has veered from saying nothing about the abductions, followed by vague statements and topped this with the absurd claim that Mr. Lee, who is clearly not at liberty to do anything right now, should somehow come forward and explain his situation.

The message conveyed by the Hong Kong government is clear: people who stand up to the Chinese Communist Party are on their own, even when they do so in a manner that is perfectly legal in Hong Kong.

The abduction of the publishers follows a less remembered case in which another publisher of books banned on the mainland was sentenced to 10 years in jail almost two years ago.

The difference in the case of Yiu Man-tin is that he was not abducted from Hong Kong but lured to Shenzhen and then charged with "smuggling ordinary goods".

Others, notably the journalist Ching Cheong, who specializes in writing about mainland matters, have suffered jail time, not least to serve as a warning to others to shut up.

That warning has been heard loud and clear and is reflected in how much of the Hong Kong media covers the mainland.

More recently we have learned that the bookshop chain Page One has withdrawn books banned across the border (intelligent people looking for a book store will no doubt respond to this in the appropriate way). And so it goes on.

Yet many people still shrug and say words to the effect of "what do you expect". They seem to believe that as long as they keep their heads down nothing bad will happen to them.

Others are seriously looking at exit options because it is hard to understate the devastating impact of these events.

Indeed, after living in Hong Kong for almost three decades, I can think of few other incidents that have provoked this kind of alarm, although the 1989 massacre obviously cast a bigger shadow.

Now that the midnight knock on the door has reared its ugly head in Hong Kong it has realized some of the worst fears of what "glorious reunification" really means.

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Hong Kong-based journalist, broadcaster and book author. His latest book, Defying the Dragon – Hong Kong and the world’s largest dictatorship, will be published by Hurst Publishers in early 2021.