The freedoms Chow Tsz-lok died for a year ago are also dying

November 05, 2020 08:03
Photo: RTHK

It is uncertain if a clear winner in the United States presidential election will emerge by the time this column appears. That’s why I won’t focus on the election except to say I hope the world’s democracies will keep a close eye on semi-democracy Hong Kong slipping into a form of totalitarian rule.

Our leader, Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor, is speaking through her rear end when she says we are not losing our freedoms. How can it be anything other than totalitarian when the government arrests opposition legislators for disrupting a meeting last May 8 but spares pro-Beijing legislators who also joined in the melee?

How can it not be Orwellian when the government arrests an RTHK reporter for investigating last year’s July 21 mob attack by white-shirted thugs against MTR passengers and protesters in Yuen Long? Police inaction that night led to accusations it had colluded with the attackers. Now the police has arrested the reporter who investigated the attack, accusing her of illegally searching car ownership information.

Let’s compare the behavior of opposition legislator Fernando Cheung Chiu-hung and pro-Beijing legislator Kwok Wai-keung at the May 8 Legislative Council scuffle. Cheung was charged for shouting slogans during the meeting. Kwok, who dragged opposition legislator Raymond Chan Chi-chuen across the floor so violently that he required medical treatment, was not charged.

When grilled about this double-standard, Police Superintendent Chan Wing-yu insisted the arrests of opposition figures had nothing to do with their political background. Chan Sir must think Hong Kong people are idiots. The arrests had everything to do with the political background of those arrested.

Superintendent Chan claimed the police probe included establishment legislators but the force was awaiting a decision by the Justice Department. This doesn’t make sense. An impartial investigation into all those involved would have enabled the Justice Department to decide who to charge from both camps.

But the Justice Department charged only those from the opposition. It hasn’t decided if pro-Beijing lawmakers should be charged. This proves the arrests were politically motivated. If a fair police probe into everyone produced evidence against the opposition, it should also have produced evidence against the Beijing camp.

The most striking image of the May 8 confrontation was pro-Beijing Kwok dragging Raymond Chan across the floor, not Fernando Cheung and other opposition members shouting slogans against pro-Beijing committee chairman Starry Lee Wai-king. The Justice Department should have prioritized a decision on Kwok’s behavior, not those who shouted slogans.

But the Justice Department is headed by Teresa Cheng Yeuk-wah, a political appointee who labeled last year’s protesters as rioters before they were charged. That should have disqualified her from decisions on prosecutions. But instead of recusing herself from prosecution decisions, she has shown open disdain for the opposition.

Don’t hold your breath for her to charge Kwok or other pro-Beijing legislators involved in the scuffle. You are living in la la land if you believe the Justice Department still calls the shots. Beijing is in charge, which explains why there is so little action against last year’s Yuen Long attack thugs.

Instead of going after the attackers, the police re-wrote history on August 26 – a year after the attack – by re-defining it as a gang fight and arrested 13 people, including opposition legislator Lam Cheuk-ting, who was beaten up by the thugs.

The history re-write, the arrest of an RTHK reporter who investigated the attack, and the arrests of opposition figures all smack of a Beijing hand. Even those who are blindly pro-Beijing know in their hearts the chief executive has become a puppet leader.

Beijing is now systematically ripping out Hong Kong’s soul, changing the city as we know it. At least 10 of the 21 opposition lawmakers who chose to remain in the extended Legislative Council have been arrested for various charges.

Another three who chose not to remain also face charges, as do numerous other opposition figures. Many opposition election candidates have been disqualified. Anti-government protests have become a thing of the past. The opaque national security law’s many red lines gives the government a free hand to define free speech and what constitutes a security threat.

Many Hongkongers now believe Beijing’s ultimate goal is to stifle political dissent, kill off the opposition, control media freedom, weaken our independent judiciary, and turn Legco into a rubber stamp. That will make Hong Kong like the mainland, where speaking your mind is taboo.

But Hong Kong people don’t scare easily. It’s likely many will prove it this Sunday, November 8, the first anniversary of the death of student Chow Tsz-lok, who mysteriously fell from a Tseung Kwan O carpark during last year’s anti-government protests.

My apartment has a full view of the carpark. I had returned from London the day he fell, and could hear the protests. I went to the car park as a journalist on November 8, when he died in hospital, to observe people placing flowers.

Some Hongkongers will likely pay their respects at the carpark this Sunday. Wear a facemask if you go. Restrict groups to four. Make sure you pay your respects peacefully, without independence slogans. Avoid placing flowers.

Just bow and leave. Don’t linger. Follow all the rules to exercise the freedom our chief executive claims Hong Kong still has.

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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.