To many dissidents in Hong Kong, one of the immediate effects of the new national security law is being forced to accept hostile strangers walking into our lives. I have faced frequent harassment from what appear to be state-supported personnel. Most often, they have waited outside my office or meeting places and taken photographs, possibly to report my whereabouts to the police or the national security agency. Or they are simply sending a message: They are watching me.
On a recent afternoon last month, I was driving to Hong Kong’s Victoria Peak to walk my friends’ dogs when I discovered a seven-seater car tailing us. When we arrived, an angry lady was already there waiting, videotaping us on her phone. Soon after, a group of six people surrounded me and my friends, provoking me with verbal abuse until we left. I remained calm and confronted them with restraint, even livestreaming the incident on Facebook for my protection. When I got home and processed the footage that night, I looked up a license plate and discovered that one of the cars was owned by a police officer.
Another type of stalking is more secretive. I still recall the day I declared I would run in Hong Kong’s legislative election. At least four vehicles tailed me through the day; even a motorcycle was used. I didn’t know whether the intention was simply to monitor my movements — or arrest me.
After Agnes Chow’s arrest last month, I realized they would come for me sooner or later. The fear of being extradited to Chinese court and held in a “black jail” is yet another level of terror.
This haunting vision has recently become a reality for others. Two weeks ago, 12 Hong Kongers, all involved in the movement last year, were seized by China’s coast guard when fleeing to Taiwan for political refuge. All of them are now detained in China. Chinese authorities have barred lawyers from access to detainees and even told them they might face graver offenses under China’s laws. With China’s draconian legal system, secret trials and the widespread practice of forced confession, their situation is extremely alarming.
As the news emerged, the Hong Kong government barely seemed to care. There is an established mechanism in which the Hong Kong and Chinese governments must notify each other within 14 days if residents of either jurisdiction face criminal prosecution or other criminal measures. However, Carrie Lam, Hong Kong’s chief executive, did not proactively request handing them back to Hong Kong and has said they will “have to be dealt with” by China. It is extremely peculiar to handle the case of fleeing activists in this way, especially because one of the 12 detainees, Andy Li, was arrested under the national security law last month on charges of collusion with foreign forces for his involvement in international advocacy.
International attention to this situation is crucial. Our greatest fear is that the 12 Hong Kongers will experience inhumane treatment while in Chinese custody. We worry that no actions will be taken to make sure these Hong Kongers are safe and have access to lawyers and other necessities.
My thoughts are consistently with the plight of the dozen Hong Kongers detained in China. Given the growing anxiety about Beijing’s tightening grip over this semi-autonomous city, I understand why young people would choose to risk their lives fleeing the city across the angry sea for political refuge. Moreover, their fates have an enormous impact on the futures of those who remain in Hong Kong, too.
I have imagined what would happen if I were detained and sent to China. The physical mistreatment and deprivation of liberty and human dignity seem inevitable. Being separated from my beloved family and friends would also be heartbreaking. But if I suffered this misfortune, I hope the international community would continue standing with the Hong Kong people. The most unbearable ordeal for a political prisoner is watching one’s home fall into authoritarian grip while others continue to harvest economic and other gains from the financial hub as though nothing happened.
There are many reasons why we in Hong Kong have to continue the fight. These reasons include the fate of the 12 held in China and the potential that others could face the same penalties for merely exercising their rights. In these dark times, the last thing I would like to see is people losing faith and doing nothing about the situation other than counting the arrests that lie ahead.
Over the past year, we have endeavored to safeguard the values of Hong Kong’s people and prevent our home from turning into another Xinjiang. We have constructed barricades against this descent, not only in the streets and the establishment but also in the community, in the fight against the coronavirus pandemic and on the education front. Time and again, the creativity and cohesion of our fellow protesters have surprised the world. To succumb to authoritarianism docilely is not an option. We shall not surrender.