Amy Lai is a lawyer and author.
Hong Kong, where I was born and raised, has always had a special place in my heart. I never considered it perfect, but I always thought, even after I moved to Canada as an adult, that it would be my home – that is until this June, when the government began a brutal crackdown on what had been an orderly, peaceful protest against a now-infamous extradition bill. My hopes for Hong Kong were dashed by the rising number of arrests of peaceful protesters and lawmakers, the reports of torture and sexual assaults of detainees by the police – both witnessed and alleged, in broad daylight and at detention centres – and the violence reported almost on a daily basis by the media.
If I’d had enough foresight, I would have seen it coming. Still carrying a Hong Kong identity card, I travelled to Hong Kong multiple times earlier in 2019. As I arrived at the airport, both in early April and July, I was detained and interrogated about the purposes of my visit and warned against causing trouble. Long before violence broke out in June, tension was already brewing beneath the surface.
At that time, I tried but failed to rationalize these incidents. I have never been a front-line activist. I have nonetheless endeavoured to fulfill the role of a responsible, educated citizen by writing numerous essays, in both English and Chinese, critical of the Chinese and Hong Kong governments over the past few years and getting them published in different outlets. I also donate to causes that I consider meaningful; for instance, a few years ago, I donated to a new political party that advocated for more autonomy for citizens of Hong Kong in the governance of their home. This party was soon deemed illegal by the government for advocating Hong Kong independence. It was highly possible that the donor’s list was seized by the authorities (or that the donation website was a bogus one set up to trap the potential supporters of this cause).
Western-educated, I have always believed that no person or government is above criticism and, from an academic perspective, virtually nothing is too controversial and anything is up for debate. Quite a few philosophers contend that citizens enter into a social contract to form a government. When this government does not perform properly, parties to this contract have the right and duty to reform it. When people’s fundamental rights are usurped, it is only natural and reasonable for them to resist, even if it means fighting for independence and setting up a new government.
Although I was not denied entry, I felt like I was placed under surveillance. I felt unsafe both indoors and outdoors. Only when I came back to Canada in late July did I begin to feel at ease. In retrospect, what happened to me this spring and summer seemed like a prelude to the escalating violence that soon swept my birth city.
Over the past few months, the number of arrests has been rapidly increasing. Some reports said that it was indeed the government’s strategy to keep having people arrested – including those who may not have committed any offences – based upon the rationale that when all potential protesters were arrested, there would be no more protests. As its rule of law collapsed, Hong Kong has devolved into a police state where even the judiciary has lost its credibility. Thus, victims have had no authority to appeal to.
This past week, people held a citywide vigil for a young protester, Alex Chow, who died Nov. 8, a few days after falling from a parking garage during what some allege was an attempt to escape tear gas or police pursuit. We hope that the truth will emerge, but are not optimistic. Over the past few days, the campus of the Chinese University of Hong Kong has turned into a major battleground, and the police siege and attempted invasion of the campus symbolize an assault on truth, justice and academic freedom by a ruthless authoritarian state.
I reckoned it was time for me to tell my story, which can hopefully inspire others to do the same. It’s time to warn residents of Canada, whether they hold a Canadian or Hong Kong passport, who are planning to travel there. It’s time for Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and the newly elected government to reconsider its foreign policy toward China, which is the ultimate instigator of the humanitarian crisis in Hong Kong, not to mention all human-rights abuses in Tibet and Xinjiang. This battle no doubt will take much courage and determination, but the brave people of Hong Kong should inspire the rest of the world to stand with the oppressed.
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