The Demise of the Former Pearl of the Orient

by a Hong Kong freedom fighter

Note from the Editor: at the same month that the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights published a report examining the impact of new technologies on the promotion and protection of human rights in the context of assemblies, including peaceful protests, Hong Kong was prone to violent disruption of its citizen’s civil rights. In this text, a Hongkonger, partner of LAPIN, brings us a perspective of the abuses that have been perpetrated in recent weeks in the “Pearl of the Orient”. In order to protect this person's identity, the author has preferred to remain anonymous.

Hong Kong is a global financial centre and was one of the freest cities around the world – until recently.

Hong Kong was a British colony for 150 years until being handed over to the Chinese government in 1997. Due to the fundamental cultural and political differences between the two major powers, Hong Kong enjoyed a unique status in East Asia as a bridgehead for Chinese and Western cultural exchange. This situation is made even more special as the political and judicial systems in Hong Kong is entirely different from what is in place in China. The Hongkongers used to enjoy the freedom of speech and assembly, as well as a fair judiciary system, which is considerably different from what is in mainland China. At the same time, the city has a semi-democratic policy with its leader, the Chief Executive elected by 1200 individuals from various sectors (that are mostly pro-Beijing merchants) and the Legislative Council (LegCo) (equivalent to a Parliament) separated into two parts. Various sectors within the society elect half of the 70 seats, and the remaining seats are elected freely by every Hong Kong citizen over the age of 18.

Although there were tensions between the government and the pro-Democratic legislators and their supporters due to the ideological differences, it has been largely peaceful for almost two decades until the mass protests broke out June last year. A Hong Kong citizen named Chan Tong-kai killed his girlfriend Poon Hiu-wing in Taiwan and escaped back to Hong Kong, but couldn’t be extradited to Taiwan for his trial due to the lack of extradition agreement between the two governments [i]. The Hong Kong government, therefore, proposed a bill to renew the list of extradition countries by adding Taiwan and also China to it. This has caused widespread concerns among the Hongkongers, as most believed by allowing extradition to China, it could act as a pathway to silent dissents by moving political prisoners for trial to the unfair Chinese courts [ii]. A million took up the streets to express their concerns on the matter on June 9th, 2019 but was largely ignored by the government by insisting that the bill would proceed in LegCo on June 12th. The protesters then took up the streets again on the 12th by encircling the LegCo to prevent the bill from going through but was then met with police brutality on the venue. The police fired dozens of tear gas canisters and rubber bullets despite that the encirclement was mostly peaceful. A teacher was shot on his eye and is still suffering from a weakened sight until this very day. Bystanders and even reporters were faced with the same excessive use of force, by being pepper-sprayed or beaten by the police with their batons. Despite the apparent opposition towards the bill from the Hongkongers, it was again neglected by the Chief Executive Carrie Lam and sparked a series of protests regarding the issue for over a year.

June 12th, 2019 is the day that marked the starting of the massive political turmoil in Hong Kong that is still shadowing the city until this very day.

Protesters encircling the Legislative Council on June 12th were met with tear gases

The protests escalated further over time with the increased use of force from both sides. It hasn’t died down as the protesters were furious about the police’s excessive use of force and allegedly cooperated with the triad gangs by allowing them to beat up citizens in Yuen Long on July 21st through closing police stations and rejection emergency calls in that evening [iii]. The police also allegedly murdered protesters on various occasions such as beating protesters in the MTR (equivalent to metro/underground) station on August 31st [iv] and shooting live rounds at protesters despite there weren’t any conflicts or threats to the officers [v].

Triad mobs beating up citizens indiscriminately in Yuen Long station on July 21st

The conflicts heighten during the police siege on the two universities in the city, the Chinese University of Hong Kong (CUHK) and the Polytechnic University (PolyU) in November last year. The police tried to invade the two universities in the name of “restoring peace” by firing over 2000 tear gas canisters in CUHK and causing widespread panic within the campus where most were students [vi]. Protesters then took up their positions in PolyU in an attempt to divert the attention and to save those who are trapped in CUHK. However, the government and the police not only didn’t try to ease the tension but put on a siege on PolyU that lasted for 12 days, creating a humanitarian crisis within the campus with most trapped inside showing symptoms of mental breakdown [vii]. First aids were even arrested at the place for “rioting” and denied the chance to give first aid treatments to those who were heavily injured [viii].

Siege of CUHK (above) and PolyU (below)

On the other hand, Carrie Lam and her administration didn’t respond or negotiate with the protesters at all but kept on blaming the group for harming the rule of law and stability in Hong Kong. Her response to the protests has only further polarized the society if not pushing Hong Kong onto the brink of collapse. The movement has slowed down for a few months since the outbreak of Covid-19 due to public health reasons and resumed over the summer after the pandemic was largely controlled as Hongkongers still remember the absurdity and brutality shown by the government and police. The Hong Kong and Chinese governments reacted strongly to the resume of the movement by denouncing it as “domestic terrorism” and passed the new draconian National Security Law on July 1st, the handover anniversary when the rest of the world is busy in controlling the pandemic [ix].

The new national security law is perceived as highly intrusive towards individuals’ privacy and encroachment of the rule of law that is embraced by the Hong Kong society. It was passed directly by the CCP without consulting the Hong Kong society nor discussed by the Hong Kong Legislative Council (equivalent to parliament). The legislation allows the CCP to establish a new security office in Hong Kong, while not restricted by the Hong Kong authority and common law in place, with the power to conceal their investigations from the public and the right to hold trials in mainland Chinese territory. Individuals that are suspected by the office could be wire-tapped and put under surveillance at all times, with the arrestees subjected to the possibility of having their biometric information collected.

The new law is deemed absurd and highly criticized by most for its blatant breach of privacy and infringement of human rights and the rule of law. The British government also perceived the action as a violation of the “One Country, Two Systems” in place and the Sino-British Joint Declaration signed between the Chinese and British governments that guaranteed the freedom and autonomy of the Hongkongers[x]. At the same time, the US government passed the “Hong Kong Autonomy Act” to sanction the CCP and Hong Kong officials that are responsible for the breach of autonomy[xi].

Arrests were made immediately under the new national security law, with an individual only having Taiwan flags in his backpack, he was arrested for “colluding with foreign powers to put national security under threat”[xii]. In a more ridiculous case, a Liverpool fan chanted “long live Liverpool” was stopped and searched for being suspected of “provoking the idea of Hong Kong independence”[xiii]. This all happened on the 1st day after the law was implemented, and the situation could arguably only be worsened as China is trying to take over Hong Kong completely.

Hong Kong was a renowned international financial centre with her citizens enjoyed a high degree of autonomy and freedom until the extradition bill proposed by the Hong Kong government last June. The encroachment of Hongkongers’ fundamental rights as humans has become more severe and brazen with the disproportionate use of force by the police and the disrespect towards the rule of law by the governments. The “Pearl of the Orient” has been fading in the recent years, with her citizens’ freedom and rights under threat, this could serve as a warning to the rest of the world of the comeback of the authoritarian governments, and could only get worse with the mass employment of digital surveillance measures.

The flagrant abuse of human rights by the CCP could have been prevented if the rest of the world did not turn a blind eye. Over the course of the rise of the CCP, the party had violated human rights on multiple occasions, starting from the Tiananmen Square Massacre in 1989, up until the persecution towards the Xinjiang Uighurs in 2017. There were clear signals that intervention had to be made to prevent more from getting harmed by this group of autocrats.

Authoritarianism may not be here in the West yet, but it will be on your doorsteps in no time if these violations by the CCP are tolerated and ignored. Let your voice be heard by helping those who are in danger or in fringe of losing basic human rights and freedom.

Fight for freedom, stand with Hong Kong.

“First they came for the Communists,

And I did not speak out

Because I was not a Communist

Then they came for the Socialists

And I did not speak out

Because I was not a Socialist

Then they came for the trade unionists

And I did not speak out

Because I was not a trade unionist

Then they came for the Jews

And I did not speak out

Because I was not a Jew

Then they came for me

And there was no one left

To speak out for me”

Martin Niemöller (1946)


[i] Sui, C., 2019. The murder behind the Hong Kong protests: A case where no-one wants the killer. BBC, [online] Available at: https://www.bbc.com/news/world-asia-china-50148577 [ii] BBC, 2019. Hong Kong-China extradition plans explained. [online] Available at: https://www.bbc.com/news/world-asia-china-47810723 [iii] Ramzy, A., 2019. “Mob Attack at Hong Kong Train Station Heightens Seething Tensions in City”. New York Times, [online] Available at: https://www.nytimes.com/2019/07/22/world/asia/hong-kong-protest-mob-attack-yuen-long.html [iv] Wong, V., 2019. “The ‘831’ Prince Edward MTR incident proves Hong Kong urgently needs Access to Information reform”. Hong Kong Free Press, [online] Available at: https://hongkongfp.com/2019/09/22/831-prince-edward-mtr-incident-proves-hong-kong-urgently-needs-access-information-reform/ [v] Associated Press, 2019. “Hong Kong Police Shoot Protester in the Street”. [online] Available at: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0KitF7Eh7HE [vi] Cheng, K. and Chan, H., 2019. “CUHK turns into battleground between protesters and police as clashes rage on across Hong Kong universities”. Hong Kong Free Press, [online] Available at: https://hongkongfp.com/2019/11/12/cuhk-turns-battleground-protesters-police-clashes-rage-across-hong-kong-universities/ [vii] BBC News, 2019. “Hong Kong Polytechnic University: Protesters still inside as standoff continues”. BBC News, [online] Available at: https://www.bbc.com/news/world-asia-china-50465337 [viii] France 24, 2019. “First-aid workers slam medic arrests at Hong Kong campus”. France 24, [online] Available at: https://www.france24.com/en/20191122-first-aid-workers-slam-medic-arrests-at-hong-kong-campus [ix] The Economist, 2020. “A Harbour No More: China’s Draconian Security Law for Hong Kong Buries One Country, Two Systems.” The Economist, [online] Available at: https://www.economist.com/leaders/2020/07/02/chinas-draconian-security-law-for-hong-kong-buries-one-country-two-systems [x] James, W., 2020. “UK says China's security law is serious violation of Hong Kong treaty”. Reuters, [online] Available at: https://www.reuters.com/article/us-hongkong-protests-britain/uk-says-chinas-security-law-is-serious-violation-of-hong-kong-treaty-idUSKBN2425LL [xi] Hong Kong Autonomy Act. S.3798. [xii] Strong, M., 2020. “Hong Kong protester arrested with 30 Taiwanese flags”. Taiwan News, [online] Available at: https://www.taiwannews.com.tw/en/news/3957011 [xiii] Davidson, H., 2020. “Hong Kong football fan briefly detained 'after shouting long live Liverpool'”. The Guardian, [online] Available at: https://www.theguardian.com/world/2020/jul/02/hong-kong-football-fan-briefly-detained-after-shouting-long-live-liverpool

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