Wednesday, 28 September 2016

Two Years On from Occupy

A large yellow reminder of two years ago for the fight for universal suffrage
Today marks the second anniversary of the Occupy protests that spontaneously broke out at Admiralty, when people were trying to get the activists released who were surrounded by police in Civic Square.

The milestone was marked by a six-metre long yellow banner "I want true universal suffrage" placed on Devil's Peak in Lei Yue Mun by the League of Social Democrats, that was taken down about 90 minutes later.

People gathered at Admiralty tonight to mark the anniversary
And then in the evening at 5.58pm people gathered at Tim Mei Avenue in Admiralty and observed three minutes of silence, the time when the police began spraying tear gas into the crowd.

I was there that afternoon, and told YTSL to come with me. She had just gotten off the plane from Japan and didn't understand what all the fuss was about.

But after we got a snack and I checked my Twitter feed to find out tear gas had been unleashed and we rushed back to see what was going on. We saw a surreal sight of people occupying the Connaught Road overpass and Queensway and refusing to leave. And there were people getting giant barrels of water ready in case the police would fire more tear gas.

We knew the roads would be blocked for a while at least and I remember getting to my great aunt's place in Tokwawan via the Star Ferry and then a bus.

Two years ago this was the initial surreal scene in Admiralty
On the news later that night we saw that Mongkok, Tsim Sha Tsui and Causeway Bay had also been occupied. It was simultaneously shocking and thrilling to hear that ordinary people had taken control of the area -- when was the last time something like this had happened?

They were brave but also determined to stand their ground which made me so proud of them. They were tired of being pushed around by Beijing and the Hong Kong government wasn't representing their interests.

The last straw was the white paper released in August that reiterated there would be no direct elections of the chief executive in 2017. So when would we ever get universal suffrage that was promised to us? They had to stand up for themselves and they did -- for 79 days.

I miss being able to walk along Connaught Road Central and there was such a community spirit there, people were very friendly and eco-conscious, everyone had the same mindset. It was a calm, but also passionate place, especially when there were gatherings to hear speeches.

Eventually evenings would look like this, crowded but friendly
The sad thing is that Occupy will probably never happen again.

But it has spawned a new generation of politically active kids, a few of them even elected into the Legislative Council! Who would have thought that would be possible! Pretty amazing.

So there is hope, but how do we proceed from here? What is the legacy of Occupy and what does it mean to us?

Thanks for the memories that are still vivid two years later. We will never forget that day.

Tuesday, 27 September 2016

Bookseller Free from Police Protection

After almost three months, Lam is now free from police protection
Hong Kong bookseller Lam Wing-kee is a free man -- well free from the shackles of round-the-clock police protection.

He had asked for it in early July when he felt people were following him since he came back to the city in June.

But now he believes the worst is over and says it's time to live a normal life again.

Lam was one of five booksellers who had been kidnapped when he crossed the border from Hong Kong to Shenzhen. He was detained for several months and then came back to the city, because his minders wanted him to collect the hard disk from the bookstore that contained the names of people who had bought the salacious books about senior Chinese officials.

He told the media about his kidnapping and detention in China
However, Lam changed his mind and decided to go public with his plight, revealing his experiences of being detained in the mainland and how his minders received orders straight from the top.

It was then that he believed his safety was compromised and lived in a secret location. But now he's tired of it, and perhaps because the Legislative Council elections are over that Lam feels he should be OK now.

Or is he?

"I can't live a normal life under round-the-clock protection. I had to stay at the flat all the time and so I don't have the freedom to walk around," he said. "Now that the incident [abduction] has started to die down, I want to live a normal life again."

Lam promises to protest against injustices when they happen
The police had given him a phone and were in contact with him daily to make sure he was safe. Now that 24-hour protection has been withdrawn, they will be in touch with him once a week.

Now that he is basically a free man, Lam vows to continue taking part in social movements and urged others to do the same.

"I will do what every Hongkonger should do, and that is to come out at times of injustice," he said. "I will come out and fulfill my responsibility as a Hong Kong citizen because I have a responsibility to help the next generation.

"One or two years later, I hope that Hong Kong will still be a place where we can all enjoy the freedom of speech."

Is he saying we won't have freedom of speech much longer?!

Does he know something we don't?

Monday, 26 September 2016

Trying to End "Harassment Tourism"

Chinese Premier Li Keqiang and Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau
Now we know why Kevin Garratt was released last week from Chinese after being detained for two years.

In a bid to reset relations between China and Canada, it seems Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau is negotiating an extradition treaty so that China can request certain people it deems should be tried for crimes they may or may not have committed.

Immigration lawyers and opposition politicians are crying foul, wondering why Trudeau is willing to return people who may or may not be fugitives to a country that is known for torture and executions. Is this "Canadian" of him?

However Trudeau seems to think he has things covered.

"Extradition is certainly one of the things the Chinese have indicated they want to talk about," he said. "But any discussions around extradition, for example, will be very much in line with Canadian principles and Canadian values and Canadian expectations that are very high."

What exactly does that mean?

Lai Changxing returned to China in 2011
For many years, the Chinese government was frustrated by Canada's oblique responses to extradition requests of people, one of the most famous examples was Lai Changxing, a former businessman in Xiamen who was implicated in corruption scandals that involved smuggling.

He fled to Vancouver where he lived for many years until he was sent back to China in 2011 with promises he would not be executed by imprisoned for life.

In 2000, three secret police investigators applied for visas to come to Canada as workers for China National Pulp & Paper Corporation, saying they wanted to discuss "Chinese users' requirements for Canadian pulp and paper".

But instead they really came to Vancouver to try to pressure Lai to come back to China to face charges of smuggling and bribery, bringing his brother along.

Lai's lawyer complained about this through diplomatic channels and later on it has been revealed that many other alleged fugitives have been harassed by Chinese secret agents who come to Canada on tourist visas.

How far will Trudeau go to make China happy in extraditions?
Talk about abusing the system, and also butting into the internal affairs of another country without going through proper legal channels.

This is ongoing so-called "harassment tourism" is what promoted Trudeau to have talks between the two sides "which allow Canadian officials and Chinese officials to discuss specific cases, to discuss the principles and concerns that both sides have," he says.

While it's understandable Trudeau would like Chinese agents to stop applying for tourist visas to harass people on Canadian soil, will he be able to get the upper hand in what the extradition treaty will be like?

It's kind of like dealing with the devil that has his cards hidden behind his back.

On one level it's good that China and Canada are actively engaged in talks, but on another, does Trudeau know who he's dealing with?

Sunday, 25 September 2016

Car-Free Day Hong Kong Style

Trams are still going by while booths occupy both sides of the roads
I was looking forward to checking out NGO Clean Air Network's event called "Very DVRC" or "Very Des Voeux Road Central", with the promises of removing cars from a 200-metre stretch of the busy thoroughfare from 10am to 4pm.

The idea came about 16 years ago from the Institute of Planners, who had suggested the entire area from Western Market to Pedder Street be completely car free. But in execution, Clean Air Network had to severely scale back and try it out with a small area, from Western Market to Wing On department store.

Some guys having a mini soccer match on a side street
I had visions of perhaps Occupy 2.0, large free spaces to roam around on the streets. However when I got there, people couldn't really walk on the roads because the middle of the street was occupied by trams that were still moving along the tracks, though at much lower speeds for safety reasons, and they were cordoned off.

The sides of the roads that vehicles would have used were occupied by booths, some 40 of them, ranging from making arts and crafts to fitness clubs, making mini Chinese flower banners, planters out of plastic bottles and even a mini soccer pitch.

There were musicians performing songs and one spot had colourful beanbags to sit on, and even a group that advocates giving hugs for 21 seconds.

I talked to a young enthusiastic woman called Winnie who said there was scientific research that said if people hug for 20 seconds then it helps release hormones to reduce stress. She also hoped the exercise would help people have more physical encounters rather than on social media. The extra second? Just to make sure your embrace definitely long enough.

The roads were carefully cordoned off for safety reasons
Former lawmaker Paul Zimmerman was also there and was pleased to see the event a reality and watched how people reacted to the carnival-like atmosphere. It's too bad he didn't get voted in, but he is someone who is always advocating for Hong Kong to be a more people-oriented city, to make it more accessible by walking rather than driving.

He feels that when a city is more walkable, people have more chances of bumping into people they know, and that in turn creates more dialogue and debate, and hopefully in the end makes people happier.

But there seems to be more cars on the road -- is it because there is a larger group of wealthier people who can afford them? Is it because public transport like the MTR are frustrating commuters so much that they don't have the patience to deal with it? Or is it because public transport doesn't adequately service the areas they live in?

Signs like this reminded people to watch for cars...
These questions need to be answered -- not with more roads, which is what the government likes to do. The current big infrastructure project is the Central to Wan Chai bypass that is taking years to build and will even cut into Victoria Park, something that the public didn't find out until it was too late to stop it.

Today's experiment was interesting, but perhaps it was too crowded a space, or the area wasn't quite right. Or maybe I'm just nostalgic about the occupation of Admiralty almost exactly two years ago when thousands of people converged on the bypass and created an ad hoc friendly community.

Are those days gone forever?