The Silent and the Silenced
Updated: May 26, 2020
Where ever you are from, certain elected and appointed people have authority, and like leaders they need to exercise their power responsibly.
Historically in Hong Kong (HK) we have some corrupt politicians, but they are not the target of my criticism today. In HK there are a string of people who are noticeably SILENT when they should be speaking up publicly. They don't express their opinion on events, don't share information about what's going on, don't offer praise, criticism or even admonishment. And unfortunately there's another body of people who have things to say, and who want to speak out publicly, but who are not freely permitted to make themselves heard. There are many sinister ways these HK people are being SILENCED by people in authority: the decline in press freedoms in the Special Administrative Region (SAR), for example, has been well documented (see our blog here).
PRESS FREEDOM is one of the freedoms guaranteed under the terms of the Joint Declaration and it's also specifically mentioned in the HK's Basic Law and the United Nations Declaration of Human Rights. Yet, in March 2020 the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) barred several U.S. journalists from working in both the mainland and in HK. And in May 2020 HK Police detained a 12-year old boy who was working as a student journalist covering a weekend protest in a shopping mall. The attempt to silence this voice went as far as Police harassment and threats.
I don't doubt for moment that there is a right time to speak up, an appropriate time to object or speak out. There's also the matter of your choice of words, or how you say whatever it is you either WANT to say, or HAVE to say. We can't all be skilled wordsmiths or orators, but the fact is people who cannot communicate effectively don't generally make good leaders and should never be elected or appointed to positions of authority. It's a skill you either manage well, or fail to demonstrate at your peril!
Both the HK government and the CCP withhold the truth, mix up the facts, and deliberately spread misinformation. They sometimes just release half-truths in order to manipulate the narrative of events and win some gain. This tactic to befuddle us with flurries of twisted truths is sometimes referred to as 'gaslighting' and is widely recognised. The flood of bamboozling information can have a paralysing, silencing effect on victims who are unable to immediately respond.
At other times CCP coercion means people stay silent when they ought to speak up, or in some cases, the medium for sharing information is shut down. The CCP has been likened figuratively to a virus that itself creates virus.
What is the most serious concern is those lawmakers who do not speak out when there is a blatant injustice, or some wide-reaching issue that effects the people of HK. Maybe it's just that the issues I consider important are not their priority at all?
It would seem that lawmakers representing functional constituencies, for instance, primarily speak up on those matters and issues that concern their constituents, voting to protect their own narrow interests. This means that the voices of ordinary HK citizens and their priorities or wishes may not be heard strongly, or may be overridden.
It was right for IT sector lawmaker, Charles Mok to speak out in 2016 after he curiously noted that registered voter numbers were up 80 per cent in his sector – much more than he expected. It was his suspicion then, that pro-Beijing forces were getting people to sign up.
The information technology constituency saw the biggest expansion in voter numbers – from 6,716 in 2012 to 12,046 in 2016 – a rise of 79.4 per cent, according to provisional voter statistics released by the Registration and Electoral Office.
Irregularities should never be ignored.
Who was it that first blew the whistle on the scandal that emerged in May 2018, when media reports revealed how contractors had cut corners by shortening steel bars used for securing the platforms at Hung Hom station, which was under expansion for the new MTR rail link? CE Carrie Lam appointed a commission of inquiry the next month, as more engineering problems in the transport project came to light.
There are too many politicians that earn their government salary by mindlessly voting one way or the other as they are told to by party colleagues, without any exercise of their brain or thought about what the people of HK would want. Some of them are just waiting for their retirement pension!
We have previously written in a blog about "white elephant" spending in HK, something that has frequently happened because public consultation has not been properly initiated. In June 2017 discussion on spending items was even cut short in the Legislative Council (LegCo) by Pro-Beijing President Andrew Leung.
We know that many people spoke out against the plans of the HK Chief Executive (CE) to pass controversial Extradition legislation. Sometimes those voices were so united they amounted to a 'chorus' of opposition. However, sometimes voices of opposition are not enough to deter a determined tyrant or an authoritarian dictator. It was mid-June 2019, after three days of SILENCE, in a combative press conference that CE Lam repeatedly described herself as “heartbroken”, and admitted that the bill had “caused a lot of division” in the city.
Lawyers in HK have several times opted to march in SILENCE, and perhaps there are times when mere physical presence in numbers makes a more powerful point (see the videos below).
There are many ways to silence your opponents - some more permanent than others. In mainland China Nobel Peace Prize laureate Liu Xiaobo, for example, was sentenced to 11 years in prison for "inciting subversion of state power." Incarceration certainly tends to limit one's freedom to speak your mind. Prior to his arrest, Liu helped draft a manifesto calling for democracy and political reform in China. Liu died of multiple organ failure in 2017 after being diagnosed with liver cancer, making him the first Nobel Peace Prize winner to die in state custody since Carl von Ossietzky, who was imprisoned by Nazi Germany.
I don't know whether all the claims of sexual assault, beatings, torture and assassination by the HK Police are true, and since the CE Carrie Lam silences in depth independent investigations of Police behaviour we are not likely to find out at this point in time (see video below). It's just that the tally of unexplained deaths or suicides like bodies falling from buildings or found floating in the harbour has reportedly escalated astronomically since the start of civil unrest in HK (see our blog on Miss Chan Yin-lam). Protesters don't trust either the HK Police or the mainland officers who were here in the SAR last year.
There has been so-called 'white terror', raising fear e.g. against children, teachers and civil servants. On the 12th December, 2019 the HK Secretary for Education, Kevin Yeung, warned teachers against misconduct that might effect their employment. He reported that the EDB had received more than 100 complaints against teachers, that some complaints had been upheld and others were still being investigated. A pro-establishment legislator, Ann Chiang Lai-wan of the pro-Beijing Democratic Alliance for the Betterment and Progress of HK said schools were not effectively monitoring the conduct of their teachers.
Authorities have suspended and investigated people for their personal or private online comments in support of pro-democracy protesters. Unions like the Professional Teacher Union (PTU) and the Hospital Authority Employees Alliance (HAEA) have been harshly criticised for their work. Several outspoken people have been physically attacked in attempts to silence them. On 16 October 2019, Jimmy Sham, the convenor of the Civil Human Rights Front (CHRF) and the candidate for the Lek Yuen constituency, was hospitalized after being attacked on Arran Street in Mong Kok by at least four men wielding hammers and spanners.
In May 2020 we witnessed the CCP action to impose new national security laws on HK that would bar subversion, separatism or acts of foreign interference against the central government and would allow the central government to set up “security organs” in the city. This is not the first time we have heard about national security laws for HK. Voices of independent thinking, of dissent, of critical reasoning are now on notice in HK.
In response, Wilson Leung, a HK barrister and member of the Progressive Lawyers Group in the SAR said, “They are effectively writing the law for Hong Kong and telling Carrie Lam to declare it. It bypasses the legislative council. It bypasses debate. It bypasses opposition.” This time the opposition in HK don't get a chance to speak!
WTPOHK can foresee that lawyers in HK could be detained for representing dissidents and activists in HK. We could yet see a repeat of kidnappings and abductions, akin to what happened to the Causeway Books bookshop owners.
As I write many nations are beginning to find their voice: "Powerful global leaders including the UK, Russia, India and Japan are among a coalition of 62 nations supporting Australia’s call for an inquiry into the coronavirus pandemic ahead of a vote at the World Health Assembly (China has opposed such an inquiry for some time). Australia has found itself the new frontline for China’s use of disinformation and economic coercion amidst COVID-19. Other nations have already opposed authoritarianism and joined calls for greater democracy in HK.
There are rafts of companies and organisations who have variously been accused of kowtowing to the influence, persuasion, bullying, intimidation, threats and coercion of CCP. It's a global menace and we mustn't suffer in silence while the CCP's United Front spreads. Hopefully more will find their voice and speak up about their experience, and their observations, to end the silence.
Sometimes we must talk about the 'elephant in the room' at whatever cost.
Read about the legal response to NPC plans to National Security Laws in HK