Zhou Niu’s tears shed in court, Hong Kong’s current status as a “dark city

Zhou Niu’s tears shed in court, Hong Kong’s current status as a “dark city


by Yoshiteru Ogawa (Journalist)

 On Christmas Day, 2015, Agnes Chow, a Hong Kong democracy activist who had just turned 19, was in front of Shibuya station in Tokyo. She was going to broadcast live on the Internet to a Hong Kong audience. As I was accompanying her for an interview, I decided to watch the video transmission with my cameraman.

 In front of Shibuya station, she spoke in awkward Japanese to people in Santa suits, and together with them, she wished Hong Kongers on the other side of their smartphones a Merry Christmas in Cantonese. The number of viewers exceeded 3,000 as they called for help from half-naked men and people riding motorcycles around.

 Even the Japanese “Parisians,” who were bewildered when their phones were pointed at me, seemed to have forgiven me for the atmosphere in the courtyard. His carefree smile sometimes made them forget that he was a democracy activist.

 However, a few days later, on January 3, 2016, she released a video in which she did not smile at all. It was the “Causeway Bay Bookstore Incident.

Books that would be banned in China were being published in Hong Kong, including books critical of the Chinese government and books referring to scandals involving Communist Party officials. These books were published on the basis of the freedom of speech that is guaranteed in Hong Kong. The people involved in the Causeway Bay Bookstore, which deals in such books, have been disappearing one after another since October 2015, and it turned out that they were being detained by the Chinese authorities. It is a crisis of one country and two systems, with Chinese authorities taking Hong Kong people into custody within Hong Kong. Zhou Niu, who was staying in Japan, appealed the crisis of Hong Kong’s autonomy to the whole world in fluent English.

 On the day of the event, in response to Zhou Niu’s request to try on a sunny kimono, I had relied on a friend’s message to ask for a kimono and dressing. The video that was streamed before she was dressed increased in number of views, eventually reaching over 90,000. When I was surprised, she said without hesitation.

 When you’re involved in social movements in Hong Kong, it’s normal to get this many views.

 It’s been six years since I first interviewed her, but all I can recall about Zhou Niu is this smile and the activist-like expression she sometimes shows. Even when his candidacy for the Legislative Yuan was cancelled or he was arrested, Shuniwa did not cry. Those tears flowed in the courtroom on December 2, 2020.

Democratic activist Zhou Ting on January 3, 2016 (Courtesy of the author)

 In June last year, Zhou Ting was sentenced in a Hong Kong court to 10 months imprisonment for inciting an unlicensed assembly for inciting a siege on police headquarters to protest the Hong Kong government’s proposed amendments to the Fugitive Offenders Ordinance, a day before his 24th birthday.

 It was the day before his 24th birthday, and from the beginning he was breathing on his shoulders, supported by a female police officer. When the sentence was finally handed down, he broke down and cried on the spot.

 This is the testimony of Rie, a friend of Zhou Niu and a Japanese celebrity in Hong Kong who attended the trial. The sentence was too harsh, and it was his first prison sentence. Joshua Wong and Ivan Lam were also sentenced to 13.5 months and 7 months imprisonment respectively.

 Outside the courtroom, pro-China groups were pulling out the champagne and making a big deal out of it. But a much larger crowd of Hong Kong citizens gathered and called out to the three buses leaving the courthouse and followed them forever.

Zhou Niu’s “crying” was unexpected. The three men admitted to the charges against them for last year’s demonstrations, but the charges themselves are far from the truth, and the convictions show a hidden political agenda.

 I was present at the scene of Zhou Niu’s “illegal act” on June 21 last year. The road in front of the police headquarters was filled with people who had been called out on social networking sites (SNS). The protesters, who seemed to number in the tens of thousands, verbally called the police “black police” and “dog police. They were also throwing raw eggs, which seemed to have been bought at a nearby store.

 The protesters were demanding the release of the students who were arrested on charges of mayhem. Huang Zifeng, who had just been released from prison a few hours earlier, joined them. At midnight, Huang Zifeng asked over the megaphone, “Do you want to continue the occupation? Or do you want to break up today? and other questions to the demonstrators. Huang Zhaofeng said that he was rather encouraging them to disperse.

 Because there were so many people gathered in such a small space, there was a risk of panic and danger if tear gas bombs were fired. However, no one responded to Huang Zifeng’s voice, and the decision to withdraw was made via the anonymous messaging app Telegram after the date had changed.

 Last year’s demonstration did not have a clear leader, and various decisions were made through this telegram; in the 2014 Umbrella Movement, many participants would have followed the call of Huang Zhaofeng, who was on the scene holding a megaphone, but the people who gathered on this day did not move. What they were staring at was not the leader of the demonstration, but the smartphone in their hands.

 In this sense, the night of June 21 showed that the nature of last year’s demonstration was completely different from the past. Zhou Niu, who was also present at the event, said that he did not make any notable comments.

 In last year’s pro-democracy movement, Zhou Niu and Huang Zifeng were only one of the participants. Even so, it is said that the arrests of Zhou Ping and the others were a pose by the Hong Kong government to Beijing. The police, who were unable to take effective action against the “centerless demonstration,” had to arrest someone as the ringleader in order to save face with Beijing.

 It’s normal to get arrested for social activism in Hong Kong. People don’t think it’s shameful.

 In 2017, he was arrested for protesting ahead of Chinese President Xi Jinping’s visit to Hong Kong, and in August this year, he was arrested for violating the Hong Kong State Security Law. This time, it was a courtroom tactic on the advice of their lawyers that allowed Zhou Ting and three others to plead guilty to the charges, even if they were unreasonable. In Hong Kong, the courts have been harsh in sentencing political prisoners involved in the pro-democracy movement.

 In traditional Hong Kong justice, if you pleaded guilty, you would have gotten a suspended sentence or volunteer work.

 That’s a sentence of 10 months imprisonment. Zhou Ting must have been unable to control his emotions.

Zhou Niu arrives at a court in Hong Kong on November 23 (AP)

 At the same time, his arrest for violating the National Security Law this year must have crossed his mind. If he is found guilty of violating the National Security Law, he could even be sent to the mainland and serve several years in prison.

Today, Hong Kong is losing its judicial independence and the separation of powers is being undermined. Beyond the verdict, Zhou Ting must have wept because she felt that Hong Kong society has been completely destroyed and that she could not protect the Hong Kong she loves.

 The crackdown on Hong Kong’s democrats continues on an unprecedented scale, and on December 11, 2020, Jimmy Lai, founder of the pro-democracy major newspaper, the Apple Daily, was indicted for violating the State Security Law.

 He was charged with following Taiwan’s President Tsai Ing-wen and others on Twitter, tweeting for help from the international community, calling for the protection of 12 Hong Kong citizens who had sought asylum, and criticizing the dictatorship of Xi Jinping. There is widespread unrest in Hong Kong, wondering if even following someone on Twitter is a requirement for arrest.

 In Japan, criticism of the government, such as “We will not tolerate Abe-style politics,” is tolerated as a little extreme, but this is not possible in China. In Hong Kong, however, it was a different story: six years ago, the Umbrella Movement was lined with life-size signs of Xi Jinping, and there was even one with a pro-democracy slogan: “We demand true universal suffrage.

 On December 8, eight people who participated in the November demonstration at the Chinese University of Hong Kong were arrested. They were arrested for raising the Hong Kong independence flag and slogans such as “Restore Hong Kong, Revolution of the Times”. This was the moment when the freedom of expression and political activities that had been taken for granted were lost.

 There have also been cases of “economic retaliation. In November this year, when the Hong Kong government disqualified four democrats from the Legislative Council, 15 other democrats resigned in protest. When one of the mass resignations, Hsu Chi-feng, announced his application for asylum in Denmark, the Hong Kong police asked their banks to freeze Hsu’s bank accounts on suspicion of money laundering.

 Since Zhou Ting, Lei Chi-wing, and Hsu Chi-feng are celebrities, they had been working with their names and faces revealed. The pro-democracy lawmakers often tried to persuade the police to confront the demonstrators. Now, even such legitimate activities are no longer allowed.

 Hsu Chi-feng’s defection was shocking because even his bank account was easily seized. The government has no intention to protect Hong Kong as an international financial city. Hong Kong citizens are beginning to move their deposits to foreign banks and are applying for British Overseas Citizens (BNO) passports.

 BNO passports are issued by the UK to citizens of its former colonies and are available to those born in Hong Kong before the 1997 reversion. In Hong Kong, people born before the 1997 return of Hong Kong to China can obtain a BNO passport. After the implementation of the National Security Act, the British government opened the door to citizenship for BNO passport holders, and people thinking of moving to the UK sought BNO passports.

 I’m thinking of moving overseas too. I have no future in Hong Kong. I want to raise my children overseas. You (the author) should not come to Hong Kong either. The Hong Kong you know is already dead.

Lei Chi-ying enters a court in Hong Kong on October 15, 2020 (AP)

 It is estimated that more than 10,000 Hong Kongers have been arrested in demonstrations since last June. Among them, those who are not restricted from traveling abroad are leaving Hong Kong. They are fleeing to Taiwan, the United States, Canada and Germany.

 Hong Kong was originally founded by my father’s and grandfather’s generation, who fled the rule of the Communist Party on the mainland. So our generation is used to fleeing.

He says this with a hint of self-mockery, but he is thinking concretely about leaving Hong Kong next year.

 Can’t the international community save Hong Kong? In fact, there is a movement to impose sanctions on China, modeled after the Magnitsky Act passed in the United States in 2012. The Magnitsky Act imposes asset freezes and visa bans on nations, organizations, and individuals involved in human rights abuses, and the European Union has decided to introduce similar sanctions.

 In Japan, the non-partisan Diet Members’ Caucus on Policy toward China (JPAC) is working to realize a Japanese version of the Magnitsky Act. The content is said to be the same as that of the U.S. and other countries. Does this sound promising?

 Look at the lineup of LDP members. Look at the LDP members. They are not people who can speak to the core of the LDP. If we don’t get broader support for the administration, which has not given up on the Olympics and Xi Jinping’s visit to Japan, it will be difficult to pass a parliamentary bill at this point.

 JPAC will aim to submit a proposal in next year’s parliament. It will need broader support than it currently has for the citizens of Hong Kong.

 What will Hong Kong’s 2021 look like? One democrat-supporting citizen spoke to me, choosing his words carefully.

 I don’t know anymore. I don’t know anymore. There are many optimistic people in Hong Kong, but no one thinks that the year 21 will be bright. People are starting to lose love for Hong Kong.

 Hong Kong used to be a tourist city. However, since the demonstrations last year, tourism has been sluggish, and the spread of the new coronavirus seems to have put an end to that. Hotels have either been closed down or turned into 14-day quarantine facilities for people entering Hong Kong. Hong Kong’s Cathay Pacific, which has no domestic flights, has been hit hard by the corona disaster and has been forced to restructure its 8,500 employees. There are even disturbing reports that the company has confirmed its consent to “One China” to passengers boarding in Taiwan.

Photo is for reference only (Getty Images)

 In the city of Hong Kong, where tourists have disappeared, the neon signs that were once synonymous with the city are being removed.

 Everything that Hong Kong once boasted to the world, such as finance, education, and tourism, is being destroyed. We find ourselves in the same situation as the mainland, with no freedom. I’m sure that many Hong Kong people will choose the path of obedience. On the surface, that is how I will live my life. I don’t have the energy to go abroad anymore. But in today’s Hong Kong, no one can blame you for submitting to survive. So being in a cage is better than being in jail, even if your freedom is restricted.

 Shuniwa has been sentenced to 10 months imprisonment, but after holidays and other days are deducted, he is expected to return in about eight months. But I don’t think that’s the end of it.

Next year’s news coverage will be dominated by the trial for violating the National Security Law. As in the case of Lei Chi-ying, he will be prosecuted and heavily punished for something that has never been considered a problem before. Next year, Hong Kong is a city of fear. The National Security Law is being applied in a way that is harsher than its articles. It is dangerous for me to even respond to an interview like this.

 Although she remains anonymous, there is a risk that even this exchange with her will be detected by the authorities.

 Next year, there will probably be a trial for Zhou Niu’s violation of the National Security Law. I don’t think the government will allow her to stop criticizing China. The Japanese people should remember what Shuniwa tried to tell them. The Magnitsky Act is good, but please boycott China. And please don’t forget what Hong Kong people fought for.

 As I listened to this interview, I felt a sense of gloom. In response to the National Security Law, Hong Kong citizens have been fighting a never-ending battle of retreat. It is a battle that does not give any hope of a counterattack.

 Zhou Ting, who celebrated his 24th birthday on December 3 in prison, sent Rie a letter.

 I received a letter from Zhou Niu, who is now in jail. He wrote to his friends in Japan, “I’m sorry for making you worry. I’m sorry for worrying you, but I’ll do my best! I will do my best! She seems to be trying her best to adjust to her new environment. She can read the Ringo Daily newspaper, but she can only watch TVB (Radio Television, a station that is close to the Hong Kong government and unpopular with democrats). The lights go out at 10:00 p.m., but they go to bed at 9:00 p.m. because they have nothing to do.

 While the number of visits and letters is greatly restricted, I wonder if Shuniwa is pinning his hopes on the connection with Japan. While she is limited in what she can write, I took it as a powerful message from Shuniwa. She must be in a state of patience now, feeding off the tears she cried in court.

 When I mentioned Zhou Niu’s letter, a young Hong Kong resident in Japan said, “Last year Zhou Niu was a leader.

 When I told him about Zhou Niu’s letter, a young Hong Kong resident in Japan said, “Last year Zhou Niu was not a leader, just a participant, and yet he was arrested. I really feel sorry for him.

 This sounded like a denial of Zhou Niu’s work so far, and I was a little annoyed, but his true intentions lay elsewhere.

 After last year’s demonstration, I started to think about how each of us should move forward. We don’t need a leader like we had with the rain umbrella. I am aware that everyone is a leader. Shuniwa was arrested for being conspicuous, but in the meantime, each of us is thinking of new ways to help her. We will do everything we can to reward her for her work.

Hong Kong youths demonstrate under the banner of “Hong Kong Independence” on January 1, 2020 (photo by Kinya Fujimoto)

 From the Umbrella Movement to last year’s demonstrations, Hong Kong people have been constantly changing the way they fight. Seeking a new battle beyond silence, Hong Kong people have not given up on standing up. (Titles omitted in the text)

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