Rights activists in Hong Kong have launched a mass-mailing of Christmas cards to political prisoners across China this holiday, calling on others to send cards in a bid to let the authorities know they are not forgotten.
Dressed in Santa Claus outfits, activists from the Hong Kong Alliance in Support of the Patriotic Democratic Movement in China mailed out more than 1,000 cards and greetings to jailed critics of the ruling Chinese Communist Party.
Shouting "Release Wang Quanzhang! Release Yu Wensheng! Release Huang Qi! Release the activists!" the Alliance members gathered for the mailing at Hong Kong's General Post Office on Monday.
The Alliance said it had collected some 1,300 cards from participants since the beginning of this month, some of which were addressed to ailing activist Huang Qi, rights lawyer Wang Quanzhang, who is due to appear in court on Wednesday after more than three years in pretrial detention, and detained rights laywer Yu Wensheng.
Other cards were addressed to President Xi Jinping and Premier Li Keqiang, demanding the immediate release of all prisoners of conscience.
Alliance vice president Tonyee Chow said the move was intended to highlight the plight of peaceful political dissidents in China, and to step up pressure on the authorities for their release.
"I really hope that no other families will suffer the same pain, and the support of Hong Kong people has always been their greatest strength," Chow told RFA. "Huang Qi, Yu Wensheng, Wang Quanzhang, the Tiananmen Mothers, and so many other prisoners of conscience have dedicated themselves selflessly to the promotion of justice, human rights and civilized government."
"The Alliance is sending Christmas cards we have collected from a number of Hong Kong citizens, hoping that these will give them strength, as well as playing our part in the struggle for freedom, justice and human rights, as well as our common aspiration of democracy," she said.
Rights lawyer and Alliance chairman Albert Ho said the human rights situation in mainland China continues to deteriorate in the wake of a nationwide crackdown on more than 300 rights attorneys starting in July 2015.
"Although many lawyers have apparently been released now, some of them are still behind bars," Ho said. "[The authorities] continue to revoke the licenses of many lawyers, arbitrarily depriving them of their right to practice by means of annual inspections."
"These are extremely uncivilized practices," he said, adding that China is also in the middle of a nationwide clampdown on all forms of religious belief, and the mass incarceration of Uyghurs and other ethnic minority Muslims in the northwestern region of Xinjiang.
Democratic Party lawmaker Andrew Wan said the Chinese government's treatment of late political prisoner and Nobel peace laureate Liu Xiaobo, who died of late-stage liver cancer in July 2017 while still serving a jail sentence for his writings on democracy and constitutional government, was a prime example of the need to remember China's jailed dissidents.
"There is some deterrent effect, even on the ruling party, from the continued concern, vigilance and pressure from [such actions]," Wan told RFA. "The voices of the people come together, and I think that this kind of activism is meaningful in its own way."
"Of course you could say that there is no immediate effect from such actions ... the Communist Party isn't going to fall from power tomorrow," he said.
Reported by Lau Siu-fung for RFA's Cantonese Service, and by Hwang Chun-mei for the Mandarin Service. Translated and edited by Luisetta Mudie.