Hong Kong pro-democracy lawmaker in exile vows to keep speaking out for city

Ted Hui is handed a three-and-a-half year jail term by the High Court in absentia after fleeing a crackdown.
By Chen Zifei for RFA Mandarin
Hong Kong pro-democracy lawmaker in exile vows to keep speaking out for city Hong Kong pro-democracy lawmaker Ted Hui, center, argues with pro-Beijing lawmaker Junius Ho, left, during a demonstration in Hong Kong, Aug. 12, 2019.
Former Hong Kong pro-democracy lawmaker Ted Hui has vowed to keep on fighting for Hong Kong's freedoms despite being handed a three-and-a-half year jail term in absentia.

The Hong Kong High Court handed down the prison sentence to Hui, who fled the city amid an ongoing crackdown on dissent under the national security law, on Sept. 29 after finding him guilty of contempt of court.

Judge Andrew Chan said Hui had "carefully planned to deceive the police and the court with misleading behavior" when he left the city.

Hui dismissed the sentence in a recent interview with RFA, saying the in absentia trial was entirely political.

"My response to the Hong Kong court's accusation and judgement is to scoff," Hui said. "Courts in Hong Kong have now been reduced to the status of [ruling] Chinese Communist Party (CCP) courts."

"This trial was a political trial, which was entirely predictable and unsurprising," he said. "The real culprits are the tyrannical regime, not those who protest against it."

Hui may have evaded a political trial in Hong Kong, but he still has to contend with random abuse and violence from supporters of the CCP overseas.

Hui was recently verbally abused and splashed with water by a supporter of the CCP while dining with friends at a restaurant in Sydney, Australia.

Ted Hui [center] struggles with security personnel in  the main chamber of the Legislative Council during the second day of debate on a bill to criminalize insulting or abusing the Chinese anthem in Hong Kong, May 28, 2020. Credit: AP
Ted Hui [center] struggles with security personnel in the main chamber of the Legislative Council during the second day of debate on a bill to criminalize insulting or abusing the Chinese anthem in Hong Kong, May 28, 2020. Credit: AP
Pro-CCP media
He said his attacker's views had likely been influenced by the ongoing smearing of the Hong Kong protest movement by a network of pro-CCP media organizations around the world, many of which are supervised or supported by Chinese diplomatic missions.

"We can't rule out the possibility that some institutions, including Chinese consulates or pro-China groups, have been fanning the flames by publishing false information, smearing those who live overseas who are pro-democracy and freedom, and making pro-China people more impulsive," Hui said.

"If the person involved is successfully prosecuted, it would be a good deterrent for pro-Beijing radicals, or those who hate democracy, and make them less likely to express their views with violence in future," he said.

"I am glad that this happened in Australia," Hui said. "If it had happened in Hong Kong, I am sure that it would be me who was arrested and punished."

"Australia is a free and democratic country, and its courts can be trusted," he said. "[Here], anyone throwing water at me or attacking me will face consequences."

Australian lawyer and rights activist Kevin Yam said in absentia trials have been rare in Hong Kong until now, and would likely erode international trust in Hong Kong's once-independent judiciary.

"This kind of judgment against dissidents will always give the free world the impression that the Hong Kong government ... is using a common law model to implement Chinese-style punishments for dissidents," Yam told RFA.

Yam said he left Hong Kong to continue exercising his freedom of speech.

Threatening dissidents overseas
Current affairs commentator Sang Pu said Hong Kong has no extradition agreement with Australia, so Hui's life there is unlikely to be much affected by the sentence.

But he warned that China has its own methods of pursuing dissidents overseas.

"They wouldn't go through the Hong Kong judicial system, but via a network set up by the the Chinese consulate in Australia," Sang told RFA.

"I think the Chinese consulate in Australia may be able to further suppress the pro-democracy community from Hong Kong, so that suppression is likely to continue.

Authoritarian regimes are increasingly making use of regional cooperation organizations like the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO) to bolster each others' regime security in the name of counter-terrorism, and to pursue political dissidents overseas, experts told a recent Orion Policy Institute online seminar.

Transnational activists rely heavily on social media to stay in touch with their home countries, and this makes them more vulnerable to being targeted by their home governments for monitoring, hacking and surveillance, according to experts.

Regime agents will use false and distorted information, verbal threats and abuse against activists to intimidate them, to put them under pressure, or taint their reputation, or coerce them into going back home by means of threats to their loved ones, they told the seminar.

Chinese agents have also been known to carry out kidnappings, forced renditions and coerced returns, often with the cooperation of law enforcement in allied countries.

Beijing insists that repeated waves of mass popular protest movements in Hong Kong calling for fully democratic elections and other freedoms in recent years were instigated by "hostile foreign forces" seeking to undermine CCP rule by fomenting dissent in Hong Kong.

It first imposed a draconian national security law on Hong Kong in the wake of the 2019 protest movement, ushering in an ongoing crackdown on peaceful dissent and political opposition that has seen more than 1,000 arrests under the law, with thousands more under colonial-era public order and sedition laws.

Translated and edited by Luisetta Mudie.

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