Jailed Hong Kong vigil organizer warns world over spread of totalitarianism

Chow Hang-tung is denied bail on her sixth application as she wins an award for her pro-democracy activism.
By Gigi Lee and Sun Cheng
Jailed Hong Kong vigil organizer warns world over spread of totalitarianism Hong Kong barrister and democracy activist Chow Hang-tung is shown in a March 21, 2021 photo.

Jailed Hong Kong barrister Chow Hang-tung, who is awaiting trial under a draconian national security law imposed on the city by Beijing, has warned the international community to take the crackdown on dissent there as a warning.

In an acceptance speech from prison on being awarded the Outstanding Democrat of China award by activists in the United States, Chow said she had always felt herself to be in a place of relative safety compared with pro-democracy activists in mainland China, and that she had only become the focus of news headlines because the authorities had targeted the organizers of a now-banned candlelight vigil marking the 1989 Tiananmen massacre.

"Everything happening in Hong Kong is a warning to the world, showing the speed at which totalitarianism can destroy a free and open society, and repurpose the systems and laws originating from a democratic society as the tools of political suppression," Chow said.

"Everything that has happened in Hong Kong could happen anywhere," Chow said. "If you don't want the rule of terror to spread like a pandemic, you must join the democratic resistance to totalitarianism."

She said any awards should go to the "pioneers of democracy" in mainland China, who she described as "indomitable in the face of ubiquitous surveillance, torture, isolation and silencing."

"You're the ones who inspired and encouraged our struggle, and taught us how to live with dignity under totalitarianism," wrote Chow, whose award was accepted in her absence at the Liberty Sculpture Park in California by veteran journalist Ching Cheong at the weekend.

Chow's warning came as a top Chinese official in charge of Hong Kong said the city had been "blindly pursuing Western-style democracy," and had now turned back to the correct path of "patriots ruling Hong Kong."

Hongkongers' "yearning for a better life" could now be put in service of the "great rejuvenation of the Chinese nation" under ruling Chinese Communist Party (CCP) leader Xi Jinping, Hong Kong and Macao Affairs Office (HKMAO) director Xia Baolong said in a speech published to the office's official website.

"We are very pleased to see that the Hong Kong national security law has been successfully implemented, and some anti-China and Hong Kong elements who violate the law are being sanctioned as they should," Xia said, lauding new electoral rules designed to ensure that no opposition candidates will likely be approved to run in Dec. 19 elections to the Legislative Council (LegCo).

"Those supporting Hong Kong independence and anti-China chaos in Hong Kong must never enter be allowed to enter public life [here]," Xia said, adding that people from a range of different backgrounds were running in the elections.

The national security law, which took effect from July 1, 2020, criminalizes speech deemed to "incite hatred" against the Hong Kong and Chinese governments, and has ushered in a citywide crackdown on all forms of public dissent, peaceful protest and political opposition.

Anyone speaking ill of Hong Kong's police force, who sparked an international outcry for widespread and disproportionate violence during the 2019 protest movement, could also face prosecution, as can anyone encouraging others to boycott forthcoming elections under new rules designed to ensure only pro-CCP candidates can stand.

Meanwhile, 47 veteran opposition figures, former lawmakers and founders of the 2014 Occupy Central pro-democracy movement are awaiting trial on subversion charges based on their participation in a non-binding primary election in 2020 to select the best candidates to run in elections to the Legislative Council (LegCo). They are accused of trying to subvert the city government by trying to win enough seats to block government legislation, including budgets.

The majority have been refused bail, and will have been behind bars for at least a year by the time of their trial, now postponed to April.

Chow's application for bail, the sixth since her arrest in September 2021, was denied by a Hong Kong court on Monday.

Translated and edited by Luisetta Mudie.


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