Denise Ho is a singer, producer and pro-democracy and LGBTQ activist in Hong Kong.
As an artist and public figure who has publicly criticized the tightening grip of the Hong Kong and Chinese governments, I am deeply troubled by these proposed changes. The damage that they would cause to the city’s reputation as the only safe harbor in China, to our rule of law, to our sense of security, and even to our free and creative spaces, is unthinkable. It goes far beyond politics.
Hong Kong is still the only city within China’s perimeter where artists, such as singer-activist Anthony Wong and myself, are able to express themselves freely on so-called sensitive issues. We might suffer financial repercussions — our songs might be taken off shelves within Chinese streaming platforms, we might be blacklisted by Chinese officials — but nevertheless we can still continue to speak up and even participate in political events, such as the annual June 4 vigil for the Tiananmen Massacre or the Umbrella Movement in 2014, without having to worry about political reprisals from the Chinese government.
The fact that we, among other artists and activists, can still live without fear in Hong Kong is what differentiates us from any city in mainland China. But the new extradition law would install the mainland’s system of persecution and repression in Hong Kong, and it symbolizes total isolation from the world.
International corporations might contemplate leaving. Any person, not only living in Hong Kong but perhaps just passing by, could be in danger of being detained and extradited to China. Staffers at nongovernmental organizations, human rights activists, journalists, artists, even an executive by whom the Communist government might feel threatened, could be at risk of being sent to face the mainland’s rigged justice system, known for its human rights abuses and politically motivated sentences. Any person working in those fields would most probably refrain from entering our city.
Hong Kong’s unique East-meets-West culture is richly layered and historically global, with collaborations and influences from all over. Our music, food, films and even daily slang phrases reflect this. China, on the other hand, has always been more of an isolated country, with tight controls on political and artistic expressions. The changes to the extradition law are trying to turn Hong Kong into yet another surveillable and controllable Chinese city — and with that our diversity and freedom might just become history.
For the past five years, residents of Hong Kong have fought with much difficulty against the erosion of our freedom. Pro-democracy lawmakers have been unjustly disqualified from office, booksellers have been kidnapped, and activists have been sentenced heavily for protesting. It’s obvious that our city’s system is no longer working in the people’s favor.
The number of families leaving the city is once again on the rise. With this one last push to eliminate our autonomous “one country, two systems” model, no one is feeling safe anymore.
But on a brighter note, this latest effort has reignited a comeback of the Hong Kong people. Citizens from all backgrounds — lawyers, students, housewives — are mobilizing to voice their concerns against the changes to the extradition laws. Lawyers and other workers from the legal sector, all dressed in black, protested in silence on Thursday. More than 180,000 people filled all six soccer courts and the adjoining fields of Victoria Park this past June 4, in remembrance of the victims from the 1989 Tiananmen Square massacre. Sunday’s protest against the extradition law is expected to break records of attendance.
Young people who had checked out from disappointment and frustration are reappearing, and once again actively participating. They are printing out fliers and stickers, setting up stands and handing them out at train stations and outside of schools. Those from the localist camps, who felt angered and discouraged by the Umbrella Movement, claiming that protests and peaceful assembly are “useless” and “a waste of time,” are now putting their differences aside and joining together in face of this breakdown of the Hong Kong judicial system.
This is something we have not seen for the past five years, since the Umbrella Movement. And I must admit I am feeling emotionally encouraged, and even slightly hopeful.
Historically, change has been possible only with persistence from the people, and although Hong Kong is not a city known for its patience, this might just not be a lost cause. Hongkongers, who are quick learners and adapters, are emerging from the ruins of the Umbrella Movement. We are finally starting to gain a more realistic perspective of the long battle ahead.
And we shall not allow our city to go down without a fight.