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Wednesday, January 15, 2020, 10:11
Hong Kong’s freedoms under fire from marauding thugs
By Mark Pinkstone
Wednesday, January 15, 2020, 10:11 By Mark Pinkstone

The problem of freedoms, which we experience in Hong Kong, is abuse. Our freedom of expression has been abused, freedom of assembly abused, and likewise, freedom of the press.

Hong Kong has always been one of the freest cities in the world. In fact, Hong Kong was ranked third in the world, after New Zealand and Switzerland, under the Human Freedom Index for 2019, published by the Cato Institute, the Fraser Institute, and the Liberales Institut at the Friedrich Naumann Foundation for Freedom. The index uses 76 distinct indicators of personal and economic freedoms to weigh the standing of each country or city. Our freedoms are so entrenched that our placing in this world Cato index has remained constant for the past decade or more.

It has been these freedoms that laid the foundation for Hong Kong’s success, and we became the envy of the world. But these freedoms have been shattered like an expensive Swarovski crystal into hundreds of pieces as it hits the floor. These freedoms no longer exist, not withdrawn by the government, but severely damaged by marauding thugs masquerading as political activists claiming to build a better tomorrow for the next generation. They threaten anyone who disagrees with them, often followed by brutal physical assaults. They roam the shopping malls demanding restaurant patrons not dine in certain allegedly pro-China establishments. Clad in black from head to toe to hide their identities and ensure anonymity as they commit their evil deeds, they will attack anyone who photographs them or argues with them. They reign supreme with no freedom for anyone except themselves. And yet, they get the full backing of Hong Kong’s “democratic” legislators, and US and UK politicians eager to embellish their democratic credentials under false pretenses.

Such is life in the city these days that residents check social media for the whereabouts of riots before venturing out for their daily chores. Our freedoms to enjoy life to its fullest has been eroded to such an extent that we now live under the black cloud of terrorism. Will the government belatedly step up to end this hell soon enough?

So when these blackshirts shout their demands for “freedom and democracy”, they are being hypocritical in the extreme. They are trashing other people’s right to free speech and the fundamental rule of democracy, which tolerates a diversity of views. In practice, they are basically denying everybody else what they demand for themselves. They are essentially saying: “We are free, but you are not.” They are free to smash whatever comes in their sight, they are free to set alight people, free to destroy MTR stations, free to maim, free to terrorize, free to abuse law enforcement officers, and free to stop all forms of transportation, including obstructing the movement of trains and shutting down Hong Kong International Airport. What I find most terrifying is that they are getting away with their anarchy.

All freedoms espoused by democracies are enshrined in the Basic Law. The Hong Kong government bends over backwards to ensure all freedoms are maintained to the core, including the right to assembly. This explains why most of the recent protests organized by well-known activist Jimmy Sham Tsz-kit, convener of the Civil Human Rights Front, have been approved by the police. The process involves applying for and getting (in most cases) letters of no objection from the police. This is an international norm to ensure the protests are lawful, peaceful and safely conducted. The recent protests start off in a peaceful manner but are soon infiltrated by the black-terror mobs. The peaceful protests are soon no longer peaceful and are turned into full-blown riots, usually followed by vandalism of shops, the ATMs of China-friendly banks, and public infrastructure such as traffic lights. Thus the right to assembly is abused.

The coordinating role of the Civil Human Rights Front puts its convener, Sham, as the de facto leader of the supposedly “leaderless” civil unrest. Founded in 2002, the front has more than 50 NGOs and practically all “pro-democracy” political groups and parties in its web. Its membership includes university student unions, teachers’ associations, church groups, including the Student Christian Movement, and the radical Hong Kong Alliance in Support of Patriotic Movement in China and League of Social Democrats, which Sham represents in the Lek Yuen District Council. Who is working with Sham is unclear, but he has strong support from the “pan-democratic” camp.

Whenever the front wishes to stage a demonstration, it notifies all member groups of the details of the march via social media platform Telegram, which has 1.7 million users in Hong Kong alone and 365 million worldwide. Through this platform, the activists’ training network, the US-based Oslo Freedom Forum, can monitor protest progress in Hong Kong and issue directions via Skype. Hong Kong activists Joshua Wong Chi-fung and Denise Ho Wan-see have taken part in the forum’s activities.

Although Sham maintains his protests are peaceful, he is responsible for the overall control of the protests, according to the letters of no objection from the police. Thanks to the blackshirts’ selective vandalism of certain eateries, we no longer have the freedom to choose where we eat and shop. Our consumer footprint is now color-coded in yellow and blue. “Yellow” restaurants and shops support the rioters with free food and donations; the “blue” are presumed to be pro-China or pro-government, the “enemy” of the terrorists. Such details are posted on Telegram for like-minded consumers to follow and support.

But pity the fate of patrons of the “blue” establishments. The blackshirts would storm these restaurants, threaten diners and advise them to move to “yellow” restaurants. Plates and dishes are broken, tables upturned, and chandeliers broken as customers huddle in fear or flee the scene. Showcases in “blue” shops are smashed and customers threatened as these black-clad terrorists roam through shopping arcades and malls. No longer is Hong Kong a safe place to venture out.

Such is life in the city these days that residents check social media for the whereabouts of riots before venturing out for their daily chores. Our freedoms to enjoy life to its fullest has been eroded to such an extent that we now live under the black cloud of terrorism. Will the government belatedly step up to end this hell soon enough?

The author is a former chief information officer of the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region government, a PR and media consultant, and veteran journalist.

The views do not necessarily reflect those of China Daily. 

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