Friday, 2 December 2016

Snowden Shines Spotlight on Asylum Seekers

Edward Snowden criticizes Hong Kong on its treatment of asylum seekers
Edward Snowden has popped up again, this time criticizing the Hong Kong government for its treatment of asylum seekers in the city.

The former National Security Agency contractor speaks from experience, as he was sheltered by three groups of asylum seekers when he was in Hong Kong for two weeks in 2013, after he had fled the United States.

In an interview with Canadian news outlet Ricochet Media, Snowden described the poverty, "discrimination and repression" suffered by asylum seekers in Hong Kong.

Snowden criticized the fact that the were not allowed to work in the city, and so they were left "hungry and destitute" as they waited for their claims to be processed.

They cannot work and have barely have enough to live on
At the time he was housed by a Filipino family, as well as a family and a man from Sri Lanka, who are still asylum seekers.

"Hong Kong is one of the richest cities in the world, yet I saw refugees struggling through days, whose poverties were punctuated by discrimination and repression," Snowden said.

"It seems beyond imagination that a government could deny people the right to work for a wage while also refusing them money to eat, instead providing food provisions that were wholly insufficient to survive on, and often spoiled and out of date, but that's how the system worked there."

Food provisions have since been replaced with supermarket coupons worth HK$1,200, along with a monthly housing allowance of HK$1,500 per adult, transport expenses averaging HK$200 per person and HK$300 for utilities.

"Today food coupons and food debit cards with a limited value per month are provided to the asylum seekers, but again it is far from below what is required to survive on. So asylum seekers in Hong Kong are still left hungry and destitute today," he said.

It's an issue Snowden is passionate about because not only was he grateful for these asylum seekers' help in housing them even though they could be caught, but also he could easily have been one of the 10,815 asylum seekers in Hong Kong seeking to have their refugee claims processed.

Activists give voice to asylum seekers, but is anyone listening?
"In my own case, I was told it could take a decade to process an asylum claim," Snowden recalled. "Try to imagine that, if only for a few seconds. For the next 10 years, you'll be arrested if you dare to work, but you're on your own to find sufficient food, to pay the full rent, to pay the full utility bills.

"How long could you last? There is a kind of law which is itself criminal, and this is a clear example," he says.

In Hong Kong asylum seekers are a group of people that literally live on the fringes of society. They aren't very visible, and if they are, it's because they were arrested for selling or trafficking drugs because they were desperate to make extra money to just be able to survive.

Locals hardly ever come into contact with these people, who are not encouraged to integrate, or work -- God forbid they take away jobs from Hong Kong residents.

Aside from refugee activists, Snowden is the only high profile person to speak up for these asylum seekers and educate people on their sad plight in the city.

Greater awareness will hopefully build momentum to shame the government into looking after these people better -- though locals would probably think there are many other more pressing issues in the city to fix first!

Thursday, 1 December 2016

Beijing Dangles an Olive Branch

How did Robert Chow score meetings with officials like Wang Guangya?
It's all relative isn't it.

Now that the Hong Kong pan-democrats seem completely tame next to the localists, the Chinese government has decided to grant the pan-dems mainland travel documents from now on.

But the pan-democrats aren't buying it. Leung Yiu-chung of the Neighbourhood and Worker's Service Centre says it is a two-pronged strategy by Beijing to break the ice with opposition lawmakers, while cracking down hard on independence advocacy.

Leung Yiu-chung isn't convinced by Beijing's olive branch
"If officials would like to talk about relaunching the city's political reform process, I would go anytime, even this afternoon, but there is no need for another sightseeing trip," To said.

What was also bizarre about the announcement was that it came not from Chief Executive Leung Chun-ying, but from the pan-democrats' fiercest critic, Robert Chow Yung, who runs the pro-establishment group Silent Majority for Hong Kong.

He has managed to score meetings with Wang Guangya, director of the State Council's Hong Kong and Macau Affairs Office, Zhang Dejiang, chairman of the National People's Congress, and Chen Zuoer, chairman of the semi-official Chinese Association of Hong Kong and Macau Studies.

The fact that Chow got these meetings -- one purportedly lasting as long as two hours -- shows that even Leung Chun-ying doesn't quite have the guanxi touch anymore.

Nevertheless, at least three pan-democrats who have been unable to renew their mainland travel documents for more than a decade -- Democrat James To Kun-sun, "Long Hair" Leung Kwok-hung from the League of Social Democrats, and Leung Yiu-chung -- have said they will not apply for permits.

Leung Kwok-hung isn't applying for a permit anytime soon
"I also found it very strange that Chow was informed before the local government. It seems Beijing has downgraded the local government," Leung Yiu-chung said.

When asked if he knew about the announcement from Beijing, Leung Chun-ying declined to confirm, only saying he had been "working hard to advocate that the central government promptly allow our pan-democrat friends [to visit the mainland]".

Hmmm... since when were the pan-democrats his "friends"?

Even Rita Fan Hsu Lai-tai, Hong Kong's sole representative on the National People's Congress Standing Committee didn't know about the latest development. She saw it as a gesture to the pan-democrats that "if you are not [advocating independence] there is no reason why there should be no communication [between us]".

Very interesting development, but also good on the pan-democrats for sticking to their guns. Democracy is worth much more than a travel permit to the mainland...

Wednesday, 30 November 2016

Limited Options

Yau Wai-ching and Sixtus Leung don't have many legal options left to pursue
It's almost game over for Youngspiration localists Sixtus Baggio Leung Chung-hang and Yau Wai-ching.

The Court of Appeal this morning upheld the previous ruling that disqualified them from office for saying derogatory terms for China when they said their oaths, along with having banners that read "Hong Kong is not China".

Will they go to the Court of Final Appeal?
The three judges unanimously confirmed Beijing's interpretation of the Basic Law earlier this month.

"There can be no innocent explanation for what they uttered and did," the ruling said. "What has been done was done deliberately and intentionally."

Originally the pair were prepared to present their case to the Court of Final Appeal, but Leung is now concerned that the case might bring up further interpretations of the Basic Law that could further damage the system.

"It boils down to whether [seeking] the rule of law and justice or the stability of a system is more important," he said.

He said they were also concerned about the cost of mounting such a case, estimating it would be in the seven-figure range.

The ruling is a political win for both Hong Kong and China governments, who have stepped up rhetoric against independence in the city even though the numbers are actually quite small.

And now the Hong Kong government is looking to legally unseat another localist Lau Siu-lai, who paused six seconds between each word when she took her oath, and later explained on Facebook that the pauses were meant to negate it.

Lawmaker Lau Siu-lai is the next target of the government
The government is obviously taking out its big guns to not only intimidate, but also clamp down on any kind of dissent -- which is very unlike Hong Kong. It has always had its critics, but differences were respected.

However, that doesn't seem to be happening anymore, particularly when some lawmakers do not seem to be taking their jobs seriously.

Lau's case will be interesting, as she was allowed to retake her oath successfully by Legislative Council President Andrew Leung Kwan-yuen, though he too is named in the suit.

Does the man not have any powers at all?


Tuesday, 29 November 2016

Detained for 128 Days in China's "Guantanamo"

Writer Kou Yanding who was detained somewhere in China for 128 days
A mainland writer was "disappeared" for 128 days as punishment for visiting Taiwan during the sunflower student movement and Hong Kong at the start of the Umbrella Movement in 2014.

Kou Yanding, 51, has no idea where she was detained on the mainland but only that she was picked up and blindfolded by security officials while on her way from Beijing to Mount Wutai in Shanxi province in October 2014.

She was held for over four months without access to family and legal counsel, and has now published her ordeal in a book called How is an Enemy Made?  -- Chinese Who Don't Have the Right to Remain Silent.

She went to observe the sunflower movement in Taiwan...
The book was launched in Hong Kong last week and she is one of the few people who has publicly spoken out about her time in custody and how civic movements in Hong Kong and Taiwan have touched a nerve in Beijing.

While Kou's family had no idea of here whereabouts, she asked repeatedly to see a lawyer and relatives but was denied on state security grounds.

"Doesn't the United States have Guantanamo?" she quoted one of the officers as saying. "Well this is the Guantanamo of China."

The officer told her she was being held for subversion.

When she was in Taiwan, she saw the student movement in March 2014, and six months later went back again to see exiled 1989 student movement leader Wang Dan.

Then she went to the Occupy Central site and met with Chinese University of Hong Kong professor Chan Kin-man, one of the campaign's organizers.

... and the Umbrella Movement in Hong Kong in 2014
Two weeks later when she was in the mainland, Kou was blindfolded and bundled into a detention centre. "Occupy Central is Hong Kong independence! The sunflower movement is Taiwanese independence! The overseas democratic movement is subversion... You are in the middle of everything," she recalled an officer shouting at her.

During her time in detention, Kou was not allowed to speak to anyone except her interrogators and she could not look around, turn her head, close her eyes, drink water or go to the bathroom without permission.

The furniture and walls of the windowless room she was held in were covered in plastic foam, presumably to prevent her from harming herself. She had no idea how big the building was that she was in, except overhearing the guards talk of a fourth floor.

While she was concerned about her safety, Kou was also worried about the Occupy protest. "I was afraid to say anything wrong that would prompt them to make up their mind for a bloody clean-up," she said.

The authorities eventually decided not to prosecute Kou, but stopped her from coming to Hong Kong last year because she was still on parole.

She is one of many activists on the mainland to be detained without charges in the last two years, but one of the few to speak about it. Kou wondered if the authorities would retaliate, but decided to write the book anyway.

Kou is a brave woman -- some people would have been to scared to speak out at all, let alone write a book about her terrifying experience. She has let the world know a bit more about China's use of intimidation but also its insecurity, with very little tolerance for what it believes is subversion.