What you need to know
In Hong Kong, rioting charges are punishable by up to 10 years in prison. 44 young protesters are facing rioting charges and their lives will forever be altered.
Johnson Yeung Ching-yin (楊政賢), 27, former convener of Hong Kong's Civil Human Rights Front (CHRF) and current board member of Amnesty International (Hong Kong), was arrested on July 28 during a protest in Sheung Wan and Central. After his release, Yeung delivered a moving speech outside of the Kwai Chung Police Station describing the Hong Kong police's fear tactics and abuse against the 49 protesters. Here's a personal note from Yeung and an English translation of the transcribed speech done by netizens.
Two days after my release, it is still painful to recall the grave silence and the reaction from my inmates when we heard of the rioting charges. I tried to cheer them up by telling stories about some prosecutors dropping charges after they brought a case to court, and named rioting cases where protesters were found not guilty. I'm not sure if the stories made a difference.
Being charged with rioting is not a matter of legal argument or the probability of winning and losing. It's a matter of someone’s life. We feel secure because we can predict our future; we know when to expect our next paycheck, we have visions about forming a family one day, and we're on the trajectory of a career path chosen by us.
But our everyday normality is destabilized and stripped away with a simple rioting charge — it was like a giant wave smashing against the young protesters. They were insecure. They were afraid of the many unknowns that will impact their relationship with families, with their loved ones, and with the future they were planning.
This is why I felt emotional that night. It hurts me to learn 44 precious lives are disrupted, distorted, and trampled on. These people were just fighting for their entitled rights. I'm disgusted by the fact that 44 lives are neglected for the sake of maintaining power and stability for the pro-Beijing elites.
When a police force, a government, and a nation state stop protecting the dignity and well-being of their people, they become obsolete. This is why we are not satisfied with an apology or a resignation, we demand systematic changes and institutionalized protection to our basic freedoms. The so-called rioters didn’t do anything wrong — they risked their lives so we can be one step closer to the goal.
I have high respect to these people, I pray for their freedom and I hope our community will stand with them.
All these fear tactics by the police convey one message: If you dare to protest, expect a deprivation of basic rights. Expect harassment. Expect terror and restlessness for your family.
Johnson Yeung's Speech to the Crowd Outside of the Kwai Chung Police Station After His Release on July 30:
Over 40 protesters have been held inside the Kwai Chung Police Station, and for many, the 48-hour limit has passed.
I'm one of the protesters arrested on July 28. My name is Johnson Yeung. I was arrested in Central at around 11 p.m. that night. We were very cooperative and we followed instructions given by the police, but they dragged me behind their shields regardless and subdued me with their fists. This is entirely the police's abuse of power.
My mobile phone was also confiscated by the police after the arrest. When they confiscated my mobile phone, I told them my phone must be put in a sealed evidence bag. However, they did not do so. After urging them several times, they simply ignored my request. Even after our arrival at the police station, they had failed to follow the legal procedure to seal the evidence.
Worse still, a police officer flashed a torch light into my eyes when I request to see the officer on duty. Another police officer even threatened me by saying “If you continue to be noisy you will be put inside the air-conditioned room." They tried to use cruel treatment to threaten protesters who stood by their rights.
The 40 more of us sat inside a parking garage that was as hot as a steamer for 24 hours. Some protesters may have sat there for even longer without rest. All we could do was sit. Some people were on the verge of getting a heat stroke. I'm sure everyone knows clearly whether this is normal practice or an abuse of power: The police was obviously trying to punish the protesters.
The police claimed that I was arrested for obstructing police officers. But after detaining me for almost 24 hours, at midnight, they requested a search warrant from a Magistrate based on the accusation of unlawful assembly. They then brought me to my household in the middle of the night to disturb my family.
These are all fear tactics used by the police — they're illegal, inappropriate ways to discourage Hongkongers from coming out to protest. All these convey one message: If you dare to protest, expect a deprivation of basic rights. Expect harassment. Expect terror and restlessness for your family.
I do not reckon the above as what the police should be doing. However, these actions are exactly what they've been doing to abuse and exert their power, which is exactly why we've been pushing for an independent investigative committee to review the police’s abuse of power.
Some of the arrested protesters have considered emigration and starting a new life in a different country, but ultimately they said, “Being born into Hong Kong gives us the responsibility to make this a better place.”
Next, I would like to talk about the charge of “rioting." There are some 40 people inside, and over 40 of them are being charged with “rioting." I might have spent only around 20 hours with them inside this dungeon, but most of them are… (sobbing) 10- to 20-something years old.
Why should they be prosecuted and threatened with the charge of “rioting”? It was like this (government prosecuting young people) during the 2014 Umbrella Movement. Nothing changed in 2016 either. It is now 2019 and it has been five years — the government is still sacrificing teenagers’ blood and freedom for the authority's own dignity, power, and benefits! We despise these! We want freedom! All we're fighting for is freedom! All we're asking for is autonomy! There are no rioters, there's only tyranny!
There are no rioters, there's only tyranny!
I talked with several arrested protesters briefly. They are really just… They are just teenagers who desperately hope for a better Hong Kong. Some of them have considered emigration and starting a new life in a different country, but ultimately they said, “Being born into Hong Kong gives us the responsibility to make this a better place.”
Even if they have the right and the opportunity to emigrate, they still want to fight for freedom here in Hong Kong in hopes of making their homeland a place where people could truly live in peace. They’re not rioters. They’re just a group of teenagers with ideals. I urge everyone to continue to support them.
The mention hearing is scheduled tomorrow. I don’t know the protesters will be charged with serious crimes, perhaps tonight, perhaps tomorrow, perhaps already. I hope everyone will continue to support them together.
We must not be deterred by this white terror. We must not be deterred by such “rioting” charges. We must continue to come out and tell the government that we are fighting for freedom. We’re not rioters.
After being detained for over 30 hours up to this evening, most of us thought that we would be released on bail pending investigations by the police, as most of us were arrested for unlawful assembly. 30 hours into detention, people inside the cells began to sing songs and talk about what food to grab after the release... (sob). But they were later asked to step out one by one, and people returned with the news that they were being charged with “rioting.”
Inside the 12 cells in the hallway, some people were crying after the news came through, others were unsure what to do. An inmate said to me, “I wouldn’t know what to do after 10 years of imprisonment.” They were terrified. They were distressed. However, we tried to comfort each other inside the cells, saying that there are a lot of people supporting us out there. I believe we’re all here to support each other, isn’t that the case?
Be it “rioting”, be it other charges, we’ll stick together! Let us continue to fight against this government! It wasn’t us who have wronged. It wasn’t the teenagers who have wronged. It was those top officials, those in power. They’re sacrificing teenagers’ blood and freedom for their own benefit. We must stand against such practice. I really hope that everyone could persist. Together we stand. Hongkongers, keep fighting!
Let us remember each and every one of them (the protesters).
TNL Editor: Daphne K. Lee (@thenewslensintl)
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