Digital becomes Hong Kong’s bastion of lost freedoms


HONG KONG – Since the National Security Law was imposed by Beijing at the end of June 2020, a number of activists fighting for freedom and democracy in Hong Kong have been arrested, while many civil organizations that have contributed to advancing these causes have been practically forced to dissolve or pushed to the brink of dissolution.

The Hong Kong Alliance in Support of China’s Democratic Patriotic Movements is one of them. The Alliance had held the city’s annual candlelight vigil during the Tiananmen Square crackdown in 1989, but has recently been heavily targeted by Beijing and pro-Beijing authorities in Hong Kong.

Overall, the situation seems to be deteriorating for us, but a rare ray of hope for the Alliance has emerged in cyberspace.

In early August, on June 4, the Museum of Memory and Human Rights opened online, two months after Hong Kong government inspectors forced the closure of the physical museum, dedicated to the preservation of memory of the Tiananmen crackdown in 1989.

“The Communist Party regime is using digital technology to build a high wall of surveillance, but the technology also offers more opportunities and channels for opposition forces like us too,” Chang Ping, a prominent Chinese journalist living in China. exile in Germany in the past decade, Nikkei Asia told Nikkei Asia in an online interview on Saturday.

Chang Ping, a Chinese journalist now living in exile in Germany, is responsible for the June 4 online museum. (Photo courtesy of Chang Ping)

Chang – who participated in the 1989 pro-democracy movement as a student at Sichuan University in the Chinese city of Chengdu, and was subsequently detained – has been appointed chief curator of the digital museum.

“Digitization is already part of life,” he said. “There are no limits to the capacity, and we will maximize that. It will give us a greater possibility.” As the real museum must close and the Alliance’s breathing space rapidly shrinks, Chang intends to create a new platform for people around the world to be aware of the tragedy that lies ahead. has three decades and strengthen an alliance between like-minded people.

The online museum consists of six rooms with distinct themes. The “Time” room brings together documents and photos to present a chronology of political repression and other events since the Chinese Communist Party came to power in 1949, with a detailed account of the pro-democracy movement of 1989 which ended in a bloody military crackdown on June 4. .

Another room records the human cost of the repression and other actions of the communist regime. The death toll from the Tiananmen incident in 1989 remains uncertain, with estimates ranging from 200 to at least 10,000. The museum gives the names and personal details of 178 victims, some with portraits.

A June 4 digital museum separate from the real Hong Kong museum has been envisioned and planned by the Alliance for years. Chang said the National Security Law had sped up the process.

“We must preserve it because we have an uncertain future,” Alliance president Lee Cheuk-yan told reporters at the now closed museum on June 6, 2020. Stressing the urgent need to protect evidence from the crackdown 32 he Years ago, he researched crowdfunding donations online. “We don’t know what will happen to this museum after the enactment of the National Security Law,” he said weeks earlier. “It’s also risk control, so what we have now could be preserved.”

While the Alliance managed to raise 1.68 million Hong Kong dollars ($ 216,400) from 1,186 individual donors, sufficiently reaching its goal in just over two months, Lee’s ominous premonitions proved true. true; the museum is now inaccessible.

President Lee Cheuk-Yan, left of center and wearing a blue mask, and Vice President Albert Ho Chun-yan, left of Lee in the photo, lead a candlelight vigil in Victoria Park on June 4, 2020, defying a ban from the police who cited the pandemic. (Photo by Kenji Kawase)

On top of that, Lee himself is currently serving a 20-month prison sentence for attending a rally on October 1, 2019, when the Chinese Communist Party celebrated its 70th anniversary in power. This was considered a retroactive “unauthorized assembly” under the national security law since enforced.

Likewise, Alliance vice president Albert Ho Chun-yan, like Lee, a longtime activist, is serving an 18-month sentence on the same charge. On Wednesday, Ho was slapped for an additional 16 months for his role in a separate “unauthorized assembly” two years ago, along with six other activists.

The headwinds against the Alliance intensified when Luo Huining, Beijing’s top representative in the territory, implicitly called the pro-democracy group a “true enemy” of Hong Kong governance. Speaking at an event celebrating the party’s centenary in June, Luo condemned the Alliance as an organization advocating “an end to one-party dictatorship,” which has been the Alliance’s key slogan since its inception. creation in May 1989.

As new pressures mounted, the group decided to lay off all staff by the end of July, cut the top governing body to seven from the original 20, and significantly downsize day-to-day operations.

Hong Kong police recently opened an investigation into the Alliance for alleged collusion with foreign forces, one of four crimes under the National Security Act that carry a life sentence. Alliance leadership is required to formally respond to the allegations by Tuesday.

Under these circumstances, the Alliance decided to cut itself off from the online museum and appointed the independent team led by Chang to take full charge of it. This was done to keep the digital space free from any kind of undue influence or repression.

Members other than Chang and the location of the server were not disclosed. As Beijing’s long arm stretches beyond China’s borders, “it comes from security concerns,” Chang said. He also said that the technicians who support the daily operations are “mostly young people” in different parts of the world who have been involved for over a year.

Despite a political climate that leaves little optimism shining, Chang remains hopeful.

He fully understands the harsh reality in which “the Chinese Communist regime is one step ahead of the opposition forces in terms of the use of digital and online technologies, as their national and overall economic strength could enable them to attract the cooperation of Western technology companies, ”he said. without naming any.

He is committed to continuing to improve the online museum to attract more attention. When next June 4 arrives, the museum is expected to have two new versions – an English translation and one with simplified Chinese characters for visitors to the mainland – along with new exhibits. When the need for more money arises, Chang will seek another round of open online crowdfunding.

“We are now able to do so much online, and what happens online is impacting the changes in real life,” Chang said. Along with his anonymous partners and colleagues, he stands ready to embrace the legacy of Hong Kong’s lost freedoms and continue his quest for democracy in China.

Kenji Kawase is chief economic news correspondent for Nikkei Asia and editor-in-chief of #techAsia, an Asian technology newsletter that combines the best reporting from Nikkei and the Financial Times. He has been a journalist and editor for Nikkei since 1992, mainly covering economic and financial news in Tokyo, Osaka, Shanghai, Hong Kong and Bangkok. He returned to Hong Kong for the third time last year.


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