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Benedict Rogers

Hong Kong's democracy movement must find other voices

Lord Sumption is just the latest, most unexpected voice and it won’t be the last
Published: June 11, 2024 04:05 AM GMT

Updated: June 11, 2024 06:11 AM GMT

Hong Kong police goose step past judges to mark the opening of the legal year in Hong Kong on Jan. 22.

Hong Kong police goose step past judges to mark the opening of the legal year in Hong Kong on Jan. 22. (Photo: AFP)

Yesterday, in a powerful article in the Financial Times, one of Britain’s most distinguished retired judges, Lord Jonathan Sumption, finally told the truth about Hong Kong.

In his penultimate paragraph, he hit the nail on the head when he wrote: “Hong Kong, once a vibrant and politically diverse community is slowly becoming a totalitarian state. The rule of law is profoundly compromised.”

He is right. My only disagreement with him now is with his use of the word “slowly.” Hong Kong’s transformation from an open society to a repressive police state over the past five years has been alarmingly rapid.

Lord Sumption, along with his fellow retired British judge Lord Lawrence Collins, finally did the right thing last week in resigning as an overseas judges in Hong Kong’s Court of Final Appeal.

Canadian former Chief Justice Beverley McLachlin did the same on June 10 — although she showed less courage of her convictions, citing simply her “retirement” at the age of 80 and her desire to “spend more time with my family.”

Nevertheless, the decision by two of Hong Kong’s most prominent, experienced and distinguished foreign judges to step down is both a much-needed and long-overdue message to the world about the demise of the rule of law in Hong Kong.

"If you wear a T-shirt of a certain color, even if it carries no slogans, you could be jailed"

This is an essential signal to the remaining foreign judges to follow suit. I hope they will act accordingly. They cannot continue to give Hong Kong’s legal system the fig leaf of respectability and legitimacy when it has blatantly lost both.

A legal system that jails democratically-elected legislators for holding a primary election to choose candidates for Legislative Council elections; imprisons lawyers like Chow Hang-Tung for organizing peaceful candle-lit vigils to commemorate the 1989 Tiananmen Square massacre; and detains and prosecutes a courageous media entrepreneur like Jimmy Lai for speaking to foreign politicians, journalists and human rights activists and publishing an independent newspaper, is not a legal system worthy of the presence of any foreign judges, let alone those of the distinction of Lord Sumption and Beverley McLachlin.

Two days ago, we commemorated the fifth anniversary of the peaceful march by one million people in Hong Kong, protesting the proposed extradition bill in 2019. So much has changed in the past five years. That march by one million turned into two million a week later — but five years on, Hong Kong is eerily silent.

Today, such protests are impossible. If you even write with a finger in the air a commemorative sign, as artist Sanmu Chan tried to do a week ago, you can be arrested. If you wear a T-shirt of a certain color, even if it carries no slogans, you could be jailed. And if you dare sing a banned song — such as "Glory to Hong Kong" — you will sacrifice your freedom for a long time.

I was in Greenwich in southeast London on June 8, participating in a fundraising walk to help Myanmar’s Kachin people. At the end of the walk, as we left the park, I passed a giant inflatable turtle. It reminded me that one of the reasons the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) has hated Jimmy Lai for so long is that back in 1994, in an editorial in his Next magazine, he called Premier Li Peng, the butcher of Beijing, a “turtle’s egg” because he had presided over the Tiananmen Square massacre in 1989. Calling someone a “turtle’s egg” is, apparently, a truly offensive term of abuse, in Chinese.

Seeing that giant turtle in Greenwich Park gave me an idea. Given what they have done to destroy Hong Kong’s freedoms and autonomy, in total violation of an international treaty, the Sino-British Joint Declaration, we should now openly call Xi Jinping, and his quislings in Hong Kong — Chief Executive John Lee, Security Secretary Chris Tang, Justice Secretary Paul Lam and others who are responsible for the repression and injustice in the city — turtle’s eggs.

"We must continue to shine a light into the darkness, at a time when even switching on the torch in their mobile phone is dangerous for them"

Perhaps someone should organize a campaign to send turtle’s eggs — or at least plastic replicas — to as many Chinese embassies and Hong Kong Economic and Trade Offices (HKETOs) as possible, and to Government House in Hong Kong and Zhongnanhai in Beijing. It would send them a clear message of what we think of them, their brutality, criminality and inhumanity.

Maybe Lord Sumption might even be persuaded to send one?

Five years ago, the people of Hong Kong spoke out. They did so loudly, peacefully, courageously and clearly. They showed the world that, when given the opportunity to speak, they were clear in their message: they want freedom, democracy, human rights, the rule of law and autonomy.

Five years on, we must not forget that message. Indeed, five years on we must stand with Hong Kong and fight for freedom.

Hong Kongers in Hong Kong are no longer able to speak out, so we must speak out on their behalf. We must continue to sing "Glory to Hong Kong" when they cannot; we must continue to protest when they can’t; and we must continue to shine a light into the darkness, at a time when even switching on the torch in their mobile phone is dangerous for them.

For those in prison, we must speak. For those who cannot speak, because if they did, they would be jailed, we must be their voice. Even if the movement in Hong Kong cannot speak as it did five years ago, it must not be silenced. It must — and it will — find other voices. Lord Sumption’s is just the latest, and the most unexpected. It is very welcome — but it won’t be the last.

*The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the official editorial position of UCA News.

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