A longtime advocate of democracy in Hong Kong says he is still optimistic about the future, never mind Beijing’s crackdown on the city’s civil liberties and the surge in the number of his fellow activists being put into custody.
Albert Ho, a solicitor, was once a pan-democratic lawmaker who was castigated for meeting Beijing’s liaison office in Hong Kong in 2010. Last month, he was found guilty of having organized an illegal march and was given a 12-month jail sentence suspended for two years. From being a moderate activist, Ho, 69, narrowly escaped imprisonment for his political beliefs.
The court ruling in mid-April convicted nine democracy activists, Ho included, of organizing and taking part in an unauthorized assembly on Aug. 18, 2019. That year, the city was engulfed in months-long protests aiming to press the authorities to shelve a now-mothballed bill which could have led to Hongkongers facing trial in mainland China.
Five of the defendants, including Apple Daily founder Jimmy Lai, received jail terms of between eight months and one and a half years, while Ho was among the four given suspended sentences.
The unauthorized assembly for which the solicitor landed on the wrong side of the law was largely the same as what he had been doing in his four-decade struggle for Hong Kong democracy, organizing mass protests and rallies on special occasions. What has changed are the government’s goalposts, from years of leniency toward dissenting voices to intolerance of the naysayers.
“I feel that this is the misfortune of Hong Kong, not of me personally, and also the misfortune of China,” Ho said. “In the face of adversity, we should think about how to get through it and move toward a new situation.”
The people of Hong Kong “not only moved Britain, but also moved the whole world” despite having angered the central authorities in Beijing, he added.
The 2019 protests prompted the United Kingdom, Hong Kong’s former colonial ruler, to launch a special lifeboat scheme allowing holders of the British National (Overseas) passport and their family members to live and work in the country. It was rolled out in response to Beijing’s imposition of national security laws last June to essentially criminalize the city’s once-tolerated dissension.
More than 35,000 people with BN(O) status have reportedly applied for the scheme to relocate to the U.K. as Hong Kong authorities arrest and prosecute democracy advocates and participants of the 2019 movement, which they see as an attempt to endanger China’s national security.
“Many of us are still standing firm, and in the face of such a bad situation, we still strive for opportunities to see how we can change. We can’t see it at the moment, but we will not give up the opportunity. When a situation can turn around, we will fight for it,” Ho said.
“Live in truth,” he added, quoting Vaclav Havel, the first democratically elected Czech President, who ended the country’s communist rule.
“We have experienced civilization, freedom and the rule of law. We all cherish and know what it is all about,” Ho said. “Over the years, so many people have come to Hong Kong and regarded Hong Kong as a paradise because they know what is going on in the mainland and hope to live their lives afresh. Today, Hong Kong people want to leave because they know what civility is and what is not.”
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