Ms. Audrey Eu, Hong Kong Legislator, shares her insight about the harsh 11 year prison term of Liu Xiao Bo, the pending “de facto referendum”, and the implication of Liu’s sentence in Jan 3rd, 2010 RTHK radio program “Letter to Hong Kong” (audio program with text).
I am enclosing Ms. Audrey Eu’s letter to Hong Kong here for the record. Emphasis and comments added.
It was especially cold last Christmas, not because the Copenhagen conference succeeded in halting global warming, but because the well known dissident Liu Xiao Bo was given a harsh 11 year prison term on charges of inciting subversion of the State, and stripped of his political rights for 2 years.
The fact that he was held for a year and then dealt a harsh sentence on Christmas Day, a day traditionally for peace and celebration, seems like a cruel joke that China is intent on playing with the rest of the world. [Kempton’s note: This is China’s way of saying “F*** You” to the world. Or “財大氣粗”, a rich man’s ability to ignore the world.]
Liu was charged with co-authoring the 08 Charter and disseminating 6 articles. The 6000 words judgment mainly consists of evidence which is not in dispute, namely he wrote and disseminated the documents in question, but it carries no explanation as to how this contravenes the Criminal Code. The critical part of the judgment is but one tenth of its length. It mentions 4 provisions of the Criminal Code without stating what they are, let alone explain how they apply. [Kempton’s note: To those who claim China has a good legal system, I don’t know how can they kid themselves.] It says the writings spread quickly and widely on the internet and thus goes beyond the bounds of freedom of speech and amounts to a serious crime that justifies a heavy sentence. There is no explanation of where lies the boundary of freedom of speech, who has been incited to do what or what harm the State has come to, or how Liu’s act is different from the tens of thousands who have co-signed the Charter. Anyone who has illusions that a strong China means a modern China should wake up.
Some Hong Kong people may think this does not concern us because we are protected by the two different systems though under the one State. But look closer. The 08 Charter is based on the universal values of freedom, rights, equality, democracy and constitutional guarantees, not some alien western concepts, but stuff found in our Basic Law. The 6 articles which Liu wrote are not about violence or revolution, but really the gradual strengthening of civil society and civic awareness. They talk about human dignity, protection of rights, rule of law and the gradual and orderly expansion of people’s power. In short, the sort of things we take for granted in Hong Kong. The promise of Two Systems is only as good as the goodwill of those in power unless Hong Kong people are ready to stand up for it. Only recently, Mainland officers crossed the border to grab a Hong Kong reporter across whilst Hong Kong police turned a blind eye. It is unrealistic to think the human rights can be guaranteed by merely drawing a line across a border.
One of Liu’s articles is titled “Do Chinese people only deserve democracy according to the Party?” The sentence charged with subversion says “For a free China to emerge, rather than place hopes on the rulers to come up with a ‘new deal’, better rely on continuous expansion of ‘new power’ from civil society”. This echoes a lot of the sentiment in Hong Kong. Many of us believe that Beijing will never give us true democracy, civil society has to keep renewing our demands at least twice a year, by marching on 1st Jan and 1st July. Another of Liu’s articles is titled “Changing the state power through changing civil society”. The passage charged says specifically it is not calling for any rapid or aggressive change but a slow growing civil society to bring about a free China.
These passages remind me of what the Civic Party is saying about the de facto referendum and a strong civil society. For over a century, Hong Kong existed on the divide between British colonialism and Chinese sufferance, living in “borrowed space and borrowed time”, hoping for a better tomorrow. We embraced the return to the motherland thinking that this means a high degree of autonomy, Hong Kong people being their own masters and ruling Hong Kong except in the context of national defence and foreign affairs.
Some say we should wait and trust in the leadership. The time for democracy will come. The truth is that the Basic law only decided the first ten years of the political system from 97 to 07. We were promised gradual and orderly progress since 2007 but this was dashed by the NPC decisions in 2004 and again in 2007. The political system has remained stagnant since then. We are already past the first decade in the new millennium. By 2020, another decade would have gone by and we will be almost into half of the fifty years promised under the Basic Law, yet we are still not told if the functional constituencies which are meant to be transitional will be scrapped by then. Meanwhile we are told to create more functional constituency seats for the interim. it is said that Hong Kong will have democracy when the rest of China has it. And looking at the 11 year sentence handed to Liu, when do you think our time will come?
Rather than weep over Liu, let us turn our waiting into action. The Civic Party’s plan for one legislator in each of the 5 districts to resign and then force a de facto referendum so the voters can decide for themselves if they will vote for early universal suffrage and the abolition of functional constituencies. Many think this is political suicide. We will not only lose the seats but also damage the democratic movement. But the democratic movement is not about the Civic Party, it is about Hong Kong people having the right to choose, holding Donald Tsang to his election promise that he will resolve the issue of universal suffrage in his term, holding Beijing to its promise in the Basic law. What we are proposing is much milder than any act of civil disobedience advocated by the Gandhi and it is totally within the framework of the established law and order. It is not about quitting the establishment but being re-elected with the people’s mandate.
If Liu’s story has any lesson for Hong Kong, it is this. We are part of the One Country. His fate is our fate unless civil society can be strong enough to defend individual rights of freedom and democracy. The de facto referendum is exactly what Liu has been saying, expanding the new forces of the people rather than wait for a new deal by those in power. Collectively we express our views through the ballot box, it is the after all the very essence of democracy.
P.S. In my opinion, Ms. Eu’s poetic reference in writing “the Copenhagen conference succeeded in halting global warming” in passing was rather unfortunate and Ms. Eu allowed the poetic image to confuse a rather solid letter.