HONG Kong has lost its free speech.
Since China passed a sweeping new security law last week, protesters on the streets of Hong Kong have been arrested for nothing more than holding a banner.
Under the new legislation, anyone who the Chinese Communist Party targets for protesting against the government could face a lifetime in prison.
The brutal crackdown has brought terror to the people of Hong Kong.
Citizens have started to censor themselves, deleting their social media posts and holding up blank signs at protests. We are learning to protest in a more creative and subtle way.
We know China wants to quash our freedom of speech and even our freedom of thought but we don’t know how far the new law will go.
China has kept the wording as vague as possible, leaving room for interpretation for the authorities.
Anyone who chants pro-democracy messages or owns protest signs or stickers could face years in prison.
And authorities aim to extend the new law to all foreigners and countries everywhere, meaning any foreign critics who travel to China could also be arrested.
For years, I have campaigned for Hong Kong’s freedom on a global scale.
At 23, I was elected to the Hong Kong Council with more than 50,000 votes and became the region’s youngest lawmaker. Along with my fellow Demosisto Party members, I used my role to speak out for Hong Kong’s democracy.
But Chinese officials disqualified me from my seat after just one year, claiming I broke the rules during my swearing-in when I quoted Gandhi, saying: “You can chain me, you can torture me, you can even destroy this body but you will never imprison my mind.”
Later I faced months in prison for my role as a student leader in the peaceful pro-democracy Umbrella protests of 2014.
Now, at 26, I have been forced to say goodbye to my parents, my two brothers and my friends — even leaving my two cats behind — to escape to another country where I can continue to warn the world against China’s regime.
In 1984, Britain made an agreement with China, allowing Hong Kong to rule itself when it was handed back to China in 1997 and protecting its right to democracy for 50 years.
But now that agreement has clearly been broken.
Secret police are now free to spy on Hong Kong suspects, tapping their phones and listening to their conversations.
If arrested, suspects’ trials could be held in secret and their right to a jury trial thrown out.
But the people of Hong Kong will not give up.
On July 1 — the first day of the new law — more than 100,000 people marched in the streets.
Police used water cannon, gas and pepper spray to control the crowd. Some 370 people were arrested, including a 15-year-old girl, and ten were charged under the new law. One man was arrested for simply holding the sign: “Free Hong Kong, revolution of our time.”
Our future is bleak in the short term but the bravery of the protesters has brought waves of sympathy and support from across the globe.
I believe our sacrifice binds us together and even though the situation is hard, we can still see hope in the silence. I was surprised and grateful when Britain offered a safe haven to three million Hong Kong people after China’s new laws were announced.
And countries including America, Canada and Australia have also put measures in place to support my people.
Now the international community must not only help Hong Kongers to leave, but also to resist China’s attack on their free speech.
We must do this, not just for Hong Kong but for free speech across the world.
Every one of us suffers from the consequences of not standing up to China.
We have been talking about the decline of our free speech for decades. And we have allowed China’s oppressive regimes to rise freely, failing to stand up to their attacks on human rights.
Its communist regime has tortured prisoners, set up concentration camps and forced Uighur Muslim women into sterilisation.
And while China bans all mention of the horrors of Tiananmen Square in 1989 — when thousands of students were killed for daring to protest — we must continue to remember the atrocities its government has committed.
Britain and the international community must put human rights over money — and stand up to China’s ever-growing threat.
Hong Kong’s people will keep fighting and will never give up.
Now, we have to work together to bring back our democracy and hope we all have a future where we can hold China’s regime to account.
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