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Defying Downpour Hong Kong Blows Whistles For The Whistleblower Snowden

By Samar

16 June, 2013

None of us have seen it coming, I am sure, not even the organisers. Despite the calls to join the rally in support of Edward Snowden having taken the social media by a storm, the mood among the organisers was sombre to say the least. It was bound to be, relentless rains have dampened the spirits and made them uncertain of what to expect. Gingerly tweets coming with hashtag #SnowdenHK were proof enough of the ambivalence. ‘Lets hope we are not alone!! #liberty for all’ (sic) was what Steve Miller had just tweeted from Chatter Park, the venue where the protest march was scheduled to begin.

And then, it all changed. People have started to pour in. Cleanly, the organisers had erred in judging the popular mood in support of Snowden which had just asserted it through the huge turnout. Not that they were complaining. This was an error all activists want to make, after all. By making Chatter Park bursting at the seams Hong Kong had spoken its heart out for Snowden. Thousands of them had sacrificed a weekend. That’s some sacrifice folks, for it’s only these well deserved breaks on weekends that restore some sanity in our lives bound to run at a maddening pace here in Hong Kong.

Despite not being in the same league, the turnout was quite reminiscent of protests against ‘brainwashing’ national education curriculum proposed by pro-China system when more than a hundred thousand Hong Kongers have taken to streets in September 2012. The support for Snowden was in the same league this time around. A survey by the South China Morning Post, leading English daily, has found more than half of residents firmly with Snowden, blowing away any claims on the contrary.

We have no clue where this support came from. It might have emanated solely from Hong Kong’s firm belief in rule of law and freedom of expression. It could, equally, have come from the guilt associated with the failure to stop illegal extradition of Libyan rebel leader Sami al-Saadi to be tortured by now deposed and dead dictator Muammar Gaddafi’s regime. One thing was clear though, the people are not going to fail themselves this time around. Neither are they going to let the government fail them.

Back in Chatter Park, The protest had begun. Albert Ho, the Chairman of HK Alliance and former leader of Democratic Party has taken the mike. He had just reiterated that he has joined the protest as the case marks a very important moment in history of Hong Kong, a moment which will put HK’s ‘legal system to test’. He was joined by Claudia Mo, Legco member (Legco is the abbreviation used for Legislative Council, equivalent of parliament) speaking about the need of protecting whistleblowers and free speech.
Rains had given way. The mood was electrifying. People had listened to the organisers’ earlier calls of bringing ‘their own free speech umbrellas to fight the downpour’ and ‘whistles to blow’ for the whistleblower. They were doing exactly the same. Hong Kong was blowing whistles, literally, for the whistleblower. It was time for the rally to take off. American Consulate, the home of champions of democracy and free speech in China, was the destination.

The one thing I love most about HK protests is their colourfulness. One can hardly see a more colourful and multicultural protest anywhere in the world. There were native Hong Kongers shouting slogans in Cantonese and Mainlanders replying (that is if I could make out the difference correctly. There were Americans (citizens) carrying placards urging their government to stop hounding the dissidents followed by the South Asian students studying in the Hong Kong University as their t-shirts told us. There were Filipinas and Indonesians marching with Europeans. Another South Asian face has just waved at me with a smile and moved past.

The rally was inching ahead we had just crossed the IFC tower and were climbing our way up Cheung Kong Park. Apparently, people had ignored American Consulate’s ‘advisory’ to avoid areas near Chatter Park and American Consulate. Interestingly, Hong Kong police was keeping a watch on peaceful protesters even more peacefully. That is another thing I love about Hong Kong and its protests. I don’t know how many of the expat protesters noticed the empty holsters adorning the uniform of police personnel deployed for the rally. As a standard operational procedure, HK authorities take the firearms away from the police officers deployed for managing such events. Think, now, of the armed to teeth police contingents that descend on such protests from India to US.

We had reached American Consulate, next venue for meetings. Rain was back. Umbrellas of a thousand colours were out again. So were the whistles. Legco member Charles Mak’s speech drew a lot of applause, all in whistles. It was bound to be as he was speaking on the right to communicate safely online and freedom of expression. A letter drafted jointly by the 27 civil society organisations was handed over to Ambassador Steve Young. Not that anyone expected him, and his government, to act upon it, he was curtly told to uphold the human right to a private life guaranteed by the Article 8 of the UN Declaration.

The rally then convened at Tamar Buildings, the headquarter of HKSAR government in Admiralty and demanded that the Chief Executive C Y Leung break his silence and protect Snowden and free speech. Speakers after speakers, then, said what hurts the pro-China lobby in the Legco the most. CEO Leung was urged to uphold the rule of law without interference from Beijing.

The protest had drawn first blood by the evening. Leung has finally spoken up and pledged that the government would “follow up on any incidents related to the privacy or other rights of the institutions or people in Hong Kong being violated.” He also asserted that the case of Mr. Snowden, as and when it comes, will be handled “in accordance with the laws and established procedures of Hong Kong.” That’s some victory, isn’t it?

Samar is Programme Coordinator - Right to Food Programme Asian Legal Resource Centre / Asian Human Rights Commission, Hong Kong






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