Sunday, December 04, 2016

Letter to Hong Kong -- "No More CY Leung" Must Begin on Dec 11


Next Sunday will be an important date for the future of Hong Kong. On that day, about 240,000 voters in the subsector election of the Election Committee will head to the polls to select the 1,200 members EC.

Clearly this is not a fair and equal election. It is a shame that almost twenty years after the handover, Hong Kong people still cannot elect our Chief Executive, and we're still hopelessly waiting for the universal suffrage that we were promised. Yet, the competition in the EC election this year is the most intense ever, particularly in the professional subsectors.

There are two reasons for this phenomenon. As the first EC election after the Umbrella Movement, the will to participate from the many so-called post-umbrella professional groups was strong, as these educated, middle-class and often younger professionals have fought together from the occupation movement to the Legislative Council's rejection of the government's political reform package in 2015.

A strong sense of re-awakening was evident in many professional sectors, working both within their own sectors as well as across different sectors, forming a strong bond and special camaraderie, fighting alongside one another in the struggle for democracy. They came to the understanding that this EC election will be particularly important for Hong Kong, as we will face a crucial crossroad and a critical choice, between a future with, or without, CY Leung.

CY Leung is obviously the most undesired Chief Executive in the history of the Special Administrative Region, pushing Hong Kong closer and closer to the abyss of divisiveness, social unrest and poor governance, and yet, many political pundits here are increasingly seeing him as the favourite in the upcoming CE election race. What can be more ridiculous than that? The reason is simple, because Hong Kong citizens don't get to choose on our own, have no votes, but can only watch on the sidelines over a pre-selected field of candidates anointed by Beijing.

However, today, less than four months before the election day of the CE, no credible candidates have emerged or announced their candidacies. Not even CY Leung. Clearly, all eyes are on the outcome of the EC election next Sunday. A strong result from the democrats may influence Beijing's strategy, as the democrats in the EC together with a sizeable anti-CY Leung faction in the business sectors may be insurmountable enough to make the nomination and eventual election of CY Leung an impossible task even with Beijing's manipulation.

That's why the professionals from different sectors have came out in force in this EC election. From the traditionally democratic strongholds such as legal, education and social services, to others with solid democratic support like accounting and information technology, to other subsectors where few candidates were fielded in previous EC elections, such as medical, health services, engineering, architecture, surveying and town planning, even Chinese medicine. Together they identify themselves as Democracy 300+, symbolising a target of reaching over 300 seats, that is, more than a quarter of the EC, which may turn out to be a critical tipping point in turning back CY Leung.

There are three principles that bind the Democracy 300+ candidates -- first, an absolute no for CY Leung; second, restarting the political reform process for universal suffrage without pre-screening of certain candidates, and third, adhering to the basic core values of Hong Kong such as equality, justice and the rule of law.

Achieving our target in this EC election isn't going to be easy. And it will require a high voter turnout. But historically, EC election turnout were always much lower than Legco elections. For a small-circle election that only a small fraction of the population has voting rights, this is not surprising.

And, regrettably the Registration and Electoral Office is not helping to make things easy. Not only that the number of polling stations will be greatly reduced -- from 580 in the Legco election in September to only 110 next Sunday -- meaning that most voters must travel a much longer distance to an unfamiliar polling location. Many may simply give up.

What's worse is that most voters have yet to receive their polling information cards, causing much confusion and ignorance about the voting process and the location of their assigned polling stations. There's simply no excuse for this, given that the voter registry is basically the same as the one just a couple months ago, and with a much smaller set of eligible voters. I don't want to yet outright accuse the government of purposely driving down voter turnout, but that may well be the outcome.

That's why your vote will be important, if you have one. Vote for Hong Kong, not for your own professional and sectoral interests. Please vote on behalf of those people who are not as privileged as you and I, who can vote next Sunday. Think about those who want to say no to CY Leung but have not a chance and a vote, and cast your votes exclusively for those who will cast him out. Hong Kong cannot afford another five years of divisiveness and incompetence. The choice on next Sunday may be our last chance.

Thursday, December 01, 2016

Speech on motion on "Combating 'Bogus Refugees'"

Today, the title of the motion we are debating is “combating ‘bogus refugees’”. I find that wording to be disturbing. We are not talking about combating the problem — if any — of the people that are referred to as ‘bogus refugees’, but combating these people themselves. Well, I like to refer to them in a more humane and respectable way, by calling them as they are, that is, asylum-seekers. 

Of course, our colleagues in the pro-establishment camp who are in support of these draconian measures targeting the refugees will say that it is only the ‘bogus’ ones that they are targeting, not the real asylum-seekers. Thank you very much. But it is clear to us that many of the measures that they talk about, such as encampment, would be applied to all asylum-seekers. 

Such is the hypocrisy and the discrimination in disguise. When our pro-establishment colleagues gleefully talk about Indian and Pakistani people gathering and scaring away local folks, they have not presented any proof that these people are asylum-seekers, so there is no basis at all of making the connection to their worries to the refugee problem. In other words, are some of these local folks simply scared when they see non-Chinese or colored people gathering in their neighborhood? How much of those concerns are justified? How much of that would be cultural misunderstanding, or plain racial discrimination? 

While many of our local media seem so eager to cover news linking asylum-seekers to crime, official figures never quite gel. Asylum-seekers committing crimes represent a very small portion of the overall statistics. Some local folks may also think that asylum-seekers are taking away jobs, and many of the pro-establishment political parties like to play up on that. But official figures show that protection claimants represented only 3.4% of the over 6,700 illegal workers arrested last year. 

Are there abuse of the system? Absolutely. But how much of these abuses are caused by the system itself? According to human rights workers and lawyers, a big part of the reason of these abuses is due to the government’s delay and lack of training for its personnel in dealing with such bogus claims, which in turn cause more delay in handling the cases, which results in effectively inviting or attracting more bogus claims to come in. 

Between March 2014 and December 2015, 3,165 non-refoulement claims have been screened, and only 18 of them were substantiated, including three on appeal. According to reports, the acceptance rate in Hong Kong — which stands at 0.56% since unified screening was introduced, is one of the lowest in the developed world. The global acceptance rate is around 43%. 

In contrast, Germany last year screened 60% of 965,000 asylum claims within five months. 

The United Nations Committee Against Torture stated that, by denying asylum-seekers the rights to work, Hong Kong forced them to “live on in-kind assistance below the poverty line for long periods of time,” which rights advocates convincingly point to as the cause of more illegal wok and criminal activities. 

Many protection claimants have formed a bitter impression that Hong Kong is doing everything possible to get rid of them — and certainly many of our colleagues have reinforced that impression by what they have said in this debate. The constant reports on ‘bogus refugees’ and the kind of messages delivered by some of our esteemed colleagues in this chamber must have made an impact on the morales of the protection claimants in Hong Kong, and made them more distressed about potentially receiving a negative decision. 

A couple months ago, after the movie “Snowden” came out, and Edward Snowden of course is the NSA whistleblower who himself sought asylum in Hong Kong in 2013, well, the actor who played Edward Snowden in the movie, Joseph Gordon-Levitt made a YouTube video appeal, and Edward Snowden also made his own appeal on Twitter, for four people they called “Snowden’s Guardian Angels”. Apparently, for two weeks in Hong Kong before he left, Edward Snowden stayed with two refugee couples from Sri Lanka and the Philippines in Hong Kong.

Edward Snowden said: ”These people have gotten up every morning in the face of tragedy and persecution, and go to sleep each night with whole families in a single bed. And though they have nothing, they risked everything to do what is right. Everything that I thought I knew about bravery was nothing compared to what I saw in Hong Kong.” They are not given enough resources to get by, but they are also not allowed to work. If they do work, they face 22 months of prison.

Asylum-seekers are people too. They came here to escape from the horrors back home. While they may be safe from physical danger here, but they fear day and night about being sent back. According to volunteers working with asylum-seekers, many of them said in Hong Kong they live, but they have no life.

This is why I find the original motion and the amendments by our pro-establishment colleagues to be so deplorable with its ignorance of the real root cause of the problem, and the exaggeration in its nature and the fearmongering in its tone. If we dare call ourselves an international city, let’s act like one, and take up our international responsibility and show the world the kindness we offer.

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