Hong Kong Will Triumph

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What should we make of the human rights situation in Hong Kong and China today? The Liberty spoke with a political commentator who, at the time of the Tiananmen Square incident, led the democracy movement in Guangzhou.


Chen Pokong

Born in 1963. Chen led a democracy movement in Guangzhou at the time of the Tiananmen Square incident, and he was sentenced to a 3-year imprisonment. Later after his release, Chen attempted to escape to Hong Kong, but he was repatriated and imprisoned for another two years. Chen was released in 1995, and he exiled to the United States the following year in 1996. Currently, Chen is a political commentator in the United States.

──You exposed the reality of forced labor in prison to the international society. Please tell me about the reality of forced labor.

Chen: On August 2, 1989, I was suddenly erased from society. The prison I was sent to was isolated from the rest of the world.

My daily meal was delivered twice a day through a small window. It was fatty pork and a sandy side dish that had fallen apart while boiling. Aside from that, I stayed seated.

I was locked up inside concrete walls with no lattice windows. There was only a window for air that was high and out of reach, so I could not see sunlight or feel the fresh air. It was always a dim room that shut out light. I felt like I was buried alive at a grave.

At the time, my dream was to be put on trial and prosecuted, but they didn’t even hold a trial for me. That dream didn’t come true. I was detained for one-and-a-half years, and because there was no sunlight nor fresh air, my hair became like hay. My skin became thin to the point that it would bleed rather easily, and I went through physiological changes. Then, Wang Dan, a student leader of the Tiananmen Square incident, was sentenced in Beijing. My trial was held suddenly afterwards. I was charged with carrying out counter-revolutionary propaganda and disrupting social order. While other prisoners were allowed to receive books and newspapers, I did not receive that kind of treatment. I continued to be kept under surveillance inside the prison.

On August 19, 1991, there was a political change in the Soviet Union. It was around 6 p.m. in the evening when I coincidentally learned about it. I banged on the iron door with all my might and requested for a newspaper. Prisoners only banged on the door when there was a fight or a serios incident, so when the guard heard that I wanted a newspaper, he went mad. He was raged, saying, “Don’t waste my precious time over a newspaper.” He, alongside other model prisoners, hit me around 50 times with an electric rod. At that point, my skin had become thin, and so there was blood all over my body. I was released from prison three years later. I sought out political asylum, but I was captured in Hong Kong and deported.

During my second imprisonment, I was subjected to the laojiao, or re-education through forced labor (*). I was charged for illegal emigration and imprisoned for one-and-a-half years. The labor reminded me of ‘Spartacus.’ I had no idea that Spartacus was being recreated in China in the 20th century. Moreover, it took place [at the Guangzhou No. 1 Camp for Re-education Through Labor] just outside the metropolis of Guangzhou. The hours were long, and it was physically exhausting. Rocks would tumble down a mountain and they would hit and injure prisoners. By this time, my skin had hardened enough, and I was starting to become resistant to the rocks that crashed into me. My legs were sometimes caught by the rocks that rolled down, but I got away without a broken bone. Amid all that, I made a decision to voice out on the system of re-education through labor.

I felt that my life was in danger under the brutal surveillance system. I sent a letter to the United Nations Human Rights Commission.

When I was released for the second time on March 16, 1995, someone from the National Security Bureau advised that I should seek asylum. They pretty much said, ‘Someone like you has no choice but to go to jail or leave the country.’ In other words, it was impossible to stay in China and spread democratic ideology. So I chose to leave my country.

──Students who resisted the Chinese government’s zero-Covid approach staged protests at universities.

Chen: The protests that took place at Peking University and Tianjin University prior to the Tiananmen Square incident could’ve eventually turned into a demand for democratization. The Chinese government believed that these protests could threaten their regime, and they took a hard line. Not only did they close down those universities, but they also closed down Tiananmen Square.

However, the protests this time went more smoothly than previous ones.

For one, they feared what might happen on June 4 at Peking University. But also, there’s a factional strife between President Xi Jinping and Li Keqiang. Mr. Li Keqiang believes that urgent steps must be taken to save the Chinese economy. He believes that China’s economy can be saved by taking the reform and opening-up policies, thereby adopting a market economy. More and more government officials are supporting Mr. Li Keqiang. It is questionable whether Mr. Xi will stay in office, as we will find out from the National Congress held in autumn. Among other things, Mr. Xi has lost ground by supporting Russia over the conflict in Ukraine and adopting a lockdown policy in Shanghai. People are voicing out that he should take responsibility.

──Hong Kong lost all kinds of freedom ever since the National Security Maintenance Law was adopted two years ago.

Chen: This law is ‘state terrorism’ itself. The new chief executive, John Lee (Chinese name: Li Jiachao), took office on July 1. He is the man in charge of enforcing repression, and Hong Kong citizens call him the ‘Black Police.’ The protests in Hong Kong in spring 2019 marked the last protests, but in my view, they were a continuation of the Tiananmen Square protests. I think the Hong Kong people are really brave. It may seem like they have been suppressed and defeated, but I believe this is only temporary and they will triumph in the future. I am confident that the freedom of Hong Kong will absolutely spread to China one day.

──Please give a message to the people of Japan for the democratization of China.

Chen: The Japanese government has never been vocal about human rights and universal values. It shouldn’t stay that way. Japan must learn from Western countries in this regard. Japan’s national security, and peace in Asia, will only come true after China’s democratization. China and Japan can become good neighbors and realize a prosperous world. This is not possible as long as the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) led by Mr. Xi is in power.

(*)The idea is to “re-educate through labor,” and it is a policy of corrections for counterrevolutionaries and criminal offenders that was implemented in China’s concentration camps.
Hong Kong Will Triumph
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