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June 16, 2013

Defying Downpour Hong Kong Blows Whistles For The Whistleblower Snowden


[Published by Counter Currents]

None of us saw 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 had dampened their spirits and made them uncertain of what to expect. Gingerly-written 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 Chater Garden, the venue where the protest march was scheduled to begin..


And then, it all changed. People started to pour in. The organisers had erred in judging the popular mood in support of Snowden, which had just asserted itself through the huge turnout. Not that they were complaining. This was an error all activists want to make, after all. By making Chater Garden burst at the seams, Hong Kong spoke 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 the ‘brainwashing’ national education curriculum proposed by the pro-China system, when more than a hundred thousand Hong Kongers took 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, the leading English daily, has found more than half of residents firmly with Snowden, blowing away any claims to the contrary. 


We have no clue where this support comes from. It might have emanated solely from Hong Kong’s firm belief in the rule of law and freedom of expression. It could, equally, have come from the guilt associated with the failure to stop the 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 Chater Garden, the protest had begun. Albert Ho, the Chairman of HK Alliance and former leader of Democratic Party, took the mike. He reiterated that he 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 the 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. The 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 language difference correctly).   There were Americans (citizens) carrying placards, urging their government to stop hounding dissidents, followed by the South Asian students studying at Hong Kong University as their t-shirts told us. There were Filipinas and Indonesians marching with Europeans. Another South Asian face 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 Chater Garden and the American Consulate. Interestingly, Hong Kong police were 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 the American Consulate, the next venue for meetings. The 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, but 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 headquarters of the HKSAR government in Admiralty, and demanded that the Chief Executive C Y Leung break his silence and protect Snowden and free speech. Speaker after speaker said what hurts the pro-China lobby in the Legco the most; CY 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? 

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