When Miguel Fernandez exited the subway in the Kowloon district of Hong Kong early on the morning of Dec. 27, 2012, he was shocked.
Hanging on the side rails of Nathan Road was a banner attacking Falun Gong, which Fernandez practices. He said he looked at the banner and thought, “That has to come down.”
He untied it from the rails and threw it into a nearby waste bin. But then he saw another banner, “and I took that one down, too.” And then another and another.
Nathan Road is a major thoroughfare, and in that part of Kowloon near the Star Ferry it is a ritzy shopping area. As Fernandez walked up the glamorous avenue, he happened to look up. As far as he could see there were more banners hanging on the street’s side rails.
Fernandez had flown in that morning from New Zealand and was walking to a hostel. He thought to himself, “This is quite a big job. I had better go to the hostel first and put my backpack down. Then I can come back and finish.”
He never made it to the hostel that morning. The Hong Kong police picked him up.
Fernandez had come face to face with a campaign launched by a shadowy group called the Hong Kong Youth Care Association, believed to be a front organization for the mainland’s 610 Office—the Party organ tasked by former Chinese Communist Party head Jiang Zemin with eradicating Falun Gong. Beginning on June 10, 2012, that group had begun covering Hong Kong with its banners and interfering with Falun Gong activities.
“I readily confessed to the police that I had taken down the banners,” Fernandez said. “I couldn’t imagine that those banners could be legal. They’re disgusting. I thought it must be illegal to spread such hatred about someone’s belief.”
“I mean, if you hung banners attacking Catholics in Italy, or hung banners in New York City or Israel attacking Jews, it wouldn’t be tolerated. Not for a minute,” Fernandez said.
Forty years old and married, Fernandez is a factory worker in the town of Invercargill in southwestern New Zealand.
“I had heard that communist thugs were attacking elderly female practitioners in Hong Kong,” Fernandez said. He had come to see if he could help.
Although Fernandez had confessed, a police detective tried to get him to admit to taking down banners on several other streets. Fernandez had just arrived and had never set foot on those streets. The policeman had to back down.
Fernandez was charged with destruction of property, a misdemeanor offense. The police say he took down ten banners.
“I don’t know how many I took down, so I accepted their number,” he said.
His hearing was delayed for a month. Fernandez was fined HK$8,000 (US$1,031), which included restitution to the Hong Kong Youth Care Association of HK$500 for each of the ten banners. When the case was finally settled, he had to get back to New Zealand. He had overstayed his vacation.
“I took the banners down because I didn’t want anyone to see them and be misled,” Fernandez said.
Does he regret his actions that morning in Hong Kong? “Not at all.”
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