This article was originally written for Apple Daily, as the author’s weekly column for the newspaper’s online English section. However, following the police raid on the newspaper on June 17, 2021, and the arrest of the editor and four senior executives, Apple Daily understandably decided not to publish. It was written the night before the police raid on the newspaper.
Tomorrow is Aung San Suu Kyi’s 76th birthday, and my nephew’s eighth. The contrast could not be more stark. My nephew will spend his birthday surrounded by family and school friends, showered with gifts and having a paintballing party. Myanmar’s democracy leader will spend hers in isolation, cut off from political colleagues, unable to contact family and back under house arrest after over a decade of freedom and the past five years as her country’s de facto head of government. She could spend the remaining years of her life in jail.
June seems to be a month of birthdays and anniversaries, many of which vividly illustrate the contrasts between free, open societies and those ruled by repressive autocracies.
Two weeks ago, my mother celebrated her 80th birthday, and my family took her away to a hotel in the countryside for a two-day COVID-compliant break to mark the occasion. But I could not get out of my head the testimonies of Uyghur women giving evidence to the Uyghur Tribunal in London. I left the Tribunal early while it was still underway, in order to join my family celebration, but I kept thinking of Uyghur mothers who are not able to be with their sons on their birthday, and Uyghur sons unable to be with their mothers.
Last Monday was my birthday, a date I share with Donald Trump and Che Guevara, among others. But two days before mine, it was the 59th birthday of Gulshan Abbas, a Uyghur woman imprisoned in the concentration camps in Xinjiang. Just two days before that, I had lunch with Gulshan’s courageous sister, Rushan Abbas, an amazing and tireless activist for her people’s human rights. Knowing that I was going to have a happy birthday, enjoying good food and beautiful scenery in the countryside, and receive countless greetings from friends, while Gulshan is held in horrific conditions and most likely subjected to torture and other shocking abuse, weighed heavily on my conscience.
Even on my birthday, despite having a beautiful day, those who are in prison or persecuted were never far from my thoughts. My mother’s birthday card to me was a postcard with the image of Hong Kong’s skyline and Victoria Harbour. “This seemed quite appropriate,” she wrote, making a generous donation to Hong Kong Watch as we prepared to launch our new fundraising campaign. Hong Kong was once my home. I lived there for the first five years after the handover and began my working life as a journalist and human rights activist there. The knowledge that I cannot go back to Hong Kong until it is free is both a motivation to continue to fight for freedom and a painful thought.
Several Hong Kongers now in prison have birthdays in June. I think of Edward Leung, who turned 30 and Alvin Yeung, who turned 40 this month. Instead of having celebrations to mark their landmark birthdays, they are in jail, along with Jeremy Tam and Lam Cheuk-tung, whose birthdays were the day before mine. Martin Lee, the father of Hong Kong’s democracy movement, turned 83 the day after my mother turned 80 and, while thankfully he is not behind bars, he is serving a suspended sentence. Let us never forget Hong Kong’s political prisoners, especially on their birthdays.
The day after my birthday, Xi Jinping turned 68, reaching the customary age at which Chinese Communist Party (CCP) leaders retire. But of course, three years ago, he removed term limits and so potentially could be leader for life. Many will, I am sure, be praying that he will discover a secret love of “Winnie the Pooh” stories, and seek a quiet retirement in order to catch up with AA Milne’s writings and Disney’s cartoons. For while repression in China and the destruction of Hong Kong’s freedoms are not solely the work of Xi, the assault on the basic human rights of everyone living under CCP rule has intensified enormously on his watch.
Three days before Xi’s birthday, Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II celebrated her official birthday—turning 95. While many long for Xi to go, our much-loved monarch retains the admiration of millions, who hope her enduring dignity, courage, and spirit of service will go on for as long as possible.
The difference between them is again stark. Xi embodies ruthless, cruel, inhumane, brutal, despotic, corrupt, mendacious repression, while the Queen—though in her position only by birth and a twist of history—embodies the opposite: public service, truth, sacrifice, humanity, and an enduring fabric that holds her country together.
Neither head of state is elected by the people, but the former is there by imposition and exertion of power, while the latter exercises no power except by dint of carefully prescribed constitutional and ceremonial duties and her personal example to us all. When, five years ago, she was caught on camera saying that the CCP officials had been “very rude” during Xi’s state visit to the UK the year before, most people loved her for speaking the truth. Few would say the same of the current Emperor in Beijing.
In addition to birthdays, this month contains some significant anniversaries, starting with the June 4 Tiananmen Square massacre.
Just under a week ago, we remembered the second anniversary of the huge protests outside government headquarters in Hong Kong against the proposed extradition bill. While such protests can no longer take place in Hong Kong, thousands demonstrated around the world for Hong Kong.
In London last Saturday, the former Conservative Party leader Sir Iain Duncan Smith MP and the Labour Party Shadow Asia Minister Stephen Kinnock MP addressed a huge crowd at Marble Arch, along with exiled former legislator and political prisoner Nathan Law, before a march through Oxford Street, Regent’s Street, Piccadilly Circus, Leicester Square, and Trafalgar Square. I had the privilege of delivering the final speech, in which I told new Hong Kongers recently arrived in the UK that they are “very welcome here” and urged the thousands gathered to “redouble” efforts to fight for freedom and stand with Hong Kong.
On Xi’s birthday, despite his wish to be seen as a deity, we did not celebrate his nativity. Instead, most of us mourned the death of Marco Leung, the young man who fell from a platform on Pacific Place mall in Admiralty on June 15, 2019, after displaying a protest banner. We saluted a hero, instead of honouring a criminal dictator, and rightly so.
The next day, we marked another big anniversary for Hong Kong—the day, two years ago, when two million people marched peacefully in the streets. As I said in Trafalgar Square, the CCP may have succeeded—for now—in killing Hong Kong’s freedoms, but they will never kill Hong Kong, for Hong Kong lives on the hearts and minds of everyone, everywhere who loves the city and loves freedom. Hong Kong was in Trafalgar Square and Marble Arch and Parliament Square last Saturday, it was in Leicester Square and outside the CCP’s embassy in Portland Place on June 4, and it was in cities throughout the world in recent weeks as Hong Kongers and their friends gathered to make their voice heard. Hong Kong lives on, the Lion Rock spirit lives on, just perhaps less visibly in the city that bears its name.
June begins and ends with anniversaries, two of which represent the fight for freedom, three of which epitomize freedom’s enemies.
In addition to commemorating the Tiananmen Square massacre early in the month, on June 6, we remember D-Day—the Allied invasion of Normandy in 1944, which led to the liberation of France, the defeat of Nazi Germany and the end of the Second World War in Europe. Every year, we commemorate the landings of 24,000 brave British, American, and Canadian troops who secured for us the freedom we enjoy today in Europe.
But on June 30, we prepare to commemorate the handover of Hong Kong to the CCP in 1997, the imposition of the draconian National Security Law in Hong Kong last year, and the official centenary of the founding of the CCP—three anniversaries that freedom-lovers might prefer to mourn, not celebrate.
As we remember the 100th anniversary of the CCP, let us not be lured by the pomp and ceremony that undoubtedly Xi and his thugs in Beijing will display, or the obsequiousness that will surely be displayed by Carrie Lam and her zombie puppet government.
Let us instead remember the truth, that in its century of existence, this is a regime that has killed literally millions—in the “Great Leap Forward,” the “Cultural Revolution,” the Tiananmen Square massacre, the occupation of Tibet, the genocide of the Uyghurs, forced organ harvesting, and forced abortions under the one-child policy, and through its irresponsible, deceitful cover-up of the origins of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Let us never forget that this is a regime that has proved, through its repeated—now permanent—breaches of the Sino-British Joint Declaration and Hong Kong’s Basic Law, that it can never, ever be trusted.
And let us always remember, as Taiwan knows better than any of us and as NATO confirmed this week, that this is a regime which threatens freedom itself.
There is perhaps one final date this month which might in future years be remembered, and that is 13 June—the Carbis Bay G7 Summit Communique. The day the democratic world finally woke up to the dangers of the CCP. There is much more to be done, and the G7 in Cornwall last weekend is but a beginning. However, it does seem that at long last, democracies are starting to stand up to Beijing and say enough is enough. The mere fact that Beijing reacted so furiously to the G7 suggests that the G7 is on the right tracks.
The G7 statement reaffirms a commitment to democratic values, and calls out the CCP’s atrocities in Xinjiang and its violations and broken promises in Hong Kong. It gives us something to build on, so let’s get to work.
Let’s ensure that as we continue to remember and honour the protesters of June 2019 in Hong Kong, and those in prison for the cause of freedom today, we make these dates not simply as days of remembrance but days of action, in which we redouble our efforts to continue the fight for freedom—for everyone, everywhere—so that one day, everyone can celebrate their birthdays as my mother, my nephew, and I have done: in freedom, with loved ones, with joy and in peace, and not in prison, exile, separation, or fear.
Benedict Rogers is co-founder and chief executive of Hong Kong Watch.
Views expressed in this article are the opinions of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of The Epoch Times.