A Look At Hong Kong's Future After China Passes Controversial Law
SCOTT DETROW, HOST:
Less than 24 hours after Beijing had passed its controversial security legislation, authorities in Hong Kong had already charged 10 people with violating the sweeping new law. The new measure puts severe restrictions on free expression. Beijing says the law is crucial to safeguarding Hong Kong's economic development and political stability. It allows China to investigate and punish those accused of dissent. Penalties include life sentences. The law's effect was immediate. Twitter accounts were deleted. Pro-Democracy activists resigned their posts, and several left the country. Lee Cheuk-yan is a former legislator and prominent opposition leader. He joins me now from Hong Kong. Mr. Lee, thanks for speaking with us.
LEE CHEUK-YAN: Hello.
DETROW: So as I mentioned, several activists have disappeared from social media and have ceased their pro-democracy activities. And they certainly aren't talking to the press. So with Beijing threatening life sentences for those that so-called collude with foreign powers, I feel like I should begin this interview asking why you're taking the time to speak with us.
LEE: I think it's very important to tell the world what is happening to Hong Kong. And the wording of the law is so vague that no one really know what it means. One example is collusion with foreign power and causing hatred to the central government. I am not going to preach hate. I am going to preach love only for the people of Hong Kong.
DETROW: How have you seen this law go into effect in terms of the way authorities are cracking down or in terms of the way that people just conduct themselves differently?
LEE: They are trying to cleanse all free speech, putting fear among the people. And after you put fear, then the people began to start self-censorship. So there's lots of people who tried to cleanse all their Facebook of any mentioning of the slogan that we have during the past protest movement. We are now not under the Hong Kong government. We are directly confronting the Chinese Communist Party because one of the provision of law is that the police has sweeping power. That is not what they used to have but new power to be operated like the secret police.
DETROW: Britain has offered some Hong Kong residents safe haven. Many people have gone to Taiwan. You recently urged Congress here in the U.S. to pass a bill making it easier for people in Hong Kong to seek asylum in the United States. How many people do you think will be looking for avenues like that over the next few months? And is that something you're thinking about?
LEE: No, of course, I will continue to stay in Hong Kong and continue speaking out for the people. But with the refugee proposal from many country - of course, it's useful that, you know, people who worry about a future can go to another country to seek a safe harbor. But I have to remind the world that, actually, there are already 9,000 people arrested and 1,600 already prosecuted. And it's very difficult for those who are prosecuted to find a safe harbor. But I think the important thing is for people to stay in Hong Kong to continue demand a one country, two systems that are promised. We are only 23 year. We still should have 27 years of no change and also democracy.
DETROW: So you think there's still some hope, then, that the protests can be successful and that they can push back this tide that has really picked up steam in recent months from China seizing more control of Hong Kong, cracking down on expression in Hong Kong?
LEE: Of course, the situation's very difficult. You know, but when you look at Eastern European experience, they have suffered for many years. But finally, there's - the Berlin Wall fell down. And so the hope is that, also, people in China want also democracy and freedom and join hand together to seek for that. But, of course, this regime is now very powerful in terms of surveillance, in terms of, you know, suppression. And they are using law against the people. But with the world standing together with Hong Kong, I think we will continue to fight. We do not know when we can be victorious. But still, I think the spirit had to be there. And we want Hong Kong to make it through the difficult time in the future.
DETROW: Lee Cheuk-yan is a prominent pro-democracy activist in Hong Kong. Thank you for speaking with us, and good luck.
LEE: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.