By Frances Hui
November 2, 2022
I have protested against China’s takeover of my home city of Hong Kong in front of Chinese embassies in the United States many times. But I would never have imagined that I could be dragged into one and beaten up.
On Oct. 16, a group gathered outside the Chinese Consulate in Manchester, England, to protest the 20th National Congress of the Chinese Communist Party in Beijing. Employees at the Chinese Consulate waded into the crowd and dragged one of the protesters, Bob Chan, through the gate and onto consulate grounds, where he was physically attacked. Had a brave U.K. police officer not broken protocol and pulled Chan off the consular grounds, he may have faced a far worse fate.
The picture Chan showed of the bruises and injuries to his face, head, and back reminds me just a little of what my fellow Hongkongers faced in 2019. We lived through a year of fear as we witnessed police brutality against protesters in the streets. Three years on, many have sought refuge in democracies around the world, where protests and free speech are supposed to be respected as basic human rights. But the physical attack on Chan reminds us that our safety is not guaranteed.
Many Hongkongers have faced some degree of intimidation, even after they leave home. Hongkongers living abroad report that the Hong Kong Police Force will call their families back home, asking for their locations. Their family members have been tailed and photographed by secret agencies. Some decide to sever ties with their families and stay silent to protect them.
Some Hongkongers continue their fight in exile. Many expect they will be able to speak freely, only to discover that the Communist Party's repression extends beyond China’s borders.
During the Hong Kong pro-democracy movement in 2019, I helped organize solidarity rallies in Boston and was then targeted by party supporters, who shared my personal information and photos around the Chinese community. Some threatened to protest my activities in front of my church and my home. Hundreds of them counterprotested at a rally I organized in August 2019. The counterprotesters planned to bring firearms to the rally — they even made tasteless and threatening jokes in their chats about shooting me.
Near the end of the rally, a man began to vandalize our posters and tried to start a fight with some in our group. Afterward, he followed me to my dorm in an attempt to intimidate me. I called the police, who escorted him away, but to my knowledge, he has not faced any consequences. Since my personal information and address were exposed, I spent the rest of my senior year of college looking over my shoulder, fearful I was being monitored and followed.
China's Communist Party is increasing its efforts to extend its influence across the world. If consular staff in a democratic country can blatantly assault dissidents and walk away without being held accountable, it will happen again. By not taking this harassment seriously, we are allowing China to intimidate people like me, and we risk the security of citizens around the world who believe in the promise of democracy.
Frances Hui is the policy and advocacy coordinator at the Committee for Freedom in Hong Kong Foundation.