East Asia Theater
Thousands gathered in Hong Kong's Victoria Park to attend the annual candlelight vigil commemorating the 1989 Tiananmen Square massacre on June 4—in defiance of an unprecedented police ban, ostensibly imposed as a measure to contain COVID-19. Attendees wearing surgical masks clambered over police barriers to enter the park. Organizers, the Hong Kong Alliance in Support of Patriotic Democratic Movements in China, said that participants would enter the park in groups of eight, as per the official restrictions on public gatherings. Thousands of police were on stand-by in the area, but did not intervene. The solemn occasion usually attracts tens of thousands of participants, as Hong Kong is the only place on Chinese soil where such an event can be held. (HKFP)
The New York-based Committee to Protect Journalists is urging Chinese authorities to immediately release journalist Zhang Zhan, drop any charges against her, and ensure that the media can cover the coronavirus pandemic without fear of arrest. Zhang, an independent video journalist who had been posting reports from Wuhan on Twitter and YouTube since early February, went missing in the city on May 14, one day after she published a video critical of the government's countermeasures to contain the virus, according to news reports. On May 15, the Shanghai Municipal Public Security Bureau issued a notice stating that Zhang had been arrested and detained for "picking quarrels and provoking trouble," and was being held at the Pudong Xinqu Detention Center. If convicted, she could face up to five years in prison, according to the Chinese criminal code.
Some 230 people were arrested in Hong Kong May 10, as pro-democracy demonstrations again mobilized in the city after weeks of a lockdown imposed to contain COVID-19. Following "sing-along" actions at several shopping malls, some protesters gathered on the streets of Kowloon's Mong Kok commercial district before riot police were sent in to disperse them. Police were accused of brutality in the dispersal operation, and several demonstrators were hospitalized. Among those detained and hospitalized was lawmaker Roy Kwong of the Democratic Party, who was on hand to observe the police operations. Reporters were apparently targeted by police, with the Hong Kong Journalists Association issuing a statement decrying the "abuse and detention" of media workers. (HKFP, RTHK, DW, SCMP)
Hong Kong police arrested 15 leading pro-democracy figures on April 18, in connection with allegedly "organizing and participating in unlawful assemblies" last year. Among those arrested were two former chairs of the Democratic Party, Martin Lee and Albert Ho, former Democratic Party councilors Yeung Sum and Sin Chung-kai, and sitting district councilor Richard Tsoi; forner Labour Party councilors Lee Cheuk-yan and Cyd Ho; sitting council member Leung Yiu-chung of the Neighbourhood & Worker's Service Centre; two leaders of the Civil Human Rights Front, Au Nok-hin and Figo Chan; three leaders of the League of Social Democrats, Raphael Wong, Leung Kwok-hung and Avery Ng; Civic Party leader Margaret Ng; and pro-democracy media tycoon Jimmy Lai.
Speaking April 14 at COVIDCon, an online Oslo Freedom Forum event presented by the Human Rights Foundation, exiled Chinese dissident Yang Jianli of the DC-based Citizen Power Initiatives for China charged that the death toll for Wuhan, the city where the COVID-19 outbreak began, was massively under-counted by authorities. In a talk entitled "The Chinese Communist Party: Savior or Culprit?," Yang portrayed a far-reaching cover-up by the Beijing regime. Citing his monitoring of social media, Yang said that as Xi Jinping visited Wuhan on March 10, "endless Wuhan residents pleaded for help online, saying hospitals were overflowing and their family members were turned away and left to die at home. Nobody knows how many people died before managing to get to hospitals."
Prominent Chinese human rights lawyer Wang Quanzhang, imprisoned for four and a half years for "subversion," has been released—but immediately placed under "quarantine," barred from reuniting with his wife and son in Beijing. His wife, Li Wenzu, fears that the authorities are using the COVID-19 pandemic as an excuse to hold him under de facto house arrest indefinitely. She said that upon his release, authorities sent Wang to his home town, Jinan, in Shandong province, some 400 kilometers south of Beijing, for quarantine. Li told AFP news service: "They used the pretext of the epidemic as an excuse to quarantine him for 14 days when he should have been able to return to his home in Beijing according to the relevant legal guidelines... I am really worried they plan on putting him under long-term house arrest and will prevent us from being reunited as a family."
Some 1,000 activists from various civic groups marched in Taipei on Feb. 22, commemorating the 73rd anniversary of the "228 Incident"—the 1947 uprising and massacre that marked the beginning of Taiwan's "White Terror." Li Ssu-yi, chair of TW Gong Sheng, a youth group dedicated to remembrance of the Incident, said, "We refuse to forget and insist on carrying on the spirit of what they fought for during this year's march." Other participating groups included the Taiwan Association for Human Rights and the Dr. Chen Wen-chen Memorial Foundation—named for a student activist killed on probable orders of the regime in 1981. The route of the march passed various sites connected to the Incident, including Tianma Tea House and the former Tobacco Monopoly Bureau building.
"Citizen journalists" and "netizens" in China who are critical of the government's handling of the COVID-19 (coronavirus) outbreak are apparently being "disappeared." Winning most attention are two cases from Wuhan, infamously the epicenter of the outbreak. Wuhan businessman Fang Bin was posting videos to YouTube (presumably through a VPN) to "report on the actual situation here," with one on Feb. 1 seeming to show eight corpses piled in a minibus outside a hospital, going viral. On Feb. 9, he posted a 13-second video with the words "All people revolt—hand the power of the government back to the people." After that, the account went silent. The other is Chen Qiushi, a human rights lawyer turned video journalist who built a reputation through his coverage of the Hong Kong protests last year and in late January traveled to Wuhan to report on the situation. He visited hospitals in the stricken city, looking at the desperate conditions and speaking with patients. Then, on Feb. 7, a video was shared on his Twitter account (currently managed by a friend) featuring his mother, who said he had gone missing the day before. His friend, Xu Xiaodong, later claimed in a YouTube video that he had been forcibly quarantined. (BBC News, Feb. 14)