Few could imagine a minor quarrel in the street turned into a wave of persecution, and marked as the watershed of the freedom of speech of Hong Kong.
On 14th July 2013, Sunday, the Mong Kok pedestrian zone was as crowded as usual. The booth of Falun Gong used to exist in the zone for many years without attracting the attention of many Hong Kong locals. Yet on that day, the booth was barricaded by Hong Kong Youth Care Association Limited (HKYCA, 香港青年關愛協會), a pro-Beijing organization with many vagrants as its members, usually dressed in pale green uniforms. HKYCA was notorious for stirring up various conflicts with Falun Gong and engaging in violent activities since its establishment, comparable to the Red Guards in China during the Cultural Revolution.
In this incident, members of HKYCA used their banners to cover the booth of Falun Gong, which was their usual way to stir up conflicts. The Police did intervene. But what they did was not trying to separate the two parties to avoid further conflicts. They simply used police lines to surround the area. Pedestrians passing by were displeased with the way of handling by the Police. They denounced the Police of protecting the HKYCA instead of solving the conflict. The 8:52 duration footage recorded the whole incident. Among the pedestrians, a woman in orange skirt (later identified as the Ms Alpais Lam Wai-sze (林慧思), a teacher of Pui Ling School of The Precious Blood) scolded the Police of not taking actions against the HKYCA, applauded by many. Others argued with the Police of their ways of handling. The Police left the scene afterwards without taking actions to resolve the conflicts. After the Police left the scent, HKYCA members and pedestrians had physical conflicts. Police appeared again at the end of the footage to separate the parties.
But this is not the end of the story. Another video footage lasting for 5:32 appeared in the web around a week later, titled as “Police officers tactfully handling an outrageous teacher with calm”. This footage focused on the quarrel between the teacher Ms Alpais Lam Wai-sze and the police. In this edited clip, Ms Lam was presented as an outrageous woman losing her self-control insulting the police, while the Police was presented as calm and tactful. The whole incident as in the above paragraph, was intentionally missed out in this version. This version was widely shared among the users of Facebook and many netizens came to be misled of the story. Ms Lam was widely criticised by the netizens for shouting “What the fuck” against the police. The fire of criticism spread rapidly from the Internet into the reality.
Many mainstream pro-Beijing newspapers quoted the edited version to criticise Ms Lam’s behaviour for swearing to the Police as a teacher. Wenweipo (文匯報), a pro-Beijing media, criticised Ms Lam as “ethically unacceptable to be a teacher”, “casting a bad example to the young generation”. Criticisms focused on her “What the fuck” statements without delving into the whole incident. Even the pro-democrat Appledaily quoted this version of story, only deleting it after being informed by netizens.
The edited version was later refuted by the netizens who had seen the 8:52 version. They suspected the 5:32 version was intentionally edited by 50-centers (pro-Beijing propagandists) to distort the whole story. They speculated that the 50-centers intended to suppress voices against the pro-Beijing camp. 50-centers were also suspected of responsible for organizing campaign of complaints to the school where Ms Lam as a teacher, demanding the school to explain on the matter and even fire her.
After understanding the whole story, public opinions turned to the side of supporting Ms Lam’s bravery against injustice. Many are sending letters and emails to the school supporting Ms Lam. Yet the society was quite divided on Ms Lam’s behaviour. Some parents worried Ms Lam would set a bad example to the children, others supported her for voicing out against injustice.
Under school and social pressure, Ms Lam signed a declaration with the school authority accepting of her “improper behaviour” in the incident, and promised not to do it again. She was able to keep her job. Yet pro-Beijing camp and the Police did not stop their persecutions.
On 27th July, the Junior Police Officers Association made a declaration denouncing Ms Lam’s behaviour against the Police in the incident, followed by a similar declaration from the Hong Kong Police Inspectors’ Association. Police’s stance lining with HKYCA was obvious, yet the Police claimed itself as “politically neutral”.
Banners with personal attacks on Ms Lam and funeral wreathes with Ms Lam’s name written were found outside her school, said Ms Lam when she was interviewed by Mingpao media. At this stage, this incident obviously developed into a political persecution, sending funeral wreathes is even a criminal intimidation. Yet we do not see the police trying to give a helping hand against intimidation.
“Hong Kong Parents Alliance” and “Hong Kong Action”, the affiliated groups of Pro-Beijing camp, are calling for gathering at Mong Kok pedestrian zone on 4th August at 1430 hours to denunciate Ms Lam. This reminds of the memories of Struggle Sessions during the Cultural Revolution. The netizens and radical democrats are calling for volunteers to gather there at the time to counteract against the “Red Guards of Hong Kong”.
The persecution of Ms Lam marks a watershed in the history of freedom of speech in Hong Kong. If the pro-Beijing camp succeeds in ousting Ms Lam and making the voices they don’t like to become silent. Hong Kong’s freedom of speech is under peril.