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Don't treat us as heroes says bailed Hong Kong activist Wong
By Elaine YU
Hong Kong (AFP) Oct 30, 2017

In China, disrespecting national anthem could mean three years in jail
Beijing (AFP) Oct 31, 2017 - Disrespecting China's national anthem could carry a prison sentence of up to three years under a new draft law amendment, state media reported Tuesday.

China has been fine-tuning legislation on the proper way and place to sing its national anthem, recently tightening rules that already bar people from belting it out at parties, weddings and funerals.

The country passed a National Anthem Law in September, which specified a much lesser jail term of 15 days for disrespecting the song.

Under the new measures "punishment ranges from removal of political rights and public surveillance to criminal detention and imprisonment of up to three years", said the Xinhua state news agency.

China's top legislature was deliberating the new measures -- which would be part of the country's criminal law -- this week, it added, without explaining why the penalty could increase so significantly.

Amnesty International China researcher William Nee told AFP the move "would clearly be out of step with international law".

"Freedom of expression includes ideas and speech that some may find offensive," he said.

"Whether it is supposedly showing disrespect to kings, flags or national anthems, these types of speech should be protected -- not criminalised."

An ideological push has intensified in China since President Xi Jinping took power in 2012. The leader has stressed infusing every aspect of Chinese education with "patriotic spirit".

Before Xi, China already had laws covering the use of its national flag and national emblem but none for its anthem, "March of the Volunteers", aside from a ban on its use in advertisements.

Regulations adopted in 2014 allowed the national anthem to be played only during formal diplomatic occasions, major sporting events and international gatherings -- making the song off-limits at weddings, funerals and various forms of "private entertainment".

Ten weeks in jail has had an effect on Joshua Wong; he is pensive, reflective and thinner. It is an experience that has forced him to weigh up the cost of being the most recognised face of Hong Kong's democracy campaign.

His imprisonment alongside two other leading activists for their role in the massive 2014 Umbrella Movement rallies, which called for fully free leadership elections, came after the city's Beijing-backed government pursued jail terms for the trio.

That was widely seen as another illustration of the pressure semi-autonomous Hong Kong is under from an increasingly assertive China, and brought into question whether its cherished independent judiciary has been compromised.

Wong, 21, and fellow activist Nathan Law, 24, were released last week on bail pending an appeal against their jail terms. If they lose, they could be sent back to serve the remainder of their sentences -- Wong was given six months, Law eight months.

Prison demands "absolute submission" to the authorities there, Wong says, describing his anger at how marginalised young people he met in jail were treated.

He was housed in a cell measuring around 50 square feet (4.5 sq m), and recalls how he was forced to crouch naked in front of one officer who said he wanted to see whether he could use a squat toilet.

"We'd just had our body checks, which were not a problem, but after that he didn't let me put back on my clothes, and made me squat, tilt my head up and talk to him. Prison is not a place to have dignity," Wong told AFP.

In addition to the current jail term, Wong is also awaiting sentencing on another charge relating to the 2014 protests, which brought parts of Hong Kong to a standstill for more than two months in an unprecedented rebuke to Beijing.

But as supporters around the world expressed their outrage at the jailings, Wong said they should not lionise the activists.

"I hope as people continue to show their support, they won't treat us too much like heroes," said Wong.

He has become particularly conscious of the toll on his family.

Wong still lives with his parents and shares a bedroom with his brother, which is filled with books and the young activist's robot collection.

"Outside of our role as political leaders, we are also someone's child, or someone's boyfriend or girlfriend. When we go to jail, the people around us suffer more."

- Growing danger -

Despite the pressures, there is no sign that Wong intends giving up his dream of full democracy for Hong Kong.

He was encouraged when tens of thousands took to the streets to protest the activists' imprisonment.

"As Hong Kong faces a situation where there are increasing numbers of political prisoners, I've seen more Hong Kong people who are willing to come out," says Wong.

"This gives me more determination to fight for democracy and on this path, we actually don't feel lonely."

But he acknowledges that continuing the fight is likely to become increasingly difficult as Chinese leader Xi Jinping emphasises zero tolerance of any challenges to Beijing's sovereignty.

The party Wong set up with Law, Demosisto, advocates self-determination and is pushing for Hong Kong people to be able to choose their own fate ahead of 2047, when the handover agreement expires and the city returns fully to Chinese rule.

"(Beijing's) policies for Hong Kong will be more severe in restricting our disappearing freedoms," predicts Wong.

Hong Kong has been governed under a "one country, two systems" deal since it was handed back by Britain to China in 1997, allowing it rights unseen on the mainland, including freedom of speech and a partially directly elected parliament.

The Umbrella Movement called for universal suffrage to replace a system where the city's leader is selected by a pro-Beijing committee, but failed to win concessions.

Since then there have been growing signs that China is tightening its grip, with Beijing particularly incensed by demands from some activists for independence for Hong Kong.

A number of leading campaigners have been charged in relation to the 2014 protests. Six pro-democracy legislators -- including two pro-independence activists -- have been disqualified from parliament.

Mainland Chinese officials have called on Hong Kong to introduce patriotic education, a version of which was shelved in 2012 after mass protests led by Wong, then just 15-years-old.

Wong believes "ideological control" from Beijing will weigh on Hong Kong, but will eventually trigger a backlash from the younger generation.

"In the future -- from elections to social movements -- I believe Hong Kong people will advance and retreat with us," he says.

"It's more dangerous and risky to fight for democracy in Hong Kong. But I think as the suppression intensifies, our resistance will be stronger."

Wong joins Hong Kong protest day after release on bail
Hong Kong (AFP) Oct 25, 2017
Hong Kong activist Joshua Wong was back out protesting Wednesday, a day after his release from prison on bail for his role in the 2014 Umbrella Movement. Wong and fellow democracy campaigner Nathan Law were freed on bail Tuesday pending an appeal against their jail terms. The 21-year-old was among 200 protesters who gathered outside Hong Kong's Legislative Council building on Wednesday e ... read more

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