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A crushed Banyan Tree, and a path to freedom.

This blog is authored by Bonham Tree Aid Team, an organisation established to provide financial aid to the families of political prisoners and individuals who have been incarcerated in Hong Kong.

As of March 2024, there are approximately 1,840 political prisoners in Hong Kong, many serving sentences of three to four years or longer. Their families are enduring significant hardships, including financial strain, mental health issues, housing instability, and challenges with education. Additionally, since the implementation of the National Security Law and Article 23, the employment prospects for political prisoners have deteriorated. Employers often refuse to hire them, and some individuals face harassment from National Security Law (NSL) police, making reintegration into society even more challenging.

As more and more Hong Kong residents migrate to freer regions after 2020, some chose or were compelled to stay in the city for various reasons. Some have been detained, jailed, threatened, or are undergoing criminal trials. Others stayed to support their loved ones, and some simply didn't want to leave their homeland, often affectionately called "Home Kong."

Several Hong Kongers who have escaped the authoritarian regime, got together to find a way to support their friends and families who have been left behind. They set up an organisation called Bonham Tree Aid which provides financial support to our wounded soldiers who have sacrificed their future, family time, career, and health for the sake of our beloved Hong Kong. We offer hope and a path forward for those who have been marginalized by oppressive systems.

Bonham is the name of a busy road in the Hong Kong which was once decorated with four 80-year-old banyan trees growing out from a retaining wall. Sadly, the municipality removed and the crushed banyan trees came to symbolise HK’s civil society, sapped, assaulted, and trampled by the HK government. However, after several months, the lifeless stumps amazingly began to flourish! Their resilience inspires us; as long as we keep fighting, we believe in a future where Hong Kong is free.

Not only are political prisoners plagued by financial stresses, released political prisoners are facing a bleak future. They are often the victims of discrimination in education, employment, opening bank accounts, and traveling overseas. There are professional bodies that nullified activists’ practice licenses. Some employers require activists to provide Certificate of No Criminal Conviction. Moreover, the Hong Kong government continues to surveil them after their release, forcing them to be isolated from families and friends. Many released political prisoners are coerced into becoming informants for the Hong Kong authorities.

Alex, a young protester in Hong Kong, was arrested during the turbulent events following 2019. He was sentenced to three years in prison, and when he was released, he found himself facing a hostile world. His criminal record made it difficult to find work, leading to financial instability and mental health struggles. The rejection and stigma were so overwhelming that Alex began to lose hope.

Through our network, we were able to connect Alex with a job that didn't require a background check. This opportunity allowed him to rebuild his financial stability and find a renewed sense of purpose. The support Alex received from Bonham Tree Aid gave him the strength to keep going when he felt there was no way out.

Even though the fight for political prisoners seems daunting, let Nelson Mandela’s words inspire us, “It always seems impossible until it is done.” Stay strong, friends!

Bonham Tree Aid (BTA) is a Community Interest Company (CIC) registered in the UK. Our mission is to provide financial aid to the families of political prisoners and to individuals who have been incarcerated or are on remand for fighting for freedom in Hong Kong. As BTA is a small organisation, we can only offer limited casework for activists who need guidance. We appeal to like-minded organisations to explore ways to support our “wounded” freedom fighters in Hong Kong and overseas.

For Chinese readers who want to know more about the trauma and hardship faced by the activists, you can find two stories from our latest newsletter on our website:

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