This week's blog is authored by Simon Cheng, Founder of Hongkongers in Britain and Isaac Cheng, Director of Kongtinue.
Our organisations, Hongkongers in Britain and Kongtinue, were the organisers behind an event for Hongkongers to learn about the impact of injustice on Hong Kong. The event was scheduled to take place at Guildford Baptist Church. Our hope was to create a safe space for participants to collaborate about their experiences of repression in Hong Kong. Those narratives were not supposed to involve Britain, a place that is supposedly a haven for Hongkongers to exercise their rights.
However, after learning that our event involved a discussion about a children’s book about sheep and wolves that is banned by the Hong Kong authorities, the church left us with no choice but to cancel the event after bowing to pressure from former Hong Kong Chief Executive Leung Chun-ying (CY Leung), who urged the British police to investigate our event.
Have you ever heard of dissidents who are suppressed not only in their hometown but in their new “refuge” because openly talking about their experiences may upset others? Can you imagine such ongoing censorship overtaking liberal democracies in the name of global “impartiality”, “tolerance” or even “peace”?
Unfortunately, cases of Chinese state interference are quite common throughout the UK. We have seen board games that are banned in Hong Kong be rejected in the UK because they “may upset some people” despite educating participants about human rights. We have also seen crafts with “Free Hong Kong” messages be removed from the UK because they are banned in Hong Kong. We have been told that “no politics” are allowed at community festivals, even though we are in a place where we should be able to freely express our political views. A board game banned yesterday, a craft removed today, we should not be surprised if songs, pictures, books and other symbols that depict basic human rights are cancelled tomorrow.
If we do not stop Chinese state transnational repression that is threatening those who have fled from the threat of the Chinese Communist Party, victims of human rights abuses may be mistaken as sources of societal disturbances no matter where in the world they call home.
We urge the British government to take action to transform the space for public debate and dialogue throughout the UK by ensuring that the rights to free speech, assembly and expression are protected for all people. There has been confusion as to what is deemed “political” – the British government should not allow “progressive values and narratives” in the West to stifle the freedom and democracy that we have come to Britain to enjoy under international law. Otherwise, we will continue to face the de-facto censorship and vilification of the Chinese Communist Party.
Britain must remain vigilant against the Chinese Communist Party and Hong Kong authorities in the defence of freedom. Events that include a children’s book about sheep and wolves with a focus on civic education should be treated with respect and without hindrance.