Denise Ho, award-winning Hong Kong-based singer, actress and pro-democracy and LGBTQ rights activist, addresses the 12th Annual Geneva Summit for Human Rights and Democracy — see quotes below, followed by full prepared remarks.
On her own involvement in the Hong Kong protests:
“I started to understand the negative impacts of a government that fails to serve the people.”
“On 28th September 2014, I decided to stand together with the people. I was arrested at the end of the Umbrella Movement.”
“I was banned from China, blacklisted from all the corporate brands, and had to terminate my contracts with my management and music label.”
“Then, came June 2019. I remember myself roaming around the outskirts of the crowds, believing that it was relatively safer to be where I was standing. Suddenly, riot police with weapons appeared and closed in from all sides. In a matter of minutes, all Hell broke loose.”
“Tear gas and rubber bullets were fired, injured people ran towards us, and I found myself helping out, rinsing out their eyes and their faces.”
“Suddenly, I found myself 3 meters away from the charging line of riot police. negotiating for a halt, so that people behind me could leave. Despite my calm exterior, I was actually trembling inside.”
On fighting oppression:
“Courage is not something that you can plan for. Things that happen at a split second, drive us to capabilities that were previously unknown.”
“This is not only a fight for Hong Kong, but a very global fight against a dictatorship that is inflicting its influence in the whole world. This dictatorship that is China.”
“With the globalization of the world, we are one, and we must act as one.”
“As Hong Kongers have shown the world, it is the power of the ordinary that can make the difference.”
On aftermath of Hong Kong protests:
“After the long months of protests and unbearable police violence, we won the district elections in November, with a landslide victory. The “silent majority”, as the government phrases it, is no longer silent.”
“Hundreds, or maybe even thousands of youth have fled the country. Some others have been refused bail, and have, since October, been awaiting trial in the cold cell blocks. Not to forget, all these mysterious deaths and suicides that appeared during the six months.”
It is my honor to address the 12th Geneva Summit for Human Rights and Democracy, before an audience of diplomats, human rights activists, students and concerned citizens. The last time I spoke in Geneva it was just across the street, at the UN Human Rights Council, where I was repeatedly interrupted by China. I’m glad that today, I know I can speak without interruption.
For a long and unforgettable period of six months, June 2019 to December 2019, the world witnessed the very persistent human rights struggle of Hong Kongers.
During those days, we were met with more than sixteen thousand rounds of tear gas, rubber bullets, and other so called non-lethal weapons from the police. People shot in the eye lost eyesight permanently. Water cannons filled with blue dye firing off at innocent pedestrians. Live rounds were fired at point blank range into the chests of teenage boys. Two universities were besieged. And yet, people still fought on.
In this leaderless fight against the biggest and most powerful dictatorship in the world, it was the young and fearless force that sustained us, and amazed the world. Our youngsters, equipped with only the bare minimum of protection, with make-shift gear made out of cardboard boxes and foam boards, ran onto the very front lines, to protect the city from a steady erosion of our freedoms.
Fortunately, after the long months of protests and unbearable police violence, we won the district elections in November, with a landslide victory. More than 80% of the seats were won by pro-democratic candidates, with 60% of the total votes. The “silent majority”, as the government phrases it, is no longer silent. And they are standing on our side.
Despite this encouraging result, and even with the retraction of the extradition bill that triggered the whole movement, for us, the fight is still not won.
With more than 6000 people arrested, and even more so severely injured, we are now dealing with the aftermath of this prolonged movement. Hundreds, or maybe even thousands of youth have fled the country, ending up in Taiwan, Australia and Canada, in fear of political repercussion. Some others have been refused bail, and have, since October, been awaiting trial in the cold cell blocks. Not to forget, all these mysterious deaths and suicides that appeared during the six months, with a suspiciously high number of bodies, some totally naked, found in the sea, demonstrating the recklessness of this regime.
In more recent days, the incompetence of our government, namely our Chief Executive
Carrie Lam, has been exposed, through how they have been dealing with the Coronavirus situation — stubbornly refusing to close off borders, failing to regulate sanitary supplies, and creating chaos and fear among the people. With a Hong Kong government that only responds to the Communist government, which refuses to listen to the strong voices of the people, the “One Country, Two systems” is doomed to fail. Terribly.
My own story started back in 2012, when I confronted this facade of freedom. I realized that our legislative systems were working only in favor of the government. I then chose to come out as the first openly gay female singer in Hong Kong and China, in hopes of pushing forward LGBTQ rights in Hong Kong.
Celebrities in Asia, oddly enough, are taught to keep themselves out of politics. In this era of self-censorship, people, myself included at that time, tiptoed around sensitive issues, especially those concerning this mega-power that is China.
This moment of personal truth made all the difference for the coming years. I started to understand the negative impacts of a government that fails to serve the people.
On 28th September 2014, when the first tear gas bomb was fired into the peaceful crowds of Hong Kong citizens, I decided to step further out of my silence, and chose to stand together with the people. I was arrested at the end of the Umbrella Movement.
This decision changed my whole career.
As a result, I was banned from China, blacklisted from all the corporate brands, and had to terminate my contracts with my management and music label. Luckily, I was able rebuild my own system, and learned to do things on my own. With my team, we even launched a crowd-sponsorship campaign for my concert in 2016, with 50,000 tickets sold out within hours.
Then came June 2019. Three days after the historical million people anti-extradition bill march in Hong Kong, crowds gathered around the Legislative building, demanding a response from the government. I remember myself roaming around the outskirts of the crowds, believing that it was safer to be where I was.
Suddenly, riot police with weapons appeared and closed in from all sides. In a matter of minutes, all Hell broke loose. Tear gas and rubber bullets were fired, injured people ran towards us, and I found myself rinsing out their faces. That was the first time I ever felt the effects of this chemical weapon. Students and women, totally unarmed, pushed and scrambled, trying to leave from the building behind us. And suddenly, I found myself 3 meters away from the charging line of riot police. negotiating for a halt, so that people behind me could leave. Despite my calm exterior, I was actually trembling inside.
But at that moment, I knew I had to do it, because if not me, then who else?
Along the way, you come to understand that courage is not something that you can plan for. Things that happen at a split second, drive us to capabilities that were previously unknown. Despite the fears present at the given moment, you overcome it, with this habit of always do right by your conscience.
And so the rest is history. The courageous young people who were in the frontlines have been doing exactly that: believing in their actions, responding to their consciences. They sacrificed their futures for our city, yet it is not in vain. Fighting for these selfless causes, they have awakened the city, and brought hope to those who have already given up.
In reality, this is not only a fight for Hong Kong, but a very global fight against a dictatorship that is inflicting its influence in the whole world. The dictatorship that is, China.
And again, with the spreading of the coronavirus, we can finally see for ourselves destructive impacts of a superpower regime that does not tell the truth. By withholding facts, silencing and persecuting whistleblowers, and even exercising their powers to silence global organizations such as the WHO and the UN, they have effectively worsened the situation into an epidemic, something that could have been prevented — IF, we as a global community, had been consciously monitoring these violations, and stepping up to halt China’s immense power.
With the globalization of the world, we are one, and must act as one. Turning a blind eye when it is convenient, pretending that violations of human rights happening on the other side of the world are things that does not concern our well-being, is something that would eventually catch up on you.
And as Hong Kongers have shown the world, it is this power, the power of the ordinary, that can make the difference. Whoever and wherever you are, by stepping up to injustices, voicing out your concerns, however small and unimportant they might seem, you can be the one to trigger the most unexpected of changes.
The one person who steps up to the situation, who gives their all in the most desperate of times, might not necessarily be the one to see it through, but shall pass on the aspiration to create change, onto many more generations to follow. And that might be our surest bet of making good in the world.