Family members of two Hong Kong activists charged in Japan over a protest have urged the city’s Immigration Department to provide more help to the pair.

Activists Alex Kwok Siu-kit and Yim Man-wa, members of the Action Committee for Defending the Diaoyu Islands, were arrested at Tokyo’s Yasukuni Shrine earlier this month. The committee is a Hong Kong-based activist group that asserts Chinese sovereignty over the uninhabited, Japanese-controlled islands – also known as the Senkaku Islands.

In a video shot by Yim, Kwok held a banner demanding Japan take responsibility for the Nanjing massacre, and lit a prop spirit tablet of Tojo Hideki – a general of the Imperial Japanese Army, whose spirit is honoured at the shrine. The fire was quickly extinguished with no reports of any damage or injuries. Both Kwok and Yim were then arrested and detained.

Alex Kwok Siu-kit
Alex Kwok Siu-kit. Photo: Screenshot.

Democratic Party lawmaker Andrew Wan, who has been helping the families of the detained duo, confirmed on Thursday that they were charged with trespassing and could be held until their potential trial in February.

Wan accompanied the activists’ family members to meet with the Immigration Department at their offices in Wan Chai on Thursday. He urged the department to provide more help so the families can visit Kwok and Yim in Japan.

“[The Immigration Department] should send an officer to go to Japan with them and communicate with the Chinese embassy,” Wan said. “Currently, the Chinese embassy only gave [Kwok and Yim] a list of lawyers and nothing more. This was not helpful – they can find that online. I hope there will be some more substantial help.”

Wan said there were only volunteer lawyers and translators made available to assist the pair, and no official help had been provided: “An intervention by the government is very important, but unfortunately we have a minimal level of intervention by the Hong Kong and the Chinese governments.”

Alex Kwok Yim Man-wa
Activists protested outside the offices of the Immigration Department over the case of Alex Kwok and Yim Man-wa.

According to League of Social Democrats activist Bull Tsang, Kwok has been on hunger strike since Sunday in protest of his detention conditions, as he may only take a shower every two days. Tsang said Kwok was sent to a hospital for a check-up on Thursday morning,

Au Pak-kuen, vice-chair of the action committee, said that the duo can apply for bail, but they may have to stay in Japan under the supervision of Japanese authorities when on bail, since their visas have been cancelled.

After the meeting at Immigration, Kwok’s daughter said the department said it may try to arrange for an officer to go to Japan with the activists’ family members, “but we are not sure if it is certain,” she said.

Yim Man-wa
Yim Man-wa. File Photo:

Yim’s mother said she hoped the Immigration Department would handle the case similarly to a car crash involving celebrity Eric Tsang and the Police Director of Crime and Security Li Chi-hang, which occurred in Japan on Tuesday. The Immigration Department sent officers to Japan to provide assistance.

“I hope they can come back to Hong Kong as soon as possible,” Yim’s mother said.

According to Chinese records, 300,000 civilians and soldiers were killed after invading Japanese troops seized the city of Nanjing during the Sino-Japanese War. Some historians have disputed the figure, while some Japanese nationalists have denied any killings took place at all.

The controversial Yasukuni Shrine honours the war dead, including some of those who died in World War II. It has long been a source of contention between Japan and its Asian neighbours, who believe it glorifies the country’s militarist past.

After Tojo was sentenced to death for war crimes and hanged in 1948, he was among those enshrined at Yasukuni. His tomb is located at a shrine in Aichi province.

Kris Cheng is a Hong Kong journalist with an interest in local politics. His work has been featured in Washington Post, Public Radio International, Hong Kong Economic Times and others. He has a BSSc in Sociology from the Chinese University of Hong Kong. Kris is HKFP's Editorial Director.