This op-ed contains descriptions of sexual violence.
NGO Amnesty International released a report on Hong Kong last Friday, which detailed the excessive use of force by police while arresting protesters as well as torture in detention centres.
Cases of sexual assault at the hands of the authorities did not receive any attention in the report, but – a month ago – thousands of Hongkongers rallied in protest after allegations emerged of police misconduct during a strip-search of a female arrestee. And on Monday, Apple Daily reported that an arrested female protester was made to repeatedly squat naked in a court detention room by two female police officers, all in the sight of male officers.
Sexual violence in prisons around the world is commonplace and often not reported. Under these extreme conditions, women are particularly vulnerable.
Cases of gang rape, sexual torture and humiliation in mainland Chinese jails have been well recorded by human rights groups.
Amnesty has reported that sexual abuse has been practised against Uighur women in Xinjiang, nuns in Tibet, and Falun Gong practitioners, male and female, across the country.
According to the NGO International Society for Human Rights, female detainees have been sexually abused either by police or prison guards, such as being stripped naked and thrown into cells with male inmates.
Yin Liping testified before a US congressional committee in 2016, saying that after she was jailed for her religious beliefs, she and another woman were thrown in a cell with four to five male inmates who were told they could do whatever they wanted to them without consequences. Yin said she was beaten unconscious and gang-raped by the men.
Yin said she saw female prisoners who were sexually abused with broken broomsticks and bundles of toothbrushes. She said one of her fellow prisoners died in her arms.
Media watchdog Reporters Without Borders reported that blogger Yan Xiaoling died on February 11, 2008, from a haemorrhage in her uterus after being raped “by at least five or six persons.”
Tibetan women, some of whom were practising nuns, reported being stripped in front of male prisoners. Then policewomen poked them with an electric baton and pushed it into their vaginas.
“I felt humiliated in the beginning, but later I forgot everything but the terrible pain,” one of the nuns reported.
In some of the reported cases, sexual assaults are video recorded.
There have also been reports of pregnant women being subjected to harsh treatment, such as being forced to stand for 10 hours or simply being refused medical care, resulting in miscarriages.
Had Hong Kong’s extradition bill passed, which would have allowed China to extradite political dissidents under trumped-up charges. Women including the convenor of the pan-democrats Claudia Mo, political group Demosisto’s Agnes Chow, and singer-activist Denise Ho would be at risk.
Although Chief Executive Carrie Lam said that the government will fully withdraw the bill, she has still refused to admit defeat and continues to reiterate that the reason Hong Kong people are protesting is that she failed to explain the draft law properly.
This is her delusion and that of those like her. They simply are unable to comprehend that people don’t want what is trying to be sold to them. They believe they can legislate Hong Kong into a totalitarian state through shallow promises.
Oppression is not something that can be bribed—not with offers of economic benefits, impressive fireworks displays, and absolutely not by insincere leaders. People do not volunteer to give up their freedoms.
That is why totalitarian regimes are always characterised by both physical and mental threats against dissenters.
Thirteen weeks ago, I wrote that Hong Kong people should not be likened to children in need of parental guidance. They are adults who have the ability to make their own decisions. At the time, I only knew that the violence would escalate and the protests would continue for a while. I had no idea what would come. I knew my people were pragmatists.
I wrote: “[P]eople must choose how far their resolve will stand, opposed to the need of self-preservation.” Thinking without a doubt that they would choose the latter.
But we have just passed the 100-day mark of protests, and millions of people from all sectors of society have taken to the streets.
We’ve seen marches from senior citizens and strikes by secondary and university students. Male and female allies have gathered in support of the #MeToo movement against reports of sexual harassment at the hands of the police. People have walked up Lion Hill and held hands across the city. Protesters have thrown Molotov cocktails and started fires. Mooncakes have been baked, posters printed. The airport has been shut down, people have lost their jobs, the economy has suffered, and over 1,400 people have been arrested.
We are yet to reach the anniversary of the 2014 pro-democracy Umbrella Movement and National Day on October 1.
But it is obvious what Hong Kong people have chosen. Hongkongers will not be sold oppression nor accept subjugation – against women, against prisoners, against ourselves. It’s #metoo and all of us.