An Indonesian migrant worker who wrote about Hong Kong’s pro-democracy protests has been detained for 28 days and threatened with deportation by immigration authorities.

Update: Indonesian woman who covered Hong Kong protests as a citizen journalist deported over visa issue

Yuli Riswati, an award-winning writer and domestic worker in Hong Kong, has been detained at the Castle Peak Bay Immigration Centre since November 4, according to a group working on her case. Yuli has said she felt unwell in detention and was threatened with having her visa application withdrawn by immigration authoritiesYuli

Yuli Riswati
Yuli Riswati speaking after she was awarded at the Taiwan Literature Award for Migrants. Photo: Taiwan Literature Award for Migrants.

“What Yuli faced is an unusual practice of the Immigration Department and probably unlawful. It is clearly a political suppression against Yuli for her writing, for her speaking up for the Hong Kong protesters,” said Fish Ip, regional coordinator for International Domestic Workers Federation (IDWF).

Yuli was arrested at her residence on September 23 for overstaying her work visa, though the Immigration Department later decided not to present evidence against her in court, according to the group. She was then detained on the grounds she had nowhere to stay – a claim denied by the support group and her employer.

Yuli failed to renew her visa, which expired on July 27. However, she had a valid two-year employment contract which started this January. Phobsuk Gasing (Dang), chairperson of Hong Kong Federation of Domestic Workers Unions (FADWU), said that she was surprised that immigration authorities took a heavy-handed approach.

“Usually when it is found that the worker’s visa is expired, as long as there is still a contract, the employer confirms the hiring of the worker and explain in a letter to the Immigration Department why they forgot to extend the visa, and Immigration always allow the workers to get their visa renewed without any hassle,” she said.

immigration tower wanchai
Immigration Tower. File photo: HKFP/Ellie Ng.

“I have never seen a case that Immigration will go to the homes and arrest workers based on this.”

Her employer has already asked the Immigration Department to extend Yuli’s visa and said they will continue hiring her, the support group added.

HKFP has reached out to the Immigration Department for comment.

Yuli worked in Hong Kong for 10 years, during which time she wrote for Hong Kong-based Indonesian newspaper Suara, as well as online media outlet Migran Pos. Last year, she was selected as a finalist at the Taiwan Literature Award for Migrants for her reporting on sexual violence and trauma experienced by Indonesian migrant workers.

Yuli has also reported on Hong Kong’s 26 weeks of pro-democracy protests, according to the support group.

castle peak bay immigration centre
Castle Peak Bay Immigration Centre. Photo: GovHK.

On November 11, the Immigration Department issued a removal order against Yuli, and informed her on November 28 that her appeal against it failed. Yuli also said she tried to make a visa application during detention but an officer surnamed Cheng threatened to withdraw it.

“The officer said if I don’t want to be detained at [the Immigration Centre], I have to withdraw the visa and then I can go back to Indonesia. But I don’t want to withdraw my visa application. I confronted with the immigration officer for the whole morning until I got too cold and felt sick,” Yuli said, according to the support group.

“In the end, I wrote I withdraw my visa because I am being detained for too long and don’t know when I can go back. Again the officer said I cannot write that because the lawyer will give them trouble. In the end, against my will, I have to write I withdraw the visa, and I will go back to Indonesia to apply for a visa again,” she added.

The group said Yuli displayed flu-like symptoms and vomited in detention. Her lawyers also tried to get her released from detention but their request was denied.

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Holmes Chan is a reporter at Hong Kong Free Press. He covers local news with a focus on law, politics, and social movements. He studied law and literature at the University of Hong Kong.