Hundreds took to the streets on Saturday to protest the deportation of an Indonesian migrant worker who wrote about Hong Kong’s pro-democracy demonstrations.
Around 500 people gathered at Edinburgh Place in Central on Saturday afternoon. Demonstrators criticised the Immigration Department’s decision to deport Yuli Riswati, an award-winning writer and domestic worker in Hong Kong.
— Hong Kong Free Press (@HongKongFP) December 7, 2019
Yuli was deported from Hong Kong on Monday following her month-long detention at the Castle Peak Bay Immigration Centre (CIC). Despite her employer’s protests and willingness to extend her contract, Yuli was accused of overstaying her visa.
Yuli’s ordeal began when she failed to renew her visa, which expired on July 27. On September 23, she was arrested at her residence for overstaying, though the Immigration Department later decided not to present evidence against her in court, according to a support group working on Yuli’s case. In November, she was detained on the grounds that she had nowhere to stay – a claim denied by the support group and her employer.
Phobsuk Gasing (Dang), chairperson of Hong Kong Federation of Domestic Workers Unions (FADWU), said earlier that she was surprised that the immigration authorities took a heavy-handed approach.
“I have never seen a case where Immigration will go to the homes and arrest workers based on this,” she said.
During Saturday’s rally, Yuli addressed the crowd in Cantonese during a long-distance phone call, saying that she was undergoing medical treatment but had felt better after seeing the amount of support from Hong Kong people.
Describing her experience at the CIC, Yuli said: “They treated us as if we were criminals, as if we had murdered someone… But many of the people there were just waiting for their visa renewal or other immigration-related matters, yet they were being treated inhumanely.”
Organisers call Yuli Riswati — back in Indonesia — over the phone and broadcast her words live. She said the Castle Peak Bay Immigration Centre has worse facilities and treatment than a real prison; for example, female detainees could be strip-searched by male doctors.#hongkong pic.twitter.com/KjWpKu8uON
— Hong Kong Free Press (@HongKongFP) December 7, 2019
Yuli, a Muslim, appeared to be shaken as she described the medical checkups at the CIC, where she was ordered to take off her clothes and was attended to by male doctors.
“I was shocked because I didn’t do anything wrong. Why must I be treated like this?” she said. “I talked to others [detained at the CIC] and they said they had the same experience. Why must we be seen and touched by men? I was terrified.”
Demonstrators chanted “Yuli, fight on” as she broke down and was unable to continue with her speech. She responded: “Fight on, Hongkongers!”
Yuli called on Hong Kong people to seek justice, not just for her, but also for others detained at the CIC.
Dennis Cheung, newly-elected Kwai Ching district councillor, said Yuli’s case showed the importance of a democratic government where officials are held to account and cannot wield their powers however they wish.
“We need to be able to truly monitor those who abuse their authority,” he said. “I hope that justice will be given to Yuli, and I hope that asylum seekers at the CIC will no longer be treated inhumanely.”
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.
Representatives from artist group “v-artivist” relayed a message from the organisers of the Taiwan Literature Award for Migrants: “We have long supported the efforts of migrant workers to make their voices heard through writing. Writing is not just an outlet for migrant workers to express their feelings, but it is also a weapon for denouncing the system and seeking justice.”
Organisers criticised Hong Kong’s migrant worker policies, including the two-week rule and the requirement they live with their employers. Other speakers also condemned pro-Beijing politicians and newspapers as stoking prejudice and racial discrimination.
During the rally, organisers displayed a makeshift exhibition of Yuli’s photography.
Demonstrators also wrote messages of support to Yuli. Some held signs that said “Thank you Yuli, you are my hero” and “Solidarity with Yuli.”
United Social Press cited rallygoers as saying that some migrant workers who gathered nearby for social purposes refused to take their flyers on the grounds that the Philippine and Indonesian consulates had told them not to participate in political activities in Hong Kong.
An Indonesian migrant worker, who has been working in Hong Kong for two years, told RTHK that she had learned that some migrant workers had been warned by their employers of the risks of being arrested and losing their work status in Hong Kong if they take part in protests.
HKFP has reached out to the Immigration Department for comment.
Meanwhile, another Indonesian journalist, Veby Indah, took out proceedings on Friday for a court order, demanding that the Commissioner of Police disclose the identity of the officer who blinded her by a projectile shot in the right eye in October.
Monday marks the six-month anniversary of Hong Kong’s largest protest movement since the million-strong march that took place on June 9.
The protests were triggered by a now-withdrawn extradition bill which would have enabled fugitive transfers to mainland China. The movement has since morphed into calls for democratic reform and accountability for the police handling of the crisis.
Hong Kong Free Press relies on direct reader support. Help safeguard independent journalism and press freedom as we invest more in freelancers, overtime, safety gear & insurance during this summer’s protests. 10 ways to support us.