Hong Kong: For those who stay, the fight is on as threats lurk

Since he was 19, Paul Lam has been joining the annual July 1 march, which marks Hong Kong’s handover from Britain to China in 1997. When Lam first participated in 2003, he and a throng of half a million demonstrators succeeded in fending off a security bill, which was then under consideration.

Last Wednesday, the 23rd anniversary of the event, however, was different. As China’s national security law took effect in the former British colony, the yearly march was banned for the first time.

Lam, now 36, had a choice: Face the threat of possible arrest or march. Alongside tens of thousands of others, Lam took to the streets and made a stand.

“Although we’re being silenced, I still need to do my bit to voice out against this dictatorship,” Lam, an audio-visual designer, told Al Jazeera as he detoured into a side street near a football stadium to avoid a confrontation with police.

“My parents’ generation has all but steered clear of politics. People in my generation can’t afford to do that any longer.”

‘On borrowed time’

Long called “a borrowed place on borrowed time,” Hong Kong saw mass migration after the 1989 Tiananmen Square massacre in China and in the lead-up to Communist China’s takeover in 1997.

This time, however, the choice for many is to fight rather than take flight.

That is because the post-colonial generations see Hong Kong as their homeland, where they are a people bound by the values of freedoms, fair play and the rule of law, rather than Chinese ethnicity.

A city built by refugees who had fled wars and political upheavals in mainland China, Hong Kong counts nearly 60 percent of its population that come from elsewhere.

Ever since she was a teenager in her native Shanghai, Minnie Li, 35, was drawn to the idea of freedom like a moth to candlelight.

It was her time as a doctoral student in Hong Kong that brought her face to face with the fear she had to conquer in order to feel truly free.

In 2014, during the mass pro-democracy Umbrella Movement sit-in, Li remembered hesitating for a half-hour before posting on Facebook about the protests.

Not a permanent resident of the city back then, Li risked criminal punishment meted out in mainland China for anyone who dared speak out.


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