In a leaderless movement, Hong Kong's student activists face local and international threats

Zoey Leung, vice president of Hong Kong Baptist University student union and an activist in the ongoing pro-democracy protests.

In August, Zoey Leung, 19, got her first threatening phone call. 

The anonymous caller accused her of being "a rioter who has ruined Hong Kong" and she was warned to "bear the consequences".

Ms Leung, vice president of Hong Kong Baptist University student union and active in the ongoing pro-democracy protests, said that other student leaders got the same phone call. 

Next, insulting leaflets written in abusive language that specifically targeted Ms Leung were posted all over her neighbourhood in Sai Kung district. The flyers used similar language to the phone call.

Ms Leung is worried about her and her family’s safety. It also ruined her family’s relationship with their neighbours, she said.

"I think I am an easy target," Ms Leung said. "There are people who would like the movement to stop because they think I am one of the leaders."

The threatening posters Ms. Leung has received, which warned her to "bear her own consequences".

Other student leaders have reported attacks. Davin Wong, the acting president of the University of Hong Kong Student Union, resigned from his post and fled the city after being attacked by masked men in Wan Chai at a bus stop on Aug. 30, he said in his resignation letter.  And in early September, the acting president of Hong Kong Polytechnic’s student union was struck in the face during an on-campus protest. 

"Those thugs are threatening, and they use violence to hit us and scold us, doing whatever they like," Ms. Leung said.

Ms Leung said she thinks she was followed by police in June, just after local university students held a press conference to announce a general strike. 

HKBU student union president, Keith Fong, who was arrested for alleged possession of an offensive weapon, said he thought he was also being followed before his first arrest.  Local media outlet FactWire, published a report showing CCTV footage of five plain clothes police officers heading directly for Mr Fong after he bought 10 laser pointers in Sham Shui Po.

Some Hongkongers abroad also say they have been threatened. A Hong Kong diploma student at Monash College in Melbourne, Australia, said that after  he took part in anti-extradition law demonstrations in Melbourne, he was threatened on social media. 

"A mainland Chinese classmate threatened to stab me if I do not stop what I am doing," Jackson, who does not want to reveal his full name for fear of retaliation, said.

But Australia, and other western countries, are where some of Hong Kong's student leaders are looking for help. Ms Leung, along with other student leaders, formed the Hong Kong Higher Institutions International Affairs Delegation in July to take Hong Kong issues to the free world through what they call citizen diplomacy.

Yet, on her way to Australia, Ms Leung said she was detained in the Australian airport for half an hour by border police, who questioned her about taking part in Hong Kong protests. They searched her bags and checked her phone, with concerns that she might carry weapons or evidence of her participating in riots.

"I was quite shocked because I thought Australia is a place where freedom and democracy are promoted," Ms Leung said. 

She was allowed to enter the country, and the delegation met with various political parties, including the Australian Greens, Liberal Party and Labour Party. They urged councillors to pass legislation to help Hong Kong and to talk with Hong Kong students overseas.

The student delegation has also visited Taiwan, the United Kingdom and the United States and given a speech at the United Nations to mobilise support for the protection of human rights. 

In the United States, the US Congress is considering making a statement in favor of Hong Kong pro-democracy protestors. The Hong Kong Human Rights and Democracy Act of 2019, which has received congressional support, could be passed this year. 

"It may be the first time the US government links human rights abuses in Hong Kong to its policy towards Hong Kong by imposing sanctions on selective people in Hong Kong and China," said Ma Ngok, a political scientist and associate professor in government and public administration at the Chinese University of Hong Kong.

Human rights group Amnesty International released a report in September that  documents a number of examples of human rights violations in Hong Kong, including delayed medical treatment for injured protests, denial of legal advice following arrests, and alleged use of excessive force by the police. 

"The system allows selective prosecution. When violence is used by pro-government gangs and maybe suspected triad members, very few of them are being arrested. Some are even protected by the police," Prof. Ma said.

Professor Benny Tai, a legal scholar in Hong Kong University and one of the leaders of the Umbrella Movement.

The Hong Kong government gave the green light to frontline police, ordering them to stop the violence and maintain social order at all costs, said Benny Tai Yiu-ting, a legal scholar and democracy activist at Hong Kong University.

"If we want to protect our homeland, it is a must for everyone to show their enthusiasm and come out to the streets. We should be the generation who are in power and in charge," Ms Leung said.

《The Young Reporter》

The Young Reporter (TYR) is an English news publication produced by international journalism students at Hong Kong Baptist University. It started as a printed magazine in 1969. Today, TYR is produced across different platforms.

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