Sunday, 2 March 2014

Marching for Press Freedom

The banner "They can't kill us all" at the entrance to the Legislative Council
This afternoon over 10,000 people gathered at the Central Government Offices at Tamar to condemn the violent attack on former Ming Pao editor Kevin Lau Chun-to, who is gradually recovering in hospital.

March organizers asked participants to dress in black and the vast majority complied with a few holding signs condemning violence, calling for freedom of the press and freedom from fear.

We missed the rally that happened at noon, but after pinning a blue ribbon on our shirts to represent press freedom, we followed the garden path towards the harbour that led to the other side of "the arch" where the Legislative Council meetings are held.

Thousands of marchers filing into the area dressed in black
Interestingly security allowed us in, but as taxpayers we do have a right to go in! The strange part about this space, a large entrance area, is that it seems designed so that accoustics there would be horrible.

We couldn't hear what the speakers were saying, many of them soft spoken which seemed strange considering the march was about channeling people's anger and shock from Wednesday's incident. A nearby generator conspired against us hearing too.

Nevertheless, most of what the speakers said was how important it was to maintain press freedom, that it is troubling to see Hong Kong like this.

There was a giant white banner with the words "They can't kill us all" and signatures all over it. The phrase has become a rallying cry for journalists in the city, of their duty to report the truth and not be afraid.

The organizers also broadcast Lau's message, his first words spoken publicly since two men attacked him with choppers.

"A Chinese couplet on a campus poster from my days at the Hong Kong University came to mind, when I was lying on bed after the operations. It read, 'A pen in hand, off my chest to tell the truth. For freedom is without fear or favour'.

Two speakers thank the crowd for coming to the march
"The news media will only be truly inspiring when its practitioners persist in upholding truth and justice. And only those without fear or favour can truly be free," he said.

"Violence is meant to intimidate. If we are frightened into submission, we will lose our freedom," he continued. "We journalists must stand fearless. We must insist that justice be served. We must strive to tell the truth without fear or favour. Freedom is not given. Freedom is not free. We all have to earn and guard it."

Finally the march set off and we inched our way out of the Tamar area and onto Connaught Road where we were stopped periodically by police as marchers went up the escalator. It was a tactic to slow things down and hope people would get frustrated and leave (possibly so that they could report lower numbers).

But what's interesting is that people counting the number of protestors should have a pretty accurate tally because the people could be counted going up the escalator in batches.

Many participants hold signs ahead of the march
After crossing the overpass we had to line up again to go down another set of escalators. Such a bizarre protest march path, but that's how it was designed. Perhaps another reason to blame former chief executive Donald Tsang Yam-kuen?

In any event we the marched along Queensway, opposite Pacific Place towards the Police Headquarters on Arsenal Street. Again we were stopped periodically by cars trying to cross our path and so we patiently waited.

When we finally arrived -- just over two hours later, organizers passed out small strips of blue ribbon with double-sided tape to stick onto banners representing our desire for press freedom.

After a trip to the public washroom nearby, we walked back towards Admiralty and saw tons of people still marching, and so the turnout was very impressive.

It was heartening to see people of all ages, young and old taking part. The university-aged students were particularly active thanks to social media.

Still thousands of people yet to reach Police Headquarters
This march is not just for journalists who are trying to protect their livelihood. This is about the future of Hong Kong. When the city loses freedom of the press then everyone is not getting accurate information, from financial to social issues. And when that happens how can anyone trust what news comes from Hong Kong?

Why would anyone want to invest in a city that does not tell the truth?

As Lau says freedom is not a given, but must be earned.

We did our duty today and hope Beijing is listening. We are not afraid to defend our core values.

No comments:

Post a Comment