“Apple Daily, Jimmy Lai’s arrest is like Nazi Germany. – Simon Cheng, former UK Embassy in #HongKong employee, exiled tortured political prisoner by the Chinese Communist Party, talks about how his Christian faith helped him survive the imprisonment, the aftermath of National Security Law in Hong Kong and what’s next for pro-democracy movement. 

  • I’m a Christian, faith is very important, during my tortures by the CCP I kept praying asking God to keep giving me strength
  • What’s happening in Hong Kong reminds me of Nazi Germany; it’s also taking place in Poland – expansion of Chinese capital and influence, slowly robbing Poland of it’s freedoms.
  • Now that I’m in UK I have an obligation to keep on fighting and speaking for those who can not speak in Hong Kong.
  • We were very surprised and grateful to Christians in Hong Kong for supporting the pro-democracy movement, despite current regime giving them many benefits and privileges.
  • The CCP is present in Poland in Telecommunications, Schools, Central and local government, Banking, Law Enforcement, Business and Corporate, Infrastructure etc.

IB: How did the life and situation in Hong Kong change as a result of this law?

SC: Well, in Hong Kong, absolutely, in case of this sweeping National Security Law, even the process is not legitimate because it circumvented and even superseded the legislatures in Hong Kong. They omit and don’t listen to the voice of the local people. They enforce this kind of like the draconian law through the National People’s Congress, but de facto it’s a rubber stamp, they never tried to object and oppose any kind of law and act proposed by the government. Never. When they implement this law in Hong Kong, there is no means of freedom of speech and freedom of assembly.

You can just simply wave the flag or chant a slogan or even write an online statement on social media and be detained. You could be arrested, you could be charged and accused of any reason that’s mentioned of National Security Law. That’s why I feel in Hong Kong there is no freedom at all now. And even for media, it is it becoming harder and harder to find anyone within Hong Kong to speak out. It’s because they’re a little bit afraid.

That’s why I need to take this course, because I keep receiving the media interviews, and I keep criticizing the CCP. That’s why I’m now on the wanted list. So I feel that the people feel very paranoid and nervous and depressed, because the most depressing thing is when the people experience limited freedom, but now they’re taking the freedom bit by bit.

People are very unhappy with that. And then, they try it that way: if they can benefit from this, the economic system, they try to get richer sooner, so they can leave their hometown sooner. However, you can still see many people, they’re very loyal to their hometown. They still wanted to stay, because they think they belong here. So that’s why they would just insist until the last minute.

A few days ago, hundreds of policemen and they raid the pro-democracy media “Apple Daily” office building. It makes me think of Nazi Germany. They raided any media who safeguarded the freedom of the press and who criticized the regime. So horrible.

And they raided and searched this office building for eight hours, using several hundred police force. They claimed that they sent so many policemen to do it, was because they didn’t want to disturb the journalists so that they could keep doing their work.

They just simply lie about it shamelessly because several hundred policemen raided the office and spend hours, almost one day, one working day on it. And you can see whom they arrested. The management board team of the Apple Daily and one of the prominent tycoons of media, Jimmy Lai, have been arrested. Also, one of the famous activist Agnes Chow and several of my friends have been arrested.

They would use any means and legal weapons to attack our political dissidents and our lawyers, allies, and friends who love freedom and democracy. They wanted to send this kind of a chilling effect to most of the mass public in Hong Kong so that they would not try to go on the street anymore, not try to criticize the government anymore. And then they would detain us for any reason. So I couldn’t find an excuse for saying that there are two systems any more or that Hong Kong politically has any difference with mainland China.

So that’s kind of thing’s now happening in Hong Kong. That’s why it’s so meaningful, that the activists in exile now need to speak up for them [Hongkongers] because they now have no freedom to speak anymore. Or if they speak, they need to be prepared that the next minute the police would knock at their door. That is why we keep speaking out. Because we can’t, when we got the asylum overseas, we would be just cooling down and trying to go back to normal. If so, I would feel so sorry for my fellowmen. So I just keep taking that course. Even now I’ve been, you know, put on the wanted list and I have been harassed by some of the agents overseas from China.

IB: Please tell us, what’s your personal situation right now following the National Security Law and what happened with Jimmy? 

SC: After the National Security Law, I am still keeping the democracy movement alive and I try to stay active. I keep receiving media interviews. And also I set up several organizations, including Haven Assistance, which is the information sharing platform, to share the asylum policies among different countries for rescuing my fellowmen and not to be persecuted by the authorities back in our hometown, in Hong Kong. The secret police now has crossed the border to our hometown in Hong Kong. Possibly this kind of idea and what I have been doing overseas has been pissing Beijing off.

Simon Cheng addresses a crowd protesting outside the Chinese embassy in London on Sunday. Photo: Stuart Lau

That’s why now the Hong Kong police force, the newly established National Security Department attached to the Hong Kong police force, issued a warrant for me. And I’ve been put on the warrant list now. So they’ve accuse me of instigating the secession of China. This kind of thing, of course, as usual, is based on the very groundless accusation. I don’t think that is true and fair to judge me and to say I’m secessionist because I never, ever said I work for the independence of Hong Kong, of course.

But I do criticize the regime, the CCP because it’s inhumane to the people. So that’s why I’m their target. And that is proof that after the National Security Law, they would suppress the dissidents. So now, I’m a political fugitive. And even before a few days of this called the arrest warrant and the issue from the state media CCTV, I felt I’ve been followed. And one of the very prominent activists in exile Ray Wong, from Germany, he came to London to meet me. We already felt we have been followed.

And even exactly the date when I just finished a protest outside of the Chinese embassy in London, and when I finished the meal with my friends around there, I just realized that I got a message from my friends on the news saying I was put on the wanted list. And afterward, I already felt that a group of suspicious people followed me. I felt I’ve been monitored, tailed, even social media tapped etc. Even yesterday I receive a threat letter, with the title saying that the Chinese agent is coming to get me back. So they’re trying to frighten me with these letters.

So this is a kind of a new situation, especially after the National Security Law. I feel that they’re quite determined to execute this law. You can see that this kind of law would be beyond their jurisdiction. And to charge almost everyone, not just Hong Kong citizens. If you can see one of the citizens on the wanted list is even American citizens. And so this kind of thing, I think, is not a matter of only Hong Kong people, but even you, the audience, who listen to this kind of the program.

IB: What drives you, why you are still fighting for free Hong Kong. Is it not better to just lead a normal life somewhere safe, have a career abroad and a family, why do you take the risk?

SC: It’s because my people also are suffering. It’s because this thing never ends. And so we wanted to fight for democracy. It’s because now we’re free and we have more duty to help my fellow humans to push for pro-democracy movement forward. Because they have no chance now. That’s my belief, and that’s why I need to cut ties with my family and continue. The CCP put me into that way because they are people who feel cannot tolerate any freedom which could be suppressed and deprived. So I respect it. I’ve been touched and I’ve been asked and that’s like a call for me to keep on fighting.

IB: What gave you strength when you were tortured by the Communists, by the CCP regime after you’ve been arrested to not give up? Is there a spiritual source that was giving you the strength and the courage to keep fighting?

SC: Faith is a very important force for me. Especially at that time, during the detention. They put me into the personal cell, which is solitary confinement. I was not allowed to communicate with anyone, including inmates. So gradually this kind of isolation drives you mad. So I needed to always talk with myself. I’m a Christian. So faith is important. And so I kept praying and keep talking with God and saying: “please give me power and make me feel conscious, bring me back the mentality to keep fighting, to maintain rational and to think about the next day or next day”. How could I deal with this kind of torture and interrogation? It’s quite painful. Only faith, strong faith in us, even if we face this predicament and difficulties, can help you get through.

So Christianity and even the faith is so important. If we can get this spirit, we need to be ideal. It’s not just willing to take the saying that now China, now that the CCP is getting more and more powerful, so we need to be kowtowing to them. No, remember, Christians, thousands of years ago, they were also persecuted by Rome, because of their faith. And now we can see Christianity is the major force to influence the values and even culture of humankind. So that’s why I always encourage that Poland needs to stand up to the principles and the values they believe. And that is the kind of values also matching with Christianity.

IB: How did the Christians in Hong Kong behave during this whole long term protest? 

SC: Actually, from the traditional politics of Hong Kong-based on the colonial system, they would have, several privileges for the public recognition of well-established churches like in the U.K., like the Church of England, etc. They can automatically have a seat in the House of Lords, etc. And it would be similar in Hong Kong. Some very well established bishops or priests can have the votes to vote for the chief executive, etc. They have some kind of privilege. So most people would think that Christians would be more conservative [not get involved] because they can be protected by this undemocratic system.

However, we were quite surprised and people feel very grateful to most Christian because they quite support the protest. They even want to change this system, even though the system wants a bit more privilege for them. It’s because Christians have more moral duty to fight with social injustice. They see police brutality and then, they see that this undemocratic system violates and abuses human rights. So they stand up? And you could see the proof for this last year, in the anti-extradition protest. You could see lots of people chanting slogans about Christianity and also they sang Christian religious songs.

These things are so important because people are getting depressed, especially those on the front lines. They’re getting depressed and they feel very nervous and paranoid. They need to be a bit more relaxed. They need to get support mentally. So that’s why Christians just went on the street and gave them mental support and even gave faith to those protesters to keep going on. Oh, that is so important. And more importantly, you can see there are lots of churches that provide the sanctuary to the protesters. If the protesters are chased by the police, the church will open the door and let the protesters come to have a sanctuary, to hide for a while.

This is what the people in Hong Kong are so thankful for to the churches. They save the next generation of Hong Kong. Churches in Hong Kong, they’re very rich, very wealthy. At that time, they could be conservative [not get involved]. But at this critical moment, they stand with the Hong Kong people. So we’re very grateful because they could be in their best interest groups. They could be the “elite” and stand with the government. But no, they stand up for their principles and stood with the people.

IB: Pastor Paweł Chojecki [of the New Covenant Church in Lublin] have published a letter to our president, Polish President Andrew Duda, calling him to condemn the CCP and make a clear declaration of support for Hongkongers. He hasn’t done anything along those lines, haven’t condemned the regime or haven’t expressed clear support of the side of Hong Kong. How does that make you feel that you haven’t received the support from our president? And what would you say to him?

SC: Well, I do hope that your honorable country’s president could stand with Hong Kong people and stand with human rights because we’re all human, we’re all the same. And actually, Poland will be facing a similar situation, just like Hong Kong. But at this moment, you could be seduced by Chinese capitals and investment because you would focus on the short term benefits and interests to getting to be richer and to boost your own country’s economy for the short term. But the hidden cause would be very massive and huge.

Remember that this kind of COVID-19, the pandemic has originated from China, and it caused the economy around the world massively. And even in the UK, they’re facing the most serious recession for the past three hundred years, based on the estimation by the Bank of England. So it would be the same for Poland. What I heard is that it’s still a very serious situation now and it’s harming the economy. We do need to remember, why we need to be worried about the Chinese investment.

Previously, we always thought that’s because we even can get some benefit from it. But now, you can see that it’s all you need to pay back to China because of the virus, and even more than that, your people fought for democracy. And now, fortunately, and finally established the presidential democracy at the end of the day. And you can’t just turn it back to the communist rule. It just can’t be affected by the new expanding totalitarian regime. It could be very dangerous. So I do hope that the president could wake up and the people can give much more pressure to wake up and to change this government, to change their policy.

IB: What would you say to Poles to wake them up to this process that the communists are using to slowly, gradually take away our freedoms?

SC: The way Hong Kong has been treated with, would be the same to Poland because from what I heard and saw, Poland has been multidimensionaly affected by the CCP, including telecommunication and 5G networks, schools, infrastructures, etc. It has been gradually influenced by Chinese capital. But you need to think twice because, by every money spent by China in Poland, they have their political agenda.

It means that they would exert their political influence with this money. Although they just pretend that business in business and politics is politics. But based on the ideology of CCP… never. All the things are about politics. That’s why they are being isolated. And even in the UK after the pandemic, after the National Security Law, they got Huawei out and they kept getting more worry about any Chinese investment in the UK or all around the world.

So I do hope that Poland could wake up. Because Poland has a full history of being suppressed by the totalitarian regime. Poland should be even more cautious because your guys, your fellowmen had experience why and how the suffering of this regime will be.

IB: Simon, thank you so much for speaking with us today, despite the obvious risks involved. We will be praying for strength for you and other brave people of Hong Kong in their fight against the murderous regime. And we are also waiting for the day when not just Hong Kong, but also mainland China will become free of the CCP.

SC: Yes, definitely. We still keep that faith and we can work and fight together for it. Thank you so much.

Polish version

cooperation: Eunika Chojecka, Hanna Jazgarska