Wednesday, January 20

In Hong Kong, activists take up their pens to support their detained comrades

Thousands of people have been arrested and taken into custody for offenses committed during massive and often violent protests to denounce China’s influence over the semi-autonomous region.

As detainees’ access to information is strictly controlled by the prison system, Hei vowed to keep them informed of the pro-democracy movement.

It’s a relationship between comrades in arms and we trust each other“, explains to AFP the young activist of 22 years who gave only her first name in order to preserve her anonymity.

We share the same pain. I hope these letters can build people’s confidence in the movement“.

To these long letters, often very personal, she attaches a press review made from summaries of newspaper headlines, messages on social networks and political memes found on online forums popular with demonstrators.

Regularly, she visits these detainees, bringing them books, sweets and basic necessities. Her dedication has earned her to be described by her friends as “half imprisoned“.

Of the more than 10,000 people arrested since the start of the demonstrations in June 2019, more than 2,300 are being prosecuted, according to the authorities.

Hundreds are in preventive detention and others, convicted, are serving their sentences.

Max, 43, spent four months in arson custody after throwing a book at a barricade set on fire by protesters.

He remembers these letters as “nutrients“to which he hastened to answer, as long as they were”cool and hot“.

When I was in jail it was like walking inside a tunnel I saw no light“, he says, giving only his first name.

– “Not alone” –

These letters were like candles guiding me to the exit“.

Compared to the two half-hour monthly visits allowed, they were “the kind of support you can hold onto“.

Without even a desk and chair to sit behind, he spent hours writing on his bed, consuming three pens a month.

Prison regulations allow prisoners who have been sentenced to send one letter per week free of charge. Those who wish to post more must earn money to pay for the stamps. The letters received are all opened and read.

Since his release, Max has continued to write to detainees and activists behind bars.

I do not think that these letters will help to expand the movement but I hope that it will help my comrades to be well and that they will find moral support there.“, he explains.

This initiative was supported by former lawyer Shiu Ka-Chun.

Since January, more than 5,000 letters have been sent and 500 correspondents put in touch.

That’s the beauty of movement. People find their way to support“, congratulates Mr. Shiu.

In addition to sending letters, he was involved in initiatives to help detainees send flowers to their loved ones and to collect educational material for younger detainees.

Hope more people keep writing to their friends in prison to let them know they are not alone“.

Jennifer, a 30-year-old office worker, considers the way the movement has been crushed to be “really sinisterShe also says she is frustrated by the way in which part of this dissent is now outlawed.

So far, she has written 48 letters to prisoners, a way to help deal with her own emotions while comforting correspondents.

Sometimes I cried while writing these letters“She says.” Physically I am free, but mentally we all live in a prison.



Pierre Assouline, journalist, writer, Goncourt academician and columnist for L'Express.By Pierre Assouline

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