Harassment of Hong Kong activists ‘never stops,’ even for those now living in Canada

Disturbing and unacceptible:

Alison Lai’s grandfather arrived as a refugee in Hong Kong seven decades ago, trading the chaos of 1950s China for the safety of what was then a British colony.

In 2020, China made a refugee of Ms. Lai, too.

The pro-democracy activist fled Hong Kong, the city of her birth, for Canada last year as Beijing tightened its grip over the territory it acquired from Britain in 1997. She was part of an exodus that has only expanded since China enacted a draconian national security law to silence critics in the city it had once promised would be allowed to retain Western-style civil liberties.

Ms. Lai, 32, is one of thousands of Hong Kongers looking to build a new life in Canada. Like her, some have been granted asylum as political refugees. Others are applying for immigration programs designed to attract well-educated foreigners.

In March, 2020, Ms. Lai’s life was turned upside down in a matter of hours after a friend warned that the Hong Kong police were looking for her. A veteran of the protests that rocked the city when citizens demanded accountability from the Beijing-backed government, she had been tear-gassed, beaten with batons and followed for days by police.

Her friends were being arrested, and it was time for her to leave. By the next day, she was on a flight out of Hong Kong.

She headed for Canada, claiming asylum upon arrival – just days before Canadian authorities closed the border as a pandemic measure.

It took a year for the government to officially recognize her under the United Nations Convention relating to the Status of Refugees: someone who cannot return to their home “due to a well-founded fear of persecution based on race, religion, political opinion” or other factors.

She has begun building a life in Calgary. Educated as a journalist, she now works in retail. She and other Hong Kong activists have also founded a non-profit organization, the Soteria Humanitarian Institute, to help resettle Hong Kongers, Tibetans and Uyghurs fleeing persecution in China. In Greek mythology, Soteria is the goddess of safety and preservation from harm.

But as with many Hong Kong activists, a fresh start in Canada does not mean an end to harassment and attacks from the Chinese Communist Party and its proxies.

Each day, Ms. Lai is subjected to a torrent of abuse when she opens up Soteria’s social-media accounts.

She is the first Hong Kong refugee to allow The Globe and Mail to publish their name and city of residence, hoping to draw attention to what is happening to critics of China’s authoritarian government who now live in Canada.

As the spokesperson for the group, Ms. Lai is the main target of the anonymous harassers. She receives dozens of missives daily full of foul words and misogynistic attacks. She has been sent video clips of beheadings. “You are such a shame for a Hong Konger. … Be careful you don’t die in an accident,” one recent message said.

They have found out where she works and know her daily routine. They often threaten to pay her a visit.

Her tormentors even know when she has taken part in a protest outside the Chinese consulate in Calgary. This summer, while protesting the 2022 Beijing Winter Olympics, Ms. Lai saw men with telephoto lenses taking pictures of the rally participants from the balconies of neighbouring buildings.

Soon after, the harassment referred to her participation in the demonstration. “Why don’t you go back to Hong Kong and protest the Winter Olympics there?” one said.

Ms. Lai’s friends have taken the matter to the RCMP and the Calgary police. Last year, Ottawa urged anyone being targeted in such a manner to speak to law enforcement.

Martin Seto, a Calgarian with the New Hong Kong Cultural Club, which also supports asylum seekers, said he spoke to the RCMP’s Integrated National Security Enforcement Team, but they told him it’s difficult, if not impossible, to trace harassment online – particularly if it’s coming from another country.

The RCMP did not respond to a request for comment.

Cherie Wong, the executive director of Alliance Canada Hong Kong, an umbrella group for Hong Kong pro-democracy activists in Canada, said they and their supporters are particular targets for intimidation. “Harassments of dissidents in the diaspora never stops,” she said. “The Chinese Communist Party in Beijing has identified these folks as clearly disobeying the interests of the Hong Kong and Chinese governments.”

Ms. Lai said she refuses to give in to the harassers. “They sound like Chinese uncles,” she said, using a term for older men.

Nevertheless, the stress of starting over about 11,000 kilometres from home sometimes weighs heavily with her. She left behind a well-paying job – and parents who as recently as this spring received a visit from Hong Kong police officers looking for her.

On rare occasions, the enormity of what she has taken on is too much to bear.

“Last winter – it was the first winter in Calgary. I was so cold after I took a shower. And I couldn’t stop crying,” Ms. Lai recalled.

If she had not chosen this life, she could still be enjoying warm weather in Hong Kong, taking afternoon tea or shopping.

But she remains committed to her path and motivated by two goals: supporting other exiles from China and telling the story of what the Chinese Communist Party has done to her people. “When you find something wrong, it is a citizen’s responsibility to tell the government they are wrong.”

Source: https://www.theglobeandmail.com/politics/article-harassment-of-hong-kong-activists-never-stops-even-for-those-now/?utm_medium=Referrer:+Social+Network+/+Media&utm_campaign=Shared+Web+Article+Links

‘Most Visible Jews’ Fear Being Targets as Anti-Semitism Rises

Not surprising but no less reprehensible. Likely same phenomenon with respect to the most visible Muslims:

A rabbinical student was walking down a quiet street in Brooklyn last winter, chatting on the phone with his father when three men jumped him from behind. They punched his head, knocking him to the ground before fleeing down the block.

When police officers arrested three suspects later that night, the student, a Hasidic man who asked to be identified by his first name, Mendel, learned that another Hasidic Jew had been attacked on the same block in Crown Heights just minutes before he was. Video of the earlier attack showed three men knocking a man to the ground before kicking and punching him.

The victims in both attacks were “very visibly Jewish,” said Mendel, 23, who has a beard and dresses in the kind of dark suit and hat traditionally worn by Hasidic men. That, he said, made them easier targets.

“You could ask everyone if they’re Jewish,” he continued, “or you could just go after people who you don’t have to ask any questions about because you can just see that they dress like they’re Jewish.”

Anxiety is increasing in Jewish communities around the United States, fueled in part by deadly attacks on synagogues in Poway, Calif., last April and in Pittsburgh in 2018. Anti-Semitic violence in the New York area has been more frequent lately than at any time in recent memory, with three people killed in a shooting at a kosher supermarket in Jersey City, N.J., and five injured in a knife attack at a rabbi’s home in Monsey, N.Y.

But the rise of anti-Semitism has affected different parts of the Jewish community differently. Although synagogues of all denominations have been subjected to threats or vandalism, community leaders say the risk of street violence is greater for Orthodox Jews who wear religious clothing like yarmulkes; black suits and hats; and wigs or other hair coverings in their daily lives.

“We know there are over one million Jews in New York City alone, and a couple hundred thousand of those are Orthodox,” said Jonathan Greenblatt, the chief executive of the Anti-Defamation League, using a term that encompasses Modern Orthodox as well as Hasidic Jews. “They are being singled out in disproportionate numbers to their percentage of the population.”

Jewish people were the victims in more than half of the 428 hate crimes in New York City last year, with many of the crimes committed in heavily Orthodox neighborhoods, according to the Police Department. Community leaders said most of the victims in the Monsey and Jersey City attacks were Orthodox.

The tempo of such incidents increased as 2019 ended and the new year began, with 43 across New York State from Dec. 1 to Jan. 6, according to the Anti-Defamation League.

No organization tracks the number of attacks on Orthodox Jews, said Jennifer Packer, a spokeswoman for the Orthodox Union Advocacy Center. But Jewish leaders said the heightened risk to the Orthodox was clear in the pattern of incidents.

Nathan J. Diament, the executive director for public policy at the Union of Orthodox Jewish Congregations of America, said in testimony to Congress last month that “the most visible Jews,” including those who wear hats, yarmulkes, wigs or wear long beards or sidelocks, “have been subject most to these physical and verbal assaults.”

“Anxiety about this new reality is present in Orthodox Jewish communities in all of your districts and across the entire country,” Mr. Diament testified.

Many of the incidents in New York have happened in sections of Brooklyn that have been popular with generations of Hasidic families, like Crown Heights and Williamsburg. Jewish pedestrians in the neighborhoods have been assaulted or harassed, women have had hair coverings ripped from their heads and synagogues have been vandalized.

Community leaders said that the violence reminded them of anti-Semitic acts in Europe, where in recent years Jews have been attacked by followers of the far right in Germany and killed by jihadists at places like the Jewish museum in Belgium.

“We thought the things that happen in Europe would never happen in the United States and definitely not in New York City,” said Rabbi David Niederman, the president of United Jewish Organizations of Williamsburg and North Brooklyn. One of those killed in Jersey City, Moshe Deutsch, volunteered for his organization. “But unfortunately, we were in dreamland.”

Most of the anti-Semitic incidents in New York have not been perpetrated by jihadists or far-right extremists, but by young African-American men, Mr. Greenblatt said. Local leaders said that phenomenon grows out of tension in areas where longstanding African-American and Jewish communities have been squeezed by gentrification.

“You have this mixture of African-Americans and Hasidic people, and then you have gentrification,” said Gil Monrose, an African-American pastor at Mt. Zion Church of God 7th Day who lives in Crown Heights. “All of this is colliding in Crown Heights and it leads to young people committing crimes where they live.”

“Sometimes people want to blame different groups for the fact that they are being priced out of the neighborhood, but the Jewish community is not to blame for that because the Jewish community is being priced out too,” he said. “That’s why they went to Jersey City.”

In November, the Anti-Defamation League expanded an anti-bias education program it started in Brooklyn in 2018 with a goal of bringing it to 40 schools. Eric L. Adams, the Brooklyn borough president, praised the program when the expansion was announced.

“Since extremist, hate-filled rhetoric has become awakened and stoked across this country — particularly in Crown Heights right here in Brooklyn — this unacceptable behavior is increasingly becoming the norm for some,” Mr. Adams said in a statement.

The rise in anti-Semitic attacks has been not limited to Brooklyn.

Jeff Katz, the treasurer of the Stanton Street Shul, a small Orthodox synagogue on the Lower East Side of Manhattan, said that he was riding the subway one day last fall when another passenger erupted at him.

“He was saying, ‘Why aren’t you looking at me?’” said Mr. Katz, who wears a yarmulke. “And I thought, ‘We’re on the subway, I don’t want any part of this. Then he started saying, ‘What? Do you think you’re superior, Jew boy?’”

Mr. Katz said that a friend who also wears a yarmulke had been slapped by a stranger as he was walking on Delancey Street in Manhattan a few weeks later, during Hanukkah.

“A lot of these incidents don’t get reported,” Mr. Katz said. “I’m going to call the police and say someone bothered me in the subway? What are the police going to do?”

That sentiment is common, Rabbi Niederman said. But his organization urges victims of bias crimes to file police reports as soon as possible.

“The first thing we tell people when there is an incident is don’t hide it under the rug,” he said.

Attorney General William P. Barr came to Brooklyn last month to announce federal hate-crime charges against a woman whose case has helped stoke criticism of recent bail reform laws.

The woman, Tiffany Harris, was arrested on suspicion of slapping three Orthodox women in Crown Heights in December. After being released without bail, she was arrested the next day in connection with another assault.

Mendel, who studies at the World Headquarters of the Chabad-Lubavitch Hasidic movement on Eastern Parkway in Brooklyn, said that almost everyone in Crown Heights seemed to know someone who had been harassed or attacked on the street. But he said few of those incidents were reported.

He praised the response of the Police Department, which arrested the three suspects quickly in his case last January. But he expressed frustration at the comparatively slower pace of the district attorney’s office. The suspects have yet to go to trial, according to court records.

Crown Heights has been a center of Hasidic life in New York since the 1920s, and Mendel and others in the area said that it remained so despite gentrification and the increasing prevalence of anti-Semitic incidents.

“People are concerned,” Mendel said during an interview at a bagel shop crowded with Hasidic families at midday. “I do look around when I go out, I don’t go out too late at night. But it is a beautiful community. I don’t think this anti-Semitism should mar or put a stain on the beautiful community that Crown Heights is.”