Source: The Guardian (9/27/20)
‘Back where we were’: history repeats for Hong Kong’s freedom swimmers
They risked their lives in search of liberty in the British colony – now the system they were desperate to escape is at the door
By Verna Yu in Hong Kong
They came one by one, dragging themselves from the sea on to the shores of Hong Kong over oyster beds, their bodies bleeding. Some had swum for miles, braving choppy, treacherous seas, tied together by ropes. Others made the desperate journey in makeshift boats.
They were known as freedom swimmers – hundreds of thousands of young men and women who fled mainland China and risked their lives in search of freedom in the British colony amid the oppressive political movements in China between 1950 and 1980, which targeted “class enemies”.
Those who survived to tell their tales were the lucky ones. Many more never made it. Some were shot dead by border guards, or arrested and sent to labour camps. Others drowned or were attacked by sharks. Some were executed – the act of defection was considered treason.
The ones who managed to reach Hong Kong, now in their 70s and 80s, have enjoyed decades of civil liberties unheard of on the mainland – the right to air their views, access uncensored news and information online as well as the freedom to demonstrate.
Dozens of activists and dissenters have been arrested. Police have raided an opposition newspaper office and arrested senior staff. Outspoken media outlets have been censured. Books have been pulled from public libraries. Schools and universities have been ordered to promote “national security education”, dismissed liberal-leaning staff and textbooks have been censored. Independence slogans are banned and scholars, journalists and everyday citizens suddenly find themselves afraid to speak out about politics. Several pro-democracy figures have been forced to flee overseas, while some didn’t make it.
The implementation of the law has been particularly painful for the freedom swimmers, who now fear the system they risked everything to escape is suddenly at the door.
‘The free world would be my rebirth’