The first thing you would have noticed about Tony Fizzano when you walked into the Vineyard Haven library was that he was wearing a black mask that covered his face from his nose downward — a practice the Hong Kong protestors adopted to help prevent being specifically recognized by Hong Kong government officials, police, paid thugs, or gangs sent out to harass demonstrators. While it’s unlikely that Hong Kong would have sent agents here, donning the mask is not only a precaution, but an act of solidarity. “I wore the mask from when I left my house at 11 am this morning to when I got back at 6:30 pm,” Fizzano said.
Fizzano, a Cape Cod native, first visited Hong Kong about seven years ago with his school. He fell in love with the region, and returned briefly to teach, later moving back for what he had hoped would be permanent residence, although a family situation pulled him back to the U.S.
Fizzano hosted a talk Sunday at the Vineyard Haven library: “Tear Gas, Turmoil, and Tyranny in Hong Kong.” The title couldn’t have been more appropriate, as Fizzano addressed each point in multiple ways. Fizzano lived in Hong Kong from August 2018 to September 2019, and participated in many of the ongoing protests when they started in June. While providing hard statistics, Fizzano’s photos brought home the reality of the situation, putting a human face on what would otherwise be numbers.
The Hong Kong demonstrations were sparked by outrage and demand that the government withdraw from the Extradition Law Amendment Bill — legislation that authorizes the Hong Kong government to send arrested individuals to China for any reason, to be tried in Chinese courts. This upset many citizens because of China’s turbulent history with justice and fairness in the legal system. Hongkongers were worried about being locked away, tortured, or killed. June 9, 2019, was the first protest, with attendance numbers varying widely depending on who reported them. Organizers estimated over 1 million people; police estimated 270,000 at its peak.
The Hong Kong government called it a riot, while Amnesty International condemned the government for using excessive force. On June 15, the government, in response to resistance, suspended the bill. But in reality, the bill was simply sidelined, to be revived at any time. Protestors wanted it completely withdrawn.
There is always a protest July 1, marking the anniversary of the 1997 handover of Hong Kong from the British back to China, with the caveat that it is to remain independent for 50 years. This year’s July 1 protest drew enormous crowds, and that’s when the “five demands” were drawn up. Initially, protesters solely demanded the withdrawal of the extradition bill, but as demonstrations progressed, the object of protesters has been to achieve the following five demands:
- Complete withdrawal of the extradition bill from the legislative process (On Oct. 23, 2019, the bill was formally withdrawn).
- Retract the government’s characterization of protests as “riots,” which had started out as peaceful until the police instigated the violence.
- Release all roughly 6,700 arrested protesters, and provide them with amnesty.
- Conduct an independent investigation into police brutality.
- Implementation of universal suffrage for Legislative Council elections and for the election of the chief executive (the equivalent of a president). Currently, Hong Kong’s citizens can only vote for their district council people, which is like selectmen, who don’t wield a lot of power.
Fizzano described the horrid breadth of police brutality during the protests. Misuse of tear gas indiscriminately hurt not just protestors, but bystanders, elderly, children, disabled, animals, and nearby residents. Furthermore, many tear-gas canisters were expired, which amplified traditional effects, including rotting of flesh.
According to Fizzano, it is heavily suspected that multiple people were murdered by police, and they refused medical treatment to those who urgently need it. Police allegedly arrested and assaulted medics, leaving people in urgent need of medical care to suffer. Police have denied these allegations. “The police did condone the attacks, but I think it’s important to clarify that they’re widely perceived as ‘state-sponsored terrorism,’” Fizzano said.
Pulling back from these and countless more unnerving details, Fizzano shared, “My personal perspective is the Hong Kong protesters are not only fighting for the five demands, they are also fighting for all oppressed peoples in China, to give them hope and show them that if they all come together, resisting the Chinese Communist Party [CCP], defeating them is possible. Additionally, [protesters] are laying a groundwork and foundation for any oppressed peoples all over the world, and showing them that through solidarity and persistence, you can fight the injustices of government.”
An audience member questioned why the protesters continued to fight since the Extradition Bill was withdrawn.
“Since the Sino-British Joint Declaration enacted in 1997, China has steadily been infringing upon Hong Kong’s promised sovereignty,” Fizzano said. “For instance, more recently the Hong Kong government has been installing ‘smart lampposts’ with the same facial recognition technology used in the heavily surveilled area where the Uighur Muslims are being detained. Many Hong Kong people are increasingly dissatisfied with their shrinking autonomy, and many protesters are continuing, in part, to protest China’s unlawful increased infringement on Hong Kong sovereignty.”
Fizanno added, “China is a threat both internationally and to its own people, and this point should not be overlooked. In addition to detaining and torturing around 1 million Uighur, there is the oppression of Tibetans, as well as the CCP’s efforts to completely wipe Tibet’s existence out of Chinese people’s minds. And just as China is infringing upon Hong Kong’s promised independence, so, too, is it doing this in Taiwan. China has also been very aggressive in recent years over its alleged claim to the entirety of the South China Sea and the ‘[nine-dash] line.’”
Fizzano emphasized it’s important to know that the movement by the Hong Kong people for the Hong Kong people is very much alive. “There are multiple protests per week,” Fizzano said. “Just because it doesn’t appear in the news doesn’t mean it’s not happening anymore … Talk with friends, family, co-workers. and share everything protest-related on social media, because the more people that know about this, the more pressure there will be on our and other governments to pay attention and do something about it.”