Suppression of the professional sectors: resistance and compliance, tyranny left us only one choice

2020, people in all walks are affected by the outbreak of COVID-19 pandemic, first identified in December 2019 in Wuhan, China. Due to the Hong Kong Government’s poor governance and mismanagement, we are now facing the fourth wave of the corona virus and more than 100 people have died in Hong Kong. In the midst of the pandemic, the government is planting white terror in the professional sectors, systematically attacking the norms which are not in line with the government’s discourses. 

Live broadcast, camera, press identity card

Journalists have always been in a dangerous position at the scene of the conflict, injuries occurred frequently. In the past six months, reporters and photographers have often been attacked and insulted by the police who claimed that they “dare to face all the Hong Kong people" but covered themselves in black hoods. It is getting difficult for the public to know the truth now. 

The Hong Kong Journalists Association (hereafter: HKJA) had applied for a judicial review in recent months, requiring all police officers to show their warrant cards and police numbers. The High Court, in accordance with the Human Rights Law, ruled that HKJA won the case. Yet, the Hong Kong police, self-acclaimed to be "righteous", appealed. If the appeal would overturn the court’s decision, it means that Hong Kong people, including journalists, could not know the identity of the police officers they encounter and have no chance to file any complaints. As a larger trade union of the journalists, HKJA’s mandate is to protect its members and freedom of press. It hopes the court could solve the problems and reduce the risk of front-line reporters being harassed by the police. 

Saving lives, surviving pandemic, fighting natural and man-made disasters

Apart from fighting for their and others’ lives in the hospitals, medical workers also face the retaliation from the Hospital Authority. After their strike in early 2020, a desperate move to demand the government to close the borders in order to block out the virus, the Hospital Authority has adopted threats and coercive measures to force the strikers to compromise, such as asking the strikers to register their strike as taking a day off, or threatening to remove the strikers from their original jobs.

In Hong Kong, medical workers are registered under a well-recognized system. Recently, the Hong Kong Government is proposing to exempt Chinese medical workers from registration when they come to practice in Hong Kong. Such an exemption raised concerns, i.e. whether the Hospital Authority is giving up its professional autonomy, what political roles the medical workers would play under the tyranny.

Social workers: guarding the value of life, our fellow Hongkongers

There are less than 30,000 registered social workers in Hong Kong. Recently, the Hong Kong Government has called for mutual recognition of social workers in the Guangdong-Hong Kong-Macau Greater Bay Area, aiming to infiltrate the social service sector. Earlier, the police even inquired about the flow of funds of the social service organizations, which was seen as the government deliberately spread white terror in the sector.

The universal values that social workers have been safeguarding, such as democracy, human rights, freedoms are a thorn in the eye of the current government. Since National Security Law came into effect, they have all been "eliminated" and social workers face enormous risk. 

In the future, Hong Kong Social Workers' General Union will aim to maintain its professional bottom-line. The tighter the national security law becomes, the more necessary for it to fight back. The Union also believes that it is necessary to establish guidelines for its workers, to maintain their basic ethical values and to protect Human rights and freedom of Hong Kong people.

Witch-hunting in schools, teachers fear of disqualification

A primary school teacher at Alliance Primary School was deregistered after being accused of using pro-independence materials in class, reportedly to teach students about the concepts of freedom of speech and independence.  As an international metropolis, Hong Kong people have long enjoyed academic freedom and the city has some of the finest universities in the world. The implementation of the National Security Law and the disqualification of teachers make it easier for the authorities to accuse academics of professional misconduct, even when they are simply exercising academic freedom and teaching history. The educators in Hong Kong are worried that they are forced to live in the era of Cultural Revolution 2.0.

In Hong Kong, teachers receive their licenses from the Education Bureau, which means the government can manipulate them and silence them by sacking the “black sheep”. Both the Hong Kong Educators Alliance and the Hong Kong Professional Teachers’ Union admitted that teachers are in a vulnerable position when compared with other professions, but it is essential to uphold the meaning of education, namely to nourish, to bring up, to reach out. Education should not only take place in schools, but also in the community, the trade unions should play a more active role in community education, to spread the truth to the public.

Three principles to guard the bottom-line 

It is clear that the professional sectors would face different forms of suppression. Their common goal is to guard their professional standard, speak the truth out and promote public education. They need strong support from the community and their sectoral unions to resist suppression and survive the heavy blows from the regime.

Common people who safeguard their professions as a mean of resistance

The regime’s crackdown on and rectification of the professional sectors are like a torrential storm, targeting to remove the “major obstacle” that hinders its governance. Many professional groups or people who are regarded as “disobedient” have been attacked by the pro-government media, using all kinds of “accusations” to discredit them.
In his book, On Tyranny: Twenty Lessons from the Twentieth Century, American historian Timothy Snyder states, if the professionals refuse to serve the totalitarian regime, tyranny could not operate so well. If lawyers have followed the norm of no execution without trial, doctors do not perform operations without the patient’s consent, and civil servants refuse to handle the killing documents, the tragic fate of the Jewish people during World War II might have been rewritten. 

The professional organizations have played a critical role in monitoring government’s use of power and exposing the lies the government told. Since 2003, the government has been pushing for the legislation of Article 23, the introduction of national education in schools and the amendment of Extradition Bill, and they are all blocked by the civil society. Professional organizations have been a strong and faithful stakeholder in the civil society. 

The regime's repeated attacks are means to make professionals aware of the power play, luring them to give in, and even willingly abandon the ethical ethics that their professional sectors have always adhered to. 

When more and more professionals lose their independent will and judgment, they would simply "obey orders," which means that tyranny would face less and less resistance.

The film "1987: When the Day Comes" tells the story of the dark days, on the eve of the advent of democracy in South Korea when the secret police’s power was unchecked. People with different professions, from prosecutors, doctors, reporters to prison guards, simply refused to give in to the authorities, even when they had to risk to sacrifice their future, they still exercised professional responsibilities, and finally led to the downfall of the dictatorship. 

The time before dawn is the darkest. In the future, it may not be any well-known parliamentarians or social movement leaders, but every ordinary person who is upholding his responsibilities and guarding his conscience, to walk with us till we find a way out.

Who guards the professional autonomy?

Recently, the police suddenly announced that they would no longer recognize the press card issued by the media union. Only reporters who have been approved and registered under the Government’s Information Service Department would be recognized.

Student reporters, online media and freelance journalists are therefore excluded from the scenes. Behind the incident lies a more profound question: Who has the right to define professional qualifications?

Several professional sectors that are currently subjected to political intervention, through various mechanisms in checking their professional qualifications. The regime continues to tighten its grip and does whatever it wants.

Taking the teacher who was disqualified  as an example, s/he was accused of crossing the red line drawn by the National Security Law and received a life ban from classroom from the Education Bureau, without any input from the Council on Professional Conduct in Education. The reason behind is, the Council serves only as a consultant, but holds no power and official status in making decisions. Since the 1980s, educators have been lobbying for a General Teaching Council, but the government kept delaying the procedure. 

As for the nurses, who are targeted due to their strike earlier this year, are supervised by the Nursing Council of Hong Kong, whose composition is also extremely undemocratic. The Board is composed of 16 members, of which only 6 are representatives of registered nurses, and all are appointed by the Chief Executive alone.

Among the professional sectors, Social Workers Registration Board is one of the more reasonable supervisory mechanism to better reflect its professional autonomy. This board is composed of 15 members, of which 8 are elected by social workers, 6 appointed by the Chief Executive and 1 appointed by the Secretary of Social Welfare (or his representative). Such a composition guarantees that at least half of the members are elected representatives of the industry and can be more resistant to interference from external political forces.

It is becoming an urgent issue to safeguard our professional autonomy together, as political interference in professional sectors is heating up. We must look into ways to promote the democratization of the current regulatory mechanism in each sector, block the loopholes which enables the regime's intervention and connect with a wider range of supervision forces in the civil society.