Just like her fellow Hong Kong protesters, pop star Denise Ho (何韻詩) is standing up to China. Just like them, she seems to have gotten under Beijing’s skin — this time at an international human rights venue.
The Canto-pop singer on Monday used her star power to stand up to China’s economic and political power at the UN’s top human rights body, telling the UN Human Rights Council that human rights were under attack in Hong Kong and asking whether it would suspend China as a member of the 47-nation body for its abuses.
Ever-sensitive to its growing international reputation, China’s envoy shot back and interrupted Ho twice during her 90-second slot.
The chair, Icelandic Ambassador to Switzerland Harald Aspelund, gave some gentle reminders, but let her keep talking.
Ho’s comments were some of the sharpest and most varied criticism of China that the council has heard since the US pulled out last year, partly over complaints by the administration of US President Donald Trump that too many rights-breaching states were among its members.
The US had been generally seen as one of the countries least hesitant to stand up to its rising rival at the Geneva-based council.
Ho ripped into the bill that would allow Hong Kong residents to be extradited to China for trial, saying that such a move would “remove the firewall protecting Hong Kong from interference of the Chinese government” — an allusion to a UK-China agreement linked to Hong Kong’s handover to China in 1997.
Chinese diplomat Dai Demao (戴德茂) quickly upbraided her, saying that she had wrongly referred to Hong Kong “side-by-side” with China, which he called an affront to the widely recognized “one China” principle.
Ho then denounced the disqualifications of lawmakers, the jailing of activists and the “cross-border kidnappings” of booksellers in Hong Kong as signs of “China’s tightening grip.”
Hong Kong’s autonomy had slowly eroded since the handover, she said, accusing China of “preventing our democracy at all costs,” such as by appointing Hong Kong Chief Executive Carrie Lam (林鄭月娥), who the protesters want to see ousted.
Dai burst in again to reject “unfounded allegations” and appealed to the chair that she refrain from using “abusive language.”
Unbowed, Ho raised the tone again, asking the council whether it would suspend China and convene an urgent session to protect people in Hong Kong amid rising protests.
UN Watch, the advocacy group that hosted Ho, faulted Western countries for not speaking out in her defense.
China’s envoy also blasted the non-governmental organization, saying that it had “abused its consultative status” and engaged in slandering — without mentioning the group or Ho by name.
Speaking to reporters afterward, Ho said that she had not received any threats for her outspokenness.
“I don’t know if it will stay this way,” she said. “I will stand strong.”
In an interview with the Associated Press before the session, Ho said that the implications of China’s alleged rights abuses went far beyond Hong Kong, in places like Tibet and China’s Xinjiang region, home to many Uighur Muslims.
“This is a very serious issue and a global issue that not only touches Hong Kong people, but really the global world — where you see governments, they are silencing themselves, because of being afraid of political reprisal, economic reprisal,” Ho said.
She praised a “creative move” by protesters in Kowloon over the weekend who reached out to incoming tourists from China, saying that many people in China had been “brainwashed to think that Hong Kong people are just rioters and anti-China, which is not true.”
Ho said that her activism has come at a personal price: She has not had any commercial work for the past several years, and she cannot travel to China.
However, she brushed off the personal effects and said that she would stay committed to the cause — even though she cannot predict how things will evolve.
“The police they are still using excessive force,” Ho said. “As long as the Hong Kong government keeps on ignoring everything that’s happening and just pretending that it’s OK, these protests will go on — I’m quite sure of that.”
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