In Hong Kong, an Englishman Ruffles Feathers

By Laurane Marchive
The Bali Times

HONG KONG ~ How does it feel, being arrested in the streets of Hong Kong dressed as a chicken during a peaceful, legal protest? Tom Grundy is possibly the only man that can answer that question. Last summer when the Olympic Torch came to Hong Kong, Grundy, an English-language teacher, and one of his friends were detained while protesting.

Grundy, 25, settled down in Hong Kong in 2005, and is now part of a direct-action group that aims to raise awareness of issues such as human rights, workers rights, gay rights, women rights, pollution and democracy.

“I use humorous methods, such as costumes, to attract attention,” he told The Bali Times. However, he said such antics often become high-profile and end up in run-ins with the police, or being covered in by foreign media.

Grundy started protesting in England after living for a few months in Uganda when he was 18, but started getting serious when he moved to Hong Kong.

“In 2005 I was protesting alone against the World Trade Organization, dressed as a chicken, carrying a banner that said: ‘WTO, more dangerous than bird flu,’ when I met another activist living in Hong Kong, and we started protesting together,” he said.

“On May 1 the same year, which was international workers’ rights day, we took down a giant McDonald’s advertisement and protested against the lack of a minimum wage in Hong Kong. Even parts of communist China guarantee a living wage to their workers, and Hong Kong is a very rich city as well as the freest economy in the world. NGOs and activist groups kept up the pressure and the government is slowly implementing a minimum wage.”

Although Grundy takes part in peaceful, lawful protests, he said being an activist in Hong Kong was not always safe.

“When my friend Christiana Chan and I were protesting this summer, the way the police detained us was not legal. The Hong Kong constitution guarantees freedom of speech for every resident, and says the police should help people to exercise their right to protest.

“However, that day we were taken away in a police van and questioned for about an hour. Lots of TV channels and newspapers related these events to the world, and we have videos proving we were not being aggressive. We spoke to a human rights lawyer afterwards, and now we intend to take the case to a judicial review,” he said.

Grundy says that even though Beijing cannot take action against him, or others who protest, he admits to worrying that something may happen to him, especially given that he says he is followed by police and has received death threats from people who disagree with his position on Tibet.

“The police already told us they were watching us, which explains why I have had plainclothes policemen with earpieces following me, crossing the street when I do, or running when I do. But it’s crazy; they are wasting their time. We are just peaceful protesters.”

He says all he and his friends are doing is to trying to protect civil liberties and freedom of speech in Hong Kong, and that there is a slow mainland influence effecting rights in the city.

“What we are doing is important. This year, because of the Olympic Games, people became more patriotic about the mainland, but we have to remind people that China still has a long way to go. There are still very poor workers rights, poverty and censorship. The one-party regime sponsors genocide in Burma (Myanmar), Darfur and Zimbabwe and has hundreds of missiles aimed at Taiwan.

“We want to remind everyone that there are peaceful cyber-activists who have been jailed simply for expressing their opinions, in a country to which we granted the Olympics. We have to protest on behalf of those who cannot, because injustice in one place is a threat to justice everywhere.”

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