This article originally appeared on VICE ASIA.
The video first showed up on Twitter, and in many ways it’s just like many others from Hong Kong. It showed a young man with bleached hair wearing a face mask being arrested by two officers from the Hong Kong Police Force. The man with blonde hair was in cuffs being led away, when a second protestor run by with a camera and shouted to the arrestee “who are you?” The bleach-haired man then turned and looked into the camera:
“My name is Lee Chun Hin,” he shouted back. "I will not commit suicide!" and then he was struck across the cheek by an officer’s gloved hand.
This so-called “non-suicide declaration” is a new measure of self-defense being employed by Hong Kong protesters. Either before or during arrest, detainees state their names on-camera and declare “I will not commit suicide.” Some have even published statements on their social media profiles or set up automatic emails for family and friends, assuring everyone that if they end up dead, it won't be voluntary.
One man, a leading figure in the protest movement known among protesters as “Commander,” wrote a non-suicide declaration while leading a mission to rescue protesters trapped inside the Hong Kong Polytechnic University, or PolyU. From inside the university, he wrote his declaration and posted it on social media.
“I want to declare one thing, I want to have a girlfriend before I die," he wrote. "I will not commit suicide.”
Like many others, Commander was worried that if he got arrested, he wouldn’t again see the light of day, which he believed was very possible. “I am not afraid of going to jail. I am not afraid of being put behind bars or of getting physical with the police.” he said. “But I am afraid of going missing if I am arrested.”
A Series of Deaths
According to the authorities, a series of mysterious disappearances have been simple suicides and accidents, but protesters remain incredulous. In particular, the death of an elite swimmer, 15-year old Chan Yin-lam, whose naked body was found in the sea off the coast of Hong Kong, caused outrage and fear—and particularly as her body was cremated before anyone got a chance to see it, except the authorities. The authorities, however, have dismissed all accusations and continue to maintain that Chan Yin-lam's death was suicide.
Not the First Time
According to Patrick Poon, China Researcher for Amnesty International, it's not uncommon for Chinese authorities to beat detainees, deprive them of sleep, food, medication, or force people to stand in stress positions for hours on end.
“When protesters create messages affirming that they won’t commit suicide, it is not something that they want to say. It very much shows a general fear and mistrust of the government,” he said.
I caught up with a 30-year-old protester by the name of Thomas who said he'd also written a non-suicide declaration, which he then forwarded to his girlfriend and protester friends in case he disappeared.
“We have zero trust in the police’s way of handling arrestees," he told me. "There are rumours that the police are beating arrested protesters to death, and dozens of people are missing after being arrested."
Thomas wrote in his declaration that "I hereby declare that, despite my troubles in life, I have zero intention to commit suicide in any way or for any reason." Then he gave the date of the recording, his full name and his citizens’ number. He said that a recent spike in “suicides” made him feel these were all necessary precautions.
“If I get arrested, I have no idea what could happen,” he said. “Worst case, I would be locked up, beaten to death, and become another suicide statistic.”
Pro-China commentators have argued that protesters are trying to frame the Hong Kong Police Force as systematically ruthless and murderous, despite there being little evidence to their claims. One woman from Macau named Bowie Tam, 33, told me she believes that the protesters hope to “kidnap the public’s sympathy” by “fabricating stories and narratives.”
Thomas, the 30-year-old protester, says stories like Chan Yin-lam’s have him spooked, but he also mentioned another two names: Chow Tsz Lok and Alex Chow. These were men both allegedly jumped to their deaths on separate occasions—a story which, again, has holes. They are now asking for an independent investigation, in part, Thomas said, because there was no blood at either of the scenes. He also described a video in which a low-ranking police officer told a man to film the protesters next to him because “they might disappear soon.”
“It’s mostly just me trying to prove that my suicide isn’t a suicide," Thomas explained. "It’s to say to my trusted ones that if you see my dead body lying about after I'm arrested, I was most likely murdered by the authorities.”
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