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Hong Kong Democrat’s Trip to the Mainland Ends in Detention

When Alex Ho made a business trip to Dongguan City, Guangdong Province, China last August, he did not expect to stay in Dongguan for 168 days. Ranked number three as the Democratic Party candidate running for the Hong Kong Legislative Council (LegCo) election, Mr. Ho was considered to be a key force in his party’s victory in the upcoming election less than one month away. However, in China, Mr. Ho was charged with soliciting a prostitute and was sentenced, without trial, to six months in detention.

Alex Ho may be the first person to be sentenced to six months’ detention for the alleged misdemeanor. In mainland China, the usual penalty for soliciting a prostitute is a fine. Mr. Ho was released on January 28, 2005, after serving 168 days in a detention center. During his detention, his health deteriorated and he was deprived of medicine and adequate medical attention. Since his release, he has been in a hospital in Kowloon, Hong Kong, recovering from the ordeal.

At a press conference at Our Lady of Maryknoll Hospital on February 3, 2005, Mr. Ho made his first public statement. He asserted that he did not solicit a prostitute and that he was wrongfully accused: “I had no friends. They would not let me make any phone calls. They did not allow me to contact a lawyer,” Ho told reporters. “When I was arrested, I felt very anxious. Somehow I lost my wisdom. I had made many requests to contact a lawyer or friends, but they rejected my requests. At the beginning, they threatened that if I did not confess I would be charged with rape. I told them I did not have sex with the woman, nor did I pay her for anything.

“Several officers also came to tell me that they wanted to help me to get out early. They told me I could name some of my female friends and it would not be considered as soliciting prostitution ¡­ No one answered my requests. Several dozen police officers surrounded me. None of them wore a nametag. Some tried to persuade me, but some were threatening me ¡­ I admitted everything [they demanded]. I had no witness, no evidence. Nobody was able to help me. What could I do under those desperate circumstances?”

Mr. Ho said he did not dispute the details of the alleged incident. “I signed the confession statement. I know it is impossible to revoke the statement. I am unable to fight against this giant system on my own. It is impossible for me to fight the battle on the long term. If it had been through a reasonable legal procedure with a public hearing and rights to a lawyer, I would not have confessed.”

Mr. Ho had been diagnosed with hepatitis B and was taking medication to keep it under control at the time of his arrest. During the detention, his health deteriorated. His doctor has confirmed that he is suffering from cirrhosis and that his liver is functioning at only 20 percent, which will require long-term medication. In addition, he has developed a severe form of psoriasis that covers his whole body. Doctors have indicated that he may never be cured of the disease.

In his press conference, Mr. Ho said, “My wife sent the medicine to me in August, but they did not let me take it until late November. They told me that when I got out I couldn’t say that they did not give me the medicine. I started to get psoriasis in early November. It was not until late December, after my wife and son visited me, that they sent two medical specialists to treat my skin condition. They gave me some shots, but the psoriasis spread all over my body after I had those shots.”

Mr. Ho said that his release does not constitute an “early release” as reported by the media. He said he had made use of incentive plans such as paying the half-year meal cost in advance and doing prison work, including making Christmas trees, to buy time for early release. But he was still released nine days later than originally scheduled.

During his imprisonment, Mr. Ho was under 24-hour surveillance by his cellmates. When he was hospitalized on December 24, he was still wearing a steel ankle chain that weighed over 20 pounds. Despite his repeated requests, hospital staff did not take the chain off until the second day.

Chinese authorities denied Ho’s charges and demanded that he disclose the truth to the public. Li Zelin, a spokesman of the Dongguan Municipal Public Security Bureau, denied claims that Ho had been beaten or mistreated prior to giving a confession after he was detained on August 13, 2004. At a press conference on August 17, 2004, Mr. Li said that they had “indisputable evidence” to convict Alex Ho in the prostitution case. Li stressed that the police had been acting according to the law. Patronizing prostitutes is illegal on the Chinese mainland. On February 6, 2005, Dongguan Public Security Bureau released another statement claiming that Ho was treated humanely at the detention center, that the living environment was good, and that adequate treatment was provided.

Beijing has been particularly wary of the potential victory of the Democratic Party in the LegCo election ever since the Hong Kong government failed to force through the anti-subversion bill known as Article 23 in 2003. The bill, fostered by Beijing, would have given the government power to search without a warrant.

Hong Kong Democrats have accused the mainland government of using “dirty tricks” to manipulate Hong Kong’s legislative election. According to a September 13, 2004, CNN report by Willy Lam titled “China to Tighten Hong Kong Reins,” veteran Hong Kong Democratic Party politician Fred Li charged that pro-Chinese forces had masterminded a series of scandals involving democratic candidates. Ho’s arrest came after the abrupt halt of three popular Hong Kong talk shows hosted by Albert Cheng, Wong Yuk-man, and Allen Lee Pengfei, all known for their criticism of the Chinese government. In addition, the offices of LegCo representatives Leung Yiuchung and Emily Lau were vandalized and smeared with excrement.

The series of incidents prior to the LegCo election in Hong Kong severely interfered with the election and were a blow to the Democratic Party and its supporters. The Beijing leadership must feel relieved by the voting results, which showed that the legislators from the Hong Kong Democratic Party and other groups Beijing regards as “anti-China” would not be in a position to pose a big threat to Beijing’s hand-picked Chief Executive.

In an interview with a reporter from The Epoch Times, Hong Kong pro-democratic candidate Liu Yucheng said that terror and lies are the common tactics that Beijing’s Communist authority uses to destroy its political opponents. Liu hopes that the Hong Kong people have learned a lesson from this incident and will be able to recognize the true nature of the CCP.

Documents from the China Human Rights Information Center reveal that among the 42 dissidents arrested in Shanghai, China, from 1994 to 2000, 39 of them were charged with soliciting a prostitute. A court trial is not required for this type of charge. The defendant has no rights to a lawyer, and the Public Security Bureau has full authority to decide any labor camp terms.

Even though Mr. Ho said he was not physically abused during the imprisonment, the mental torture he suffered was very painful. Mr. Ho and his wife were made to believe that he would be released as soon as he admitted the charge. Little did they know that they would be manipulated again and again. Mr. Ho said, “I had to make a confession statement both orally and in writing once every other day. The reason I cooperated was because of this question: ‘Do you want to get out soon?’ My wife also persuaded me to admit everything in return for an early dismissal. She told me, ‘Endure. No matter what happens, the most important thing is to get out early. Admit. Admit everything.'”

The press conference may win the sympathy of the public, but the damage to Mr. Ho is done and cannot be remedied. He told the reporters that this would be his last public appearance. After the ordeal, he is exhausted physically and mentally. His wife has endured no less stress. Out of the concerns for the party’s reputation, Mr. Ho announced his resignation from the Democratic Party.

Lukun Yu is a financial analyst based in New York.