26 Mar 2009

Assaults by Hong Kong's religious right on HIV NGOs and LGBT groups

Hong Kong LGBT organisations uncover a sinister Christian fundamentalist-inspired pattern of complaints about HIV and gay-related campaigns that have wended their way through the Government system which resulted in a series of harassing inquiries. Nigel Collett reports.

Hong Kong's tongzhi (LGBT) organisations and HIV NGOs have come under sustained attack by Christian fundamentalist supporters seeking to use the organs of the Hong Kong Government to weaken or destroy them. Support by some Members of Hong Kong's Legislative Council (Legco) has given the fundamentalists an avenue of complaint direct to the heart of Government (complaints by Members are handled at the top, at Bureau Secretary level) and they have not been slow to use the opportunity that last year's September Legco elections has given them. Only now, though, has the pattern of intimidation they have planned begun to emerge, as the fundamentalist-inspired complaints have begun to wend their way through the slow Government system and as the tongzhi community puts together the different pieces of information that are now coming in.

It is clear that the overall plan is to involve as many departments of the Government as possible in investigating Members' complaints. This has now started to involve tongzhi organisations and HIV NGOs in a series of harassing inquiries, at the least faced with the need to respond to telephone or written demands for information, at worst with summonses to Government offices to explain themselves to officials. On occasion this has even involved visits from the Police. All this, of course, is perfectly legal and in individual cases there would be nothing improper here. It is the pattern of systematised inquiry that reveals just how sinister this development is.

The campaign started just after the election with pressure brought against the Women's Coalition, one of the most active tongzhi groups in Hong Kong, which had sent all Legco candidates a questionnaire asking their views on LGBT issues. This apparently enraged the fundamentalists, who complained publicly that the questionnaire was 'biased.'

The 'Flying High Landing Safe' which uses a harm reduction strategy to reduce the risk of HIV infection was voluntarily suspended in January after Democrat Party Legco Member Nelson Wong Shing-chi appears to have complained about the site to the Secretary for Justice, alleging that the AIDS Trust Fund was using the Government's money to build a website to promote drug use.
More emerged in January 2009, when AIDS Concern's Chief Executive, Loretta Wong, received a call from the Police following up a complaint by a member of the public against a forum message on the net-based site GayStation, run since 2000 by the well known tongzhi figure, Brian Leung. The message had been posted by a member of AIDS Concern and mentioned harm reduction drug therapy, which the complainant had told the Police was advocating drug use. "We had two police officers visit our office to 'have a chat' with me," says Loretta. The Police went away when they discovered that the poster of the BBS was only a part-time member of staff and that AIDS Concern did not promote drug use.

Loretta continues: "On 16 January, we then received a letter from the AIDS Trust Fund (ATF; the Hong Kong Government body dispensing funds to AIDS NGOs), stating that they had received a complaint about our 'Flying High Landing Safe' video website. The complaint had been made to the Chairman of the ATF and copied, maybe not coincidentally, to the Police Narcotics Bureau."

At the same time, Democrat Party Legco Member Nelson Wong Shing-chi appears to have complained about the site to the Secretary for Justice, alleging that the ATF was using the Government's money to build a website to promote drug use. ATF is clearly under pressure here, a serious matter as they control the money which funds Hong Kong's campaign against HIV. The upshot was that the 'Flying High Landing Safe' site was voluntarily suspended in January.

In March, though, Wong Shing-chi went on the offensive in public, holding a press conference at which he attacked AIDS Concern and appearing on RTHK's City Forum programme, in which a 'member of the public' stood up to allege that a mother had complained that her child had argued with her about drug use, citing the AIDS Concern site and saying, allegedly, that so long as 'he remained high but safe' he would be all right.

The Women's Coalition and AIDS Concern have now been joined by another organisation under attack. In 2007, a radio project to promote safe sex was started by the Touch Project of the Boys' and Girls' Clubs Association (BGCA) in conjunction with gayradio.hk. This became New Star 2007 which evolved into New Star 2008. A complaint was made this year about the site. Gayradio.hk and the BGCA decided to temporarily suspend the web page.

Though this has all been rather slow in emerging, these attempts to use Government bodies to attack tongzhi groups and HIV NGOs have already started to elicit a response.

On 17 March, well known Hong Kong writer Sam Ng Chi-sum used the pages of the Hong Kong Chinese newspaper Mingpao to attack Wong Shing-chi for his misuse of office. Ng revealed that religious extremists were attempting to damage safer sex projects by blaming them for promoting drug use. He denounced Wong and his fellow Christian extremists in forthright terms, deploring their 'barbarian actions' against LGBT NGOs. Ng stated his belief that the fundamentalists' object was to reduce and eventually remove their subsidies.

Ng has let the fundamentalist cat well and truly out of the bag, and the tongzhi community is now mobilising. Chaired by Reggie Ho of the gay support group Horizons, the tongzhi Community Joint Meeting (TCJM, which links all the tongzhi bodies in Hong Kong) is developing a joint action plan with its members and with the largely heterosexual Civic Movement Network (CMN), over 1,000 of whom took to Kowloon's streets on 15 February this year to protest against the fundamentalists' assault on civil liberties and human rights. Connie Chan, leader of the Women's Coalition, and co-leader of the loose tongzhi protest grouping 4mycolors, told me: "We totally support the ATF and AIDS Concern and will fight the fundamentalists' new campaign in our work for this year's IDAHO parade."

And AIDS Concern, gayradio.hk and Touch have vowed not to be brow beaten out of what they see is their duty to get across the message of safe sex. The suspended websites will soon be back on the net.