Joseph Cheng, 71, used to be one of Hong Kong’s busiest activists: a familiar presence in the media and a leading figure in several pro-democracy organizations. After retiring in 2015, the former political-science professor planned to live out his remaining days in the city. But Mr. Cheng’s life—a microcosm of Hong Kong’s recent history—has been turned upside down.
Last year’s so-called national-security law reclassified much ordinary activism as a criminal offense. On April 10, two days after I spoke to Mr. Cheng, authorities handed down sentences for campaigners including the media tycoon Jimmy Lai (14 months in prison) and the “father of Hong Kong democracy,” Martin Lee (a suspended sentence). Since then, the arrests have continued and Mr. Lai’s newspaper Apple Daily has been shut down.
Fearing prosecution, Mr. Cheng and his wife moved to Canberra, Australia, in July 2020. “It’s a quiet life,” he tells me. “Sometimes it’s a little bit lonely.” Because of Covid, his family members in Hong Kong can’t visit. “You feel bad to see friends arrested, prosecuted, sentenced to prison. But I understand that there is very little I can do.”
Mr. Cheng was born in 1949 to Chinese parents who had fled the civil war. He has, in turn, held the British colonial government to account as a leading member of the pressure group Hong Kong Observers; campaigned for political reform under Chinese rule; and now finds himself in de facto exile. He is also a practicing Catholic, and his career is a reminder of the remarkably strong Christian influence on Hong Kong’s pro-democracy movement.
Christians are only 12% of the population, but their values incline them toward sacrifice, writes Dan Hitchens https://t.co/nfKqyBBrSF
— WSJ Editorial Page (@WSJopinion) July 10, 2021