Toby is a student and an activist and remarkably young. Because he fears repercussions, he wants neither to reveal his age nor to show his face. No wonder, since he had to learn the hard way what it means to live under an oppressive regime.
Toby’s name is actually not Toby. He doesn’t want the public to know his real name, nor his age. In the videos he sent us throughout these two weeks, his face is covered and his voice altered. The youngest participant in the “Hong Kong Diaries”, having learned the hard way what it means to live under an oppressive state, fears further repercussions if authorities find out about his involvement in this project. But Toby says that because of the threat that the National Security LawThe National Security Law went into effect in Hong Kong on the 30th of June 2020. It is intended to “prevent, stop and punish” everything that the Chinese government believes could threaten national security. Due to the vaguely worded text of the law, it has caused great uncertainty among the population since its implementation. poses only a few young people are willing to share their stories – which is why he wants to share his. On the first day of this project he wakes up to the following message:
Today is the Umbrella Movement anniversary day. Please tell us if you can remember what you did on this day six years ago!
Just today we got around 50 text messages, voice messages, videos, and pictures from Toby, proving that he is not only eager to let the world know what is happening in his life, but also what is happening to Hong Kong.
In 2014, hundreds of thousands of pro-democracy protesters occupied the main road in the Admiralty. Police used tear gas to disperse the protesters. I’m currently heading to the area
I’m in the Admiralty area now. This is Harcourt Road, where the 2014 protest occurred
As you can see, police vehicles are patrolling the area
“I remember that six years ago I was still a junior high school student, I did not know a lot about politics, but I saw the news and I saw people occupying the road. I did not know why they were doing that, I thought that it caused a lot of economic damage and made people angry and frustrated. So at the time I didn’t have a lot of compassion with or support for the protest. But after a few years, after I had more knowledge about the social movement, Hong Kong’s democratic development and other matters I started to understand why they were doing that. In 2019 when the government forged the plan to probably trying to extradite people to mainland China, this really angered me and I joined the protest.”
13 months ago pro-democratic protesters and civilians were brutally attacked by the police at the Prince Edward Subway Station. Toby wants to show us where the attack took place – but decides differently when he arrives there.
There are a lot of riot police officers in and nearby the station
Idk if I am able to film the station or not
I don’t think it’s possible, there are hundreds of them patrolling the area. If I used the camera I would be immediately stopped and searched
The worst thing is that many police officers just wear plain clothes
Hong Kong is literally a police state, people are afraid of the people around them
Despite all the chaos that engulfs the city, Toby manages to find signs of hope – like this graffiti that he passes on his way home.
The heavy rain makes the covered graffiti visible
What does the graffiti say?
Looks so nice!
Have you been walking around the city today? Would really like to know how the atmosphere in the city is since it’s the Chinese National Day
You wouldn’t know it’s National Day
No mass celebration
Just protest and anger
69 people have already been arrested so far
And a lot of police I suppose?
Police are everywhere
I no longer feel safe when I’m hanging around in Hong Kong
I’m in a high-alert mode when I walk around in the city
I think the scariest part besides police brutality is this psychological fear
Are you restricting yourself to anything because of that?
I try to make sure that the presence of fear doesn’t severely affect my life
The number of arrests on this day rises to 87 according to the German foreign office. But despite all the hardships that come along with living in Hong Kong Toby loves his hometown.
Toby is deeply politicized, even though he sometimes wishes he wouldn’t have to be. Because, he says, it is not only exhausting, but also frustrating to fight and still see your freedom slipping away in front of your eyes. Almost every conversation proves how much politics rule his life. Even when we just talk about banalities he manages to turn the conversation political. Such as this one:
Hey there! How was your evening?
I went to watch a movie with a friend
Are the cinemas in Hong Kong allowed to be full again?
I think they can only be half-full, only two people can sit together
and they have to wear masks throughout the movie
Hongkongers are legally required to wear masks in public, and that helps the protesters because they can’t just be stopped and searched by the police anymore just for covering their face
When was the last time you were active in the protests?
last time super active: November 2019
last time as a participant: July 2020
What do you mean by super-active?
On the streets, confronting the police
Running as fast as I can to avoid getting hurt
Getting hurt nonetheless
Something like that
But when I put down the gas mask in November I never put it on again
Did the police hurt you?
The tear gas
During the protests at the Polytechnic University last year in November the smoke was so concentrated that I could feel my body burning
What exactly happened there?
The siege there lasted for two weeks. But I left early
I found the last available escape
And like two minutes later the route was blocked by the police
I just remember that after leaving the campus my friends and I used all our energy to run
After leaving I immediately sent the route to my friends who were still on campus
Some of them succeeded
Some of them were arrested
That sounds intense. Do you still have the message you sent to your friends?
Could you translate?
Go to the Z core (of the university campus)
Take the escalator to the ground floor
There is a thing like a railway level crossing
On the left there is a blue ribbon security guard security guard
On the right there are two police officers
Forget them and try your best to run to the front
Slip under the metal wire
There are steps that go up
When you get to the main road keep running
You will find rescuing vehicles at the front
Best of luck
It’s too late, the police found out about the route
In a video Toby sends us he is talking about his family and mentions in passing that he was arrested last year. Wait! Arrested? We watched the video again just to make sure we understood him correctly and asked him afterwards how come this had never come up in one of our countless conversations:
Because if I give too many details I could easily be identified
…which is why we can’t go in to the details of the when and where. But Toby was willing to share the what with the public:
The police handcuffed me in bed throughout the detention time
I was on my way home after protesting when I and a bunch of other people I didn’t know got severely beaten by the police. My injuries were so bad that I had to be brought to the hospital
The police followed the ambulance and then arrested me in the emergency room
That sounds awful. But why did they attack you in the first place?
I don’t really know
They later accused me of unlawful assembly which is absolute nonsense since I was alone at that time. Like I said, that was already after the protests when I was on my way home
Where did the police take you then?
I spent the detention time in the hospital because my injuries were pretty bad
The police handcuffed me in bed throughout the detention time
They used metal handcuffs connected with long wires to lock me down
The handcuffs were connected to a leash
Like a dog leash really
I felt terrible like a robber or a murderer to deserve that sort of detention
That sounds absolutely traumatizing. Are you fine talking about it?
It’s ok. I talk openly about it to people
But did they eventually take you to prison?
In private the doctors and nurses told me that they would help me
They knew that if I would had to go to prison I would be severely beaten
So they told the police that I have to stay longer in the hospital because of my injuries
So I actually never had to go to prison
I found someone to pay my bail and after that I was free
So you don’t have to fear any consequences?
They said that the case is not over. If they find evidence they will immediately arrest me and take me to court
Does that unsettle you? Even though, as you said, you haven’t committed a crime?
I was afraid but it’s fine now
We have to accept the new reality that the police are against every Hongkonger who pursues freedom and justice
Toby lives together with one of his parents in Hong Kong. Their political views couldn’t differ more greatly. The parent is a supporter of the CCP and the Hong Kong police. Toby says that this generational conflict occurs in a lot of families. Toby’s arrest put an additional strain on his relationship with his parent.
Does it hurt you that after all you’ve been through that your family still supports the police?
Kind of haha
But my case isn’t the worst. I’m still loved and am considered as a part of the family
In some cases the parents wouldn’t even show up after their kids were arrested
They wouldn’t find lawyers for their kids
I have rarely mentioned to my family what exactly happened
At the hospital one of my parents saw my injuries and said: wow they’ve beaten you so hard
Were you taken care of?
Yes but we skipped political topics for like a month. I spent several days in the hospital and he came to visit me every day
Hong Kong may be a city with a stunning skyline and a constant hustle and bustle but what really attracts Toby is the nature. Going on a hike is a perfect way for him to explore the natural side of the town:
How was your hiking trip?
Are you at home now?
Going to a bar haha
It’s Saturday night
When we receive this message we instantly feel old since for Toby “going to a bar” seems like the only natural answer to the question if he’s home on a Saturday night. Judging by the videos he sends us he and the crowd in the bar had a lot of fun.
Going to a bar doesn’t only mean having fun for a couple of hours, but also forgetting the madness that has its grip on the city and its citizens:
In the bar you will not realize that something terrible is happening in the city. The atmosphere is so unrealistic that you forget what’s going on.**
* This material was originally sent to us as a video.
** This material has originally been sent to us on the 21st of October
The chat messages have been curated by us and shortened for better readability while the context of the messages has been retained.