Thousands of pro-democracy protesters this weekend forced a shutdown of Hong Kong’s airport following nearly two months of daily and increasingly violent confrontations between law enforcement and demonstrators.

The protests were initially sparked earlier this year by a proposed law that would allow residents of Hong Kong to be extradited to mainland China, viewed by pro-democracy groups as a threat to the autonomy and freedoms normally extended to the territory. They have since evolved into broader protests against Hong Kong’s government and against increasing political and economic pressure from the mainland.

Writers and artists are bringing their powerful voices to the protests, as well. The president of PEN Hong Kong, Tammy Ho Lai-Ming, is one of those writers. This summer, she has been publishing original poetry highlighting demands for greater freedom in Hong Kong.

“We Are What We Are Made Of”
Tammy Ho Lai-Ming

Beginning from every day
tears are shed: their tails are puffs
of smoke. Beginning from yesterday
walls are covered in squared colours,
street names changed. Beginning from then
poetry can mean, be, and stay. Beginning
from June 2019, people
in a city look at each other:
million faces, million thoughts,
united in water, practice, slogans.
Beginning from now,
there is no turning back, no stopping.
We are what we are made of:
desperation and unbeatable will.
This is the beginning of the open
secret that we don’t ever quit.

As confrontations between police and protesters increase in severity and violence, visual artists have also played a key role in the recent demonstrations. Paintings and illustrations have been a key part of the demonstrations at Hong Kong’s airport over the weekend.

Artist and activist Ai Weiwei, PEN America’s 2018 Artistic Expression Award winner, has sent crews of filmmakers to document the recent protests.

“We are really on the front line; we are fighting for human rights, for freedom of speech, and we are fighting for all the values we care about [alongside] those people who also care about those same values.”
—Ai Weiwei, BBC interview

PEN America has consistently called attention to attacks on free expression in Hong Kong. In 2016, we published Writing on the Wall, an in-depth report on the disappearance of the “Causeway Bay” booksellers in Hong Kong. That year, PEN America also led an international publisher’s delegation to Hong Kong, to discuss the Causeway Bay disappearances and the state of the freedom to publish in the city. And in 2015, we published Threatened Harbor, an in-depth analysis of the deterioration of press freedom alongside rising political tensions.

“Our media doesn’t seem to realize press freedom and freedom of expression are suffering a slow death, like a frog being slowly boiled alive. How many media organizations do we need to lose before we know we have no voice and no column space to be able to speak out?”
Threatened Harbor, January 2015

Read more about PEN America’s Hong Kong-related advocacy and analysis, including our concerns over the Extradition Bill proposed—and then shelved—earlier this year, as well as our advocacy for Causeway Bay bookseller Gui Minhai.