Far Away From Home: Hong Kongers Create Oslo Lennon Walls

It was a hot, quiet afternoon at the University of Oslo, though some students could still be found lingering around the premises. While many would travel abroad during the summer months in Norway, a group of Hong Kongers came together to stick messages with post-it notes and pin printouts onto some bulletin boards located in three buildings at the heart of the university on Thursday 18th July. A symbolic gesture to show solidarity with Hong Kong protestors and to help raise awareness of the anti-extradition bill movement. 

Organisers and supporters standing in front of Oslo Lennon Wall at University of Oslo. Photo Credit: Ka Man Mak/The Oslo Desk

They dubbed them the ‘Lennon Walls’, a more peaceful and safe call for democracy. The Lennon Walls were part of the 2014 Umbrella Movement in Hong Kong and its root found in Prague during the 1980s. There the John Lennon Wall was covered with Beatle lyrics and graffiti criticising against the communist regime.

The recent protests in Hong Kong, beginning Sunday 31st March, were caused by the proposed introduction of an extradition bill which would include mainland China. There were fears that this bill would pave the way for the extradition of those who are perceived as threats to the Chinese government, including journalists and political activists from Hong Kong. Coupled with fears that China would attempt to take more direct control of Hong Kong despite the Sino-British Joint Declaration which allows Hong Kong more independence. 

In 2016, five Hong Kong publishers were kidnapped and taken to Mainland China, which shook the locals. Many feared that these incidents would recur under the extradition bill.

A murder case in Taiwan precipitated the introduction of the aforementioned extradition bill. The Hong Konger boyfriend admitted to murdering his girlfriend in Taiwan, but cannot be extradited to Taiwan to stand trial.

The Hong Kong government introduced amendments to the extradition bill (legally known as the Fugitive Offenders and Mutual Legal Assistance in Criminal Matters Legislation Bill) allowing fugitives to be sent to China, Macau and Taiwan where they committed a crime. The process is decided through Beijing-elected Carrie Lam on a case-by-case basis without any involvement of the Legislative Council. Many lawmakers in Hong Kong were against these amendments and staged a march in March. 

Oslo Lennon Wall at University of Oslo. Photo Credit: Ka Man Mak/The Oslo Desk

Messages from the Oslo Lennon Wall voiced “No white terror!” (referring to the brutality of white-uniformed police force), “Democracy for Hong Kong”, “Hong Kong Add Oil” (meaning Hong Kong keep going) along with printouts of newspaper articles, a letter signed by Norwegian politicians, leaflets about the movement and a handwritten poster of their five demands. 

Post-it notes on Oslo Lennon Wall At University if Oslo. Photo Credit: Ka Man Mak/The Oslo Desk

Behind the Oslo Lennon Wall
The Oslo Desk were able to reach Steven Huiching Yip (40), Jessica Chiu (29) and Katrina Herting (27), who were among the initial group to create the Oslo Lennon Walls. An estimate of around a dozen, including the organisers turned up on the Thursday and with some bringing their children.

There are an estimated 836 Hong Kongers living in Norway with an additional 243 Norwegian-born to Hong Kong parents, according to Statistics Norway as of March 2019.

Staircase leading down to one of the Oslo Lennon Wall with Steven Huiching Yip standing in front of it at University of Oslo. Photo Credit: Ka Man Mak/The Oslo Desk

Jessica, an engineering geologist at NGI, is known as the convenor of the group and is responsible for rallying many of the people in the Oslo movement to join. She expressed her feelings of being away from home, “I guess at some point, not being in Hong Kong, it’s difficult. I think for people living in Hong Kong it is difficult for them facing this every day, but for those not living in Hong Kong, me included, feels like we can’t concentrate on our daily lives either.”

Jessica like the other co-organisers followed social media constantly in order to feel connected to what is happening in Hong Kong and wanted to do something in Oslo to show solidarity.

“I guess to show solidarity to the people in Hong Kong as a way to express our feelings… to channel those feelings to our friends and family in Hong Kong.”

She also added that the defining moment that impacted her was, “The moment came when I was working on the 12th June and my friends were caught in the protest with teargas and then there were large clashes between the police and the protestors. That really influenced me. It’s hard to just, like, sit in meetings during the day. It was a couple of days before my summer holidays and I spoke to my boss about it.”

Oslo Lennon Wall at University of Oslo. Photo Credit: Ka Man Mak/The Oslo Desk

Former journalism student Katrina Herting shared a sense of depression over the protests, until her husband found a group that was made back in 2014 for the Umbrella Movement in Oslo. There they got to meet the other co-organisers. She was the one to suggested building a Lennon Wall in Oslo.

For her, “[Lennon Wall] represents the protest in Hong Kong. It is very colourful and it is a good way for people to voice their opinion because we are talking about freedom of speech, and we need somewhere people can put down their real feelings and opinions towards the protest without just projecting it via media.”

Katrina read social media posts from her friends who are journalists on the frontline reporting the protests, describing their experiences with the pain of teargas and witnessing the brutality of the police force, “And that is kind of worrying because freedom of the press is something that we treasure and it’s the only way that watches over the government.”

Steven, who has lived in Norway for almost 16 years, saw that the Lennon Wall was the “safest” and “easiest” way to show support for Hong Kong protestors. He felt “warmth” and “support” seeing the messages left on the Oslo Lennon Walls.

Similar walls can be found in Toronto, Vancouver BC, Tokyo, Berlin, London, Manchester, Melbourne, Sydney, Copenhagen and Taipei.

Hong Kong supporter writes a note on one of the Oslo Lennon Wall. Photo Credit: Ka Man Mak/The Oslo Desk

“I just think that Hong Kong is my hometown. I don’t want my hometown to be degraded, to be a place that is not Hong Kong any more. Hong Kong used to have these basic core values and that was how Hong Kong was when I grew up.” said Steven.

For Steven the basic core values included rule of law and freedom of speech and expression. 

“So far, we are the first group to set up these walls in Oslo, and we have evaluated several places even the Nobel Peace Center since it is July now and it is hard to contact the staff so we didn’t get the arrangement we liked. So, I suggested that we could do it at the university since we don’t need to get permission,” he said.

Oslo Lennon Wall at University of Oslo. Photo Credit: Ka Man Mak/The Oslo Desk
“We sell enough salmon! Support Hong Kong, not China’s Communist Party” says one post-it note on Oslo Lennon Wall at University of Oslo. Photo Credit: Ka Man

When asked how long they hoped to maintain the wall, he said, “As long as possible.”

He also added, “Since things are moving very fast. We hope that Hong Kong can resolve themselves quickly and peacefully, but if they don’t go that way then we probably need to escalate and we have not decided what kind of things we would do. Everything depends on how it is going in Hong Kong in the future.”

The group will maintain and update any information on the Oslo Lennon Walls for as long as possible and as needed. Steven reasoned that the recent protests that began several months ago due to the extradition bill has now become more “profound” and “bigger”. The recent clashes between the police, thugs and protestors carry worrying concerns for the group. 

Oslo Lennon Wall at University of Oslo. Photo credit: Ka Man Mak/The Oslo Desk

Steven mentioned to us that he was worried that the Lennon Wall might be torn down by Pro-Beijing students once the university is back in full swing. A possible repeat of the violent clashes that occurred at the University of Queensland, Australia where Pro-Beijing students had attacked Hong Kong supporting demonstrators.  

Jessica’s response to the fear of attacks from Pro-Beijing students, “I know some people are standing on the opposite side to us. I don’t fear it or angry about that either. You can put things on [the wall], and you can put things down [from the wall]. I can’t control it. I just don’t want them to be so ugly that they do it publicly. It just shows that they are not respecting others.”  

Why should Norway care?
The organisers of the Oslo Lennon Wall all believe that Norway can play a significant role given their association with the Nobel Peace Prize, which promotes human rights, peace and democracy. 

Oslo Lennon Wall at University of Oslo. Photo Credit: Ka Man Mak/The Oslo Desk

“Norway stands on top of the Human Development Index (HDI) and upholds human rights very much. And they are also responsible for announcing the Nobel Peace Prize and in fact presented an award in 2010 to Liu Xiaobo so I believe Norwegians are on the frontline on defending human rights and democracy. Right now, human rights are getting violated in Hong Kong, and we hope that Norway will speak out.” said Steven. 

While Katrina Herting’s Norwegian husband Anders (26) is not heavily involved in the organisation of the Oslo Lennon Wall, he is involved because of his wife and has concerns for his family and friends who are living in Hong Kong.

“I think it is important that people from countries that have a lot of freedom should care. It is easy to take these freedoms for granted and forget how important they are.”

Anders and his friend backed a small campus campaign at Bergen in 2014 related to the Umbrella Movement. They got people to hold a poster that said, ‘Democracy for Hong Kong’ and shared the resulting photographs on Facebook. 

“I think most Norwegians know the dark side of the Chinese government but maybe what’s going on Hong Kong doesn’t get connected with them. So, I wanted to make a bigger impact in Norway.” said Jessica.

Jessica wrote an article that was published in Aftenposten, a Norwegian newspaper. She received a couple of responses saying that she was “brave” and that “Norway is a small country. We can’t do anything”. She believes that despite the fact that Norway is a small country, something is better than nothing.

Jessica Chiu (29) writes a post-it note onto one of the Oslo Lennon Wall at University of Oslo. Photo Credit: Ka Man Mak/The Oslo Desk

Norwegian-Chinese foreign relations took a hit in 2010 following China’s frown on the 2010 Nobel Peace Prize to Chinese dissident Liu Xiabao that led to China imposing a six year political boycott freezing bilateral relations between the two countries. Norway lost 63 percent of the market share (283.5 million NOK) in salmon trade with China. It was only until December 2016 that Norway-China relation were normalised. It was further strained during the visit of Tibetan spiritual leader Dalai Lama to Norway in 2015. Norwegian officials, in an effort to appease Beijing, did not officially meet with the Tibetan leader.

Chinese foreign policy expert, Ulf Sverdrup, of The Norwegian Institute for International Policy Affairs Institute) (NUPI) in an interview with finance newspaper, Dagens Næringsliv in 2018 underscored the need for a China strategy in Norway. He said Norway should map out interests, political direction and opportunities, that covers a broad range of topics, other than just human rights. In addition, a strategic policy that does not undermine Norway’s position in Europe.  

Yellow ponchos to commemorate suicides
Yellow ponchos were also put around the city of Oslo, as a commemoration of a male protestor who died by suicide and wore a yellow raincoat bearing the words “Carrie Lam kills Hong Kong.” The organisers expressed their anger that there had been no response from Carrie Lam.

“It is tragic and very sad. I strongly disagree with suicide. I believe that no matter how bad the situation goes, life is precious. Stay alive to fight another day. I understand the desperation of the young people as they feel hopeless and there is no way out. No matter how much we do and suffer, the government is deaf and blind to our wishes. So, I understand the desperation. I hope no one will die anymore.” said Steven.

Poster from the 2014 Umbrella Movement demanding universal suffrage at University of Oslo. Photo Credit: Ka Man Mak/The Oslo Desk

Four suicides have been connected to the anti-extradition movement to date. As of the time of writing, there has been no response from Carrie Lam or the Hong Kong government regarding these political suicides. The organisers of the Oslo movement expressed their anger and shock over this.

For Jessica on the suicides, “I have never thought that people in Hong Kong would take their lives because of this. Everyone that took their lives are in the same age as me. So, it is a tough feeling because they can be my friend, my schoolmates.” 

She added that she felt that Hong Kong is in a “mental defect” state, where Hong Kong is “sick”. “It is hard to imagine that family activities are to go on protest.” 

Preparing for 25th August demonstration
The organisers of the Oslo Lennon Wall are now preparing for a demonstration at Eidsvolls plass, outside the Norwegian Parliament on Sunday 25th August, from 12pm to 6pm.

Jessica said, “We may be setting up stands there, creating Lennon walls to ask people to put their comments on, and to show videos which is hard to put on the walls at the university so we might be using some equipment like computers and iPads to show the public.”

The five demands from the protestors on Oslo Lennon Wall at University of Oslo. Photo Credit: Ka Man

The purpose of this demonstration will be to continue to raise awareness of the situation in Hong Kong, the way the police are abusing their power over the protestors and how the government is ignoring its people.

Katrina condemned the violence of protestors throwing bricks at police officers which she reasoned could normalise killings, “No matter how much the media coverage focuses on how peaceful they [protestors] are I do believe that there are a few people that are doing something that they are not supposed to do. Like finding bricks and throwing them at the police. I do think that should be chargeable.”

All the organisers wished that the Hong Kong government would listen to the wishes of their people and meet the demands the protestors have laid out. This includes a schedule to be put in place for universal suffrage. 

Katrina said, “I think that as long as they [Hong Kong government] answer to two or three of the demands, I think people will slowly understand the government in a way.” 

The five demands are:

1. Permanent withdrawal of the extradition bill
2. Withdraw the term “riot” to characterise the protests.
3. Release all arrested protesters without charge
4. An independent commission of inquiry into the police brutality
5. Implement full universal suffrage.

Facebook page for Stand with Hong Kong – Norway and more information about the 25th August Oslo demonstration: click here

First published 6th August 2019 and was updated on 7th August 2019 for more balanced and accurate reporting by including the tensions between Norway-China relations.

Ka Man Mak

Ka Man is an investigative journalist, documentary photographer, and social entrepreneur, as well as the founder of The Oslo Desk. She is a British-born Hong Konger residing in Oslo, Norway. She holds a Master in Environmental Geoscience and have taken numerous diplomas including child psychology, and a course in big data analytics at OsloMet. Made numerous publications in newsletters, magazines and Norwegian newspapers. Interested in edtech, constructive journalism, women in migration, Cantonese language, alternatives to capitalism and asylum policy.