Humans of Hong Kong

Humans of Hong Kong

Translated version of feature stories and interviews by Stand News. 立場新聞專題、人訪的英文版本。

2019/12/16 - 15:59

Indonesian domestic workers report on the anti-extradition movement: “What’s happening in HK is very important”

Humans of Hong Kong 為《立場新聞》欄目,刊出由特約作者翻譯、英文版本的立場專題、人物專訪,方便國際讀者閱讀。

"Humans of Hong Kong" is a column highlighting the English version of feature stories and interviews by Stand News.

NB: Arista Devi, real name Yuli Riswati, was deported to Indonesia on 2 December 2019, after being detained in Castle Peak Bay Immigration Centre. 

On Sept 30, Indonesian journalist Veby Mega Indah was shot in the right eye by police; her lawyer quoted medical advice saying that her right eye will lose sight permanently. 


Also from Indonesia is citizen journalist Arista Devi, who knows Veby and often reports on protests. They often run into each other at events organised by their compatriots. “Whether I know her or am friends with her is not important––no matter who you are, to have this happen to you is horrible; being blinded is a tragedy.” 

After Veby was shot, many Indonesians in Hong Kong felt anxious. “Many people said they were very scared and that they would stop going out on the street. Journalists have legitimate reasons to take photos and conduct reports––but even they are hurt. Many of my friends were very scared, and felt that they should stop taking photos and stay far away from the protests, because they didn’t know when the police would start shooting. Some people even felt that they should not even mention the protests, fearing the risks.”

Some users on LIHKG called on Hongkongers to participate in a march on October 6 in support of the Indonesian journalist and to oppose police abuses of power. The Indonesian community in Hong Kong remained worried: “We also support the protests, but others will say we shouldn’t come out, because we may be beaten up by the police, or we may be blamed by the Hong Kong government. We may just be imagining some of these things, but we’re still scared.”  

What about you? “I want to tell them not to be scared; but in reality, I’m also very scared.” 



“What’s happening in Hong Kong is very important”

Once the news came out on LIHKG, the Indonesian consulate issued a statement the next day “advising” Indonesians not to participate in Sunday’s march. “The consulate only said it advised people not to go, as it would not take responsibility if anything happened; but the actual effect was that those Indonesians who participated in the march were looked down upon and ostracized by their peers.”

Regarding the blinding of her Indonesian peer, the journalist Arista was also worried. “If the police had used appropriate force, respected journalists’ rights and the public’s right to information, the reporter wouldn’t have been shot. I’m also very worried; worried for myself, worried for everyone. Journalists already wear reflective vests to distinguish themselves from protesters; I don’t know how else to protect myself.” 

If the situation allows, she hopes to be able to go out and report; but there’s too much uncertainty at the moment. “What’s happening in Hong Kong is really important; we have to know.”  

Doing journalism alongside a full-time job is difficult, but Arista still wants to write. She said that Hong Kong is her second home. 

Every Sunday, Arista Devi goes out to do interviews, then writes up online articles in bahasa Indonesia to allow Indonesians around the world to understand what is happening. At night, she goes home, puts away her camera; the next day, she takes out her environmentally-friendly bag to buy groceries at the market, cooks, washes the dishes, mops the floor, and repeats these tasks until Saturday comes around again. 

During the workweek, she is a migrant domestic worker; in her spare time, she is a journalist. Since the anti-extradition movement began, Migran Pos, the citizen-run media co-founded by Arista and her friends, has been a reliable source of protest-related information for Indonesian domestic workers in Hong Kong. From providing information about which MTR stations are closed, to dispelling disinformation about cash rewards for informing on “pro-democracy”/‘yellow ribbon’ employers, no story is too small to report on. When protests against a proposed bill also broke out in Indonesia, she translated English reports into bahasa Indonesia.

“Hong Kong has a lot of fake news. Some people say helpers will inform on their employers who participate in protests; others say if we so much as mention the protests, we will be arrested. Many people don’t understand Cantonese, so we don’t know what’s going on and get very worried,” she said in Cantonese.  

(The picture shows the Indonesian consulate advising Indonesians in Hong Kong to refrain from participating in the march on October 6 and circulating information related to the protests)

From farmer, to domestic worker, to journalist

Arista, who was a farmer in her hometown ten years ago, never thought that she would one day become a citizen journalist, writing articles for her peers. 

Her story is similar to that of many Indonesian women. To give her children a better education, she came to Hong Kong from East Java 11 years ago, switching out a farmer’s hoe used to harvest corn for a cleaning cloth to do household chores. When she first arrived in Hong Kong, she didn’t understand Cantonese. She often received her salary late and she was almost raped by her employer. Then she started volunteering at a migrant domestic workers’ organization, and learned about her rights. Many of her friends do not understand Cantonese. “This is why I want to tell them what is happening,” she said. 

She started writing articles after years of protesting at the Indonesian consulate with the migrants’ rights organization. “After the protests, I wanted people to hear our voices; since there were no media reports, I decided to write my own.” Later, she began printing out her articles and handing them out to her peers; she also became a citizen journalist, writing reports for Indonesian media outlets for free.  

During the Indonesian presidential election at the beginning of the year, she and her friends founded the citizen-run media Migran Pos. All of the reporting, editing, and translating is done by seven people, all of them migrant domestic workers with only one day off per week. Arista is the editor. By day, she does reporting; by night, “after work,” she proofreads articles. Being teargassed has become part of her daily life. 

“We must know about what is happening in Hong Kong, because it affects our daily life––like which MTR stations are closed, how much pork costs, which affects our grocery shopping,” she said. A while ago, when African swine fever led to a shortage of pork, some friends read her report, and said: “No wonder I can’t find pork in the market!” Some of her friends didn’t know there was a protest in Wan Chai and ended up being hit by blue dye from the water-cannon vehicle.

“No one in Hong Kong cares about us; no Hongkongers care to tell us what is happening. That’s why we need someone to give us the information.” Apart from online media, she also has a Facebook page called “Independen konseling BMI,” which provides a free “tree hole” service for people to confide their feelings and have their questions answered. “People always ask me where the protests are. I always tell them to wear a mask on their day off. Last time, someone caught a whiff of the liquid from the water-cannon truck; it left a terrible taste in the mouth and affected their health. I spent a long time explaining the situation, so that they would understand why they need to wear a mask.”

The mistrust fuelling fake news

Apart from finding themselves on the frontline by accident, some Indonesian migrant domestic workers have been subject to condemnation as a result of fake news. “Many Hongkongers misunderstand Indonesians.”

Previously, a flyer in bahasa Indonesia circulated online, inviting Indonesian migrant domestic workers to ‘inform on’ employers who participate in protests, allegedly originating from Migran Pos. In reality, the outlet’s members had translated other media reports about C.Y. Leung’s call for people to inform on participants in the protests on his 803.HK website––it had nothing to do with Indonesian domestic workers. “The flyer said that if your employer is a protester, and you help to arrest them by providing their photos, then you’ll be rewarded. The notice’s bahasa Indonesia was very fake, as if it was from Google translate, but the impact was massive.” 

Many employers suddenly doubted their helpers. “I don’t know how many Indonesians believed it, but on Facebook, Twitter, and Telegram, there were messages saying, be careful of your helpers––this was a massive problem! Employers always complain about domestic workers, because they are strangers, in the sense of being ‘strangers at home’––employers say they don’t know what we will do to them. As workers, it is uncomfortable to lose the trust of your employer; and employers must also feel unsafe.” 

The root of mistrust is actually discrimination. “Even if there was not such a flyer, employers have always had these doubts. Whenever they lose something, they will suspect that we have stolen it; all of this is rooted in discrimination.”

There is a lot of fake news circulated among domestic workers too, causing widespread anxiety. “Some people say taking photos of protesters will get you fired; there were rumours that people who take such photos will be taken to prison by the police. Everyone says, ‘I heard this from a friend’; but no one really knows who said it. Some say that talking or posting on social media about the protests will land you in prison. Because we do not understand Cantonese, there is a lot of fake news; it is easy for us to get scared or to easily believe in these rumours.” 

“I think it has a huge impact––people don’t want to talk or know about the protests. But if you don’t know, then you get scared; you have to know more to protect yourself.” Not only Indonesian domestic workers, but Filipino domestic workers also believe in such fake news, she said. Once, she was photographing on the side of a protest, and a Filipino domestic worker came up to her and told her to stop.“It’s so dangerous!” the Filipino said. “I asked her why it was dangerous, and all she said was someone had told her. It’s not just domestic workers; lots of people are like that.” 

Our Stand News Reporter followed Arista while she reported on a protest at Sha Tin New Town Plaza. Seeing long paper chains of restaurant receipts in the centre of the mall, dangling from restaurants on the eighth floor, she asked what the protesters were doing. Amidst wild rumours, she always tries to get to the bottom of the story. “We need confirmation, we can’t just believe whatever ‘your friend’ tells you!”

The members of Migran Pos look at different media sources to verify information, even Stand News. “We will use Google Translate, and look at what other media outlets are saying.” They also do live reporting at the scene. “All seven of us are domestic workers. We don’t have the time to write articles like professional reporters, so we usually split up the work. On our day off, someone monitors the live stream and the others go out to report.”

The Hong Kong they see

Wearing a gas mask from a friend, she often makes observations at the frontline. One time, in Admiralty, she saw a teenager who was teargassed and had to rinse his eyes. She held up her camera but couldn’t bring herself to press the button which would capture his face. To protect the youth, she even used an umbrella to block other cameras. Tears rolled down her face as she held the umbrella. Bystanders thought she had been teargassed and asked whether she  needed to rinse her eyes, but in reality, she was simply crying. “I was not crying because I was tired––of course there was a little bit of that, but he’s far more tired than me. Normally, if it weren’t for the protests, he’d be playing video games at home, but because of the situation now, he can’t do that. They are like my little brothers and sisters; I care so much for them.” 

Away from the frontline, they also see how things unfold in different households. “The young people will argue with the adults at home. We’re put in a tough spot, being stuck in the middle. It’s very upsetting.” Many of her friends look after the elderly.They see how the difference in views between the generations are caused by misunderstanding. “The broadsheets always talk about what the protesters have done wrong; but the young people’s phones tell them police are beating up protesters. Who is correct?” Some friends once saw young protesters running into a residential building to hide from the tear gas and warning the elderly people at the lift lobby not to go outside, but they ended up being scolded by the elderly people who said that they were trying to scare them. “People only see one side of the matter and no one wants to understand the other side’s perspective.”

Misunderstandings also exist between domestic workers and their own families. “Much of the news in Indonesia is incorrect. It often portrays Hong Kong as very dangerous and chaotic. A lot of online television and radio programmes say the police are hitting people and protesters are causing destruction. There are one or two video clips of a fire, and our families will think the whole Hong Kong is like this––that you’ll get beaten up by the police on the street, that things are dangerous and messy They’ll tell us to resign and to come home––this leads to arguments.”

The most familiar of strangers

Arista said that they are “strangers at home” to their employers. Although helpers like her follow the recent events, they would rather keep their thoughts to themselves than voice them out. 

They refer to their employers’ children as “my little brother” and “my little sister”. Some workers’ “little brothers” are protesters, so they pay close attention to protest-related news and often ask Arista what is happening. One time, one “little brother” forgot to bring his mask; his helper immediately pulled him back, saying: “I’ll get you a mask!” He asked her why and she answered: “Because I know it’s important for you not to be recognized. The next time you go out, I’ll prepare a mask for you!” In another household, a helper’s “little sister” also frequently went out to protests. After realising that her “little sister” was going to a protest, she immediately prepared water and food for her, saying: “Let me pour you some water, and you must eat before you go, because you’ll be running around later!” 

Another friend knew that her “little sister” was going out to protest without telling her parents. On the day, she waited for the child to come home, staying up late into the night.  Knowing that her ‘little sister’ had forgotten to bring her keys, the “big sister” texted her, saying: “Let me know when you get home, I’ll open the door for you. If it’s too late and I’ve fallen asleep, just call me.” Arista smiled, saying that her friend told her: “My ‘little sister’ didn’t know that I knew what she was doing outside.” 

“We do this because we love each other. Our employer’s family is like our own family. Even if their children aren't kids anymore, they’re younger than us, so they feel like our own little brothers and sisters.” 

圖片來源:ABC News (Australia)網上新聞影片截圖

圖片來源:ABC News (Australia)網上新聞影片截圖

Indonesia’s seven demands

Recently, a social movement against a government bill also broke out in Indonesia. The country was swept up in protests. So far, more than 500 protesters have been arrested, and six university students have died in clashes with the police during the crackdown. The police initially denied responsibility, but since then, 13 officers have been taken in for questioning. People say police beat the students to death, including by smashing their skull and shooting them in the chest. 

“You have five demands; we have seven demands. You have protests in Sha Tin, Tsuen Wan; we also have protests everywhere.” Their seven demands include: withdraw the bill; release the movement’s leaders; the police should stop aiding the government in suppressing the protests; immediate action to stop the forest fires and arrest the arsonists; an end to militarism in Papua and other regions; and cease further changes to the country’s labour laws. “Hong Kong and Indonesia are actually the same: Indonesia has democracy, but it feels useless; the right to protest should be guaranteed in any democratic country, but we can’t even come out to march,” she said. 

Arista Devi

Arista Devi

Original Version: 【專訪】眼傷記者同鄉 印傭姐姐辦網媒採訪反送中:香港的事好重要