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star says city has become a police state as young people fight for their lives

“We are officially in a police state,” the Hong Kong Cantopop star and activist Denise Ho told a sold-out audience in Sydney on Sunday night.

Speaking at the Sydney Opera House’s Antidote festival, Ho told an audience of mostly self-identifying Hongkongers that the political upheaval in their home had reached “a point of no turning back”.

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“We are in a state of humanitarian crisis where police have full authority to do whatever they want with the people, and the government is hiding behind the police force,” she said.

As protests in Hong Kong headed towards their 14th week, Ho reflected on the resilience and tenacity of the protesters, who have turned out in hundreds of thousands since the first demonstrations in June.

“Where does this courage come from? has never been known to be a politically conscious society,” she said. “Nothing like this has ever been seen before and now people have been pushed to this edge – these young people are fighting for their lives and for their future.”

She rejected allegations by Beijing that the movement was being provoked by the US or other international players. “This is a leaderless, centralised movement,” she said. “They are still claiming there are foreign forces coming into the movement … it’s just not the truth.”

Before she was an activist, Ho was a singer. She launched her music career in the 1990s when she won a singing competition run by a TV station, but it wasn’t until the early 2000s that she broke through into the mainstream. She began to identify publicly as a lesbian in 2012 – the first person in Cantopop to come out – and became an advocate for LGBT+ rights.

In 2014 she was arrested for taking part in the “umbrella movement” for universal suffrage in Hong Kong. As a result she was blacklisted in mainland China, where she had a growing audience, and was dropped from major sponsorship deals and by her record label. She responded by starting her own label, and by intensifying her political activism.

“The police have really been completely out of hand, and so Hong Kong people are furious,” Ho said.

Ho said she expected the crisis to escalate in the lead-up to celebrations on 1 October to mark the founding of the People’s Republic of China in 1949.

“What will happen during this month, nobody will really answer this question,” she said. “What we can really do in this moment is become more united in this fight and become really strategic in the face of this huge machine that is the [Chinese] communist government.”

She said six young people had killed themselves “because of despair” during the protest period.

“I really want the world to know that although we are seeing a lot of violence from all sides at this moment, this really started out as a largely peaceful protest in June,” she said.

“We tried all sorts of ways to get our voices heard, to get to the government. But they only responded with teargas, more teargas, rubber bullets, sponge bullets, police brutality.”

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