Tiananmen Square crackdown

Chow urges Hongkongers to speak out

PUBLISHED : Monday, 18 June, 2012, 12:00am
UPDATED : Monday, 18 June, 2012, 12:00am


The first senior government figure to raise concerns about the death of Tiananmen activist Li Wangyang believes Beijing is willing to listen to opinions, and he says every Hongkonger should have the courage to speak his mind.

Outgoing Health Minister Dr York Chow Yat-ngok's comments came as Beijing loyalist Chan Yuen-han vowed to press the mainland authorities to release its investigation report this month. Chan is the honorary president of the Federation of Trade Unions and a delegate to the Chinese People's Political Consultative Conference.

Giving a deadline coinciding with the visit of President Hu Jintao to Hong Kong on July 1, she said: 'There are still 13 days to go. The Hunan [authorities have] to release a report soon. If there is nothing forthcoming ... we CPPCC delegates will surely talk to them.'

Meanwhile, a Hong Kong-based online petition calling on Beijing to look into Li's death registered more than 50,000 signatures from Hong Kong and around the world - half the target of 100,000 signatures. It was initiated by mainland activists with the support of local pan-democrats. Labour Party chairman Lee Cheuk-yan has said he intends to present the signatures to Hu.

Chow, an orthopaedic surgeon who has served as secretary for food and health for eight years, said he was simply speaking from his heart when he said he doubted Li had hanged himself. 'It would be hard for a severely disabled person to commit suicide, even if he wanted to,' he said last week. 'Judging from the pictures, it doesn't seem to be suicide.'

In an interview with the South China Morning Post on Friday, he said: 'I answered [media] questions [on Li's death] not because I am leaving or staying [in the government]. I didn't expect [my remarks] would spark such a huge public response. No one has given me any pressure.'

Li was found hanged from a window with his feet on the ground in his hospital room in Shaoyang , Hunan. His death came just days after an interview with a Hong Kong broadcaster to mark the 23rd anniversary of the Tiananmen Square crackdown on June 4, 1989. He told about the torture he had suffered in his 21 years in jail and renewed his call for democracy on the mainland.

Li was completely blind and deaf following his years in jail. During the interview, his hands were shaking, and he needed assistance to walk.

Chow said he was not worried that his blunt remarks might have jangled Beijing's nerves. 'It is my understanding that the central government is open and willing to listen to opinions. Nowadays, the central government is intelligent and has vision.'

He was also not concerned that he might be barred from entering the mainland in future. 'As a Hongkonger, we should be brave enough to say what we should say. We should not exaggerate or speak in a criticising tone when airing our views. If we speak genuinely, I believe we can earn more respect.'

His latest comments came as the Hunan authorities announced on Thursday that they had launched an inquiry by a team of experts.

Asked if he was confident that the truth would emerge from the inquiry, Chow said he could not judge until the reports were completed.

With his term ticking down, Chow, 64, sidestepped questions as to whether he might join next year's June 4 vigil or the upcoming July 1 protest. 'The June 4 incident is a very sensitive issue. I have never joined the vigils, In 1989, I co-signed a petition calling on the central government to leniently treat pro-democracy activists. The issue, as I see it today, is still very complex. Our country, I believe, will make a clear analysis and define [the event] at an appropriate time. The June 4 incident was a sorrowful, historic lesson for China.'

Chow said he had taken part in a protest against Japan over the Diaoyu Islands in 1969 but realised taking to the streets was not the only way to address a problem.