With more than 100 Hong Kong activists facing prosecution, can the pro-democracy bloc unite?
Wave of support has raised some HK$2.5 million for those jailed and their family members, sparking hope that movement will be revitalised
With their three young leaders behind bars, key members of the 2014 Occupy protests are coming together to mobilise support, organise help for the families of those jailed and launching a fresh call for Hongkongers to rejoin the fight for democracy.
They have already been galvanised by an outpouring of support at Sunday’s march to condemn the jail sentences, with more than HK$2.5 million raised from donations by well-wishers. The money will be used to support the activists’ appeals and their family members in need.
The sum was more than the HK$2.04 million the July 1 march – the city’s biggest annual pro-democracy event – raised this year.
“Hongkongers should stop saying they are useless ... The power they have – no matter how little it is – is definitely bigger than that of those behind bars,” former student leader Lester Shum said.
In an interview with the Post, Shum, who called himself an “undeserving survivor” of the movement, called on Hongkongers to shake off the feeling of helplessness and resignation that had set in after Occupy failed to force the government to back down on electoral reforms.
He urged people to take action by joining any group within the pro-democracy camp which shared their beliefs or had set up street booths for a cause they cared about. These could range from protesting against the jailing of the activists or opposing the government’s bid to unseat popularly returned lawmakers, Shum said.
He also said he hoped Sunday’s march – which organisers claimed was the biggest since Occupy – would be a good start for the bloc to rebuild unity.
Last Thursday, the Court of Appeal threw Occupy leaders Joshua Wong Chi-fung, Nathan Law Kwun-chung and Alex Chow Yong-kang behind bars for six to eight months, marking the government’s second successful bid in a week to review community service orders and suspended sentences for activists.
Despite the government’s robust defence of the ruling – including backing from Chief Executive Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor – many denounced the sentencing as political persecution.
The same court had earlier jailed 13 other activists, including Shum’s girlfriend Willis Ho Kit-wang, for up to 13 months over another illegal protest.
Shum said his camp was trying to build a support network and mechanism for the family members of the jailed activists.
“It is unprecedented in Hong Kong to have so many activists being thrown behind bars,” he said.
“We are trying to build a mechanism to provide useful information to families of the activists and members of the public, such as details on jail visits.”
But Shum’s group has its work cut out. There are more than 100 activists facing prosecution. To make matters worse, Shum said most of them – unlike those in the recent cases – did not belong to any group as they were participants, not organisers.
Despite the sombre outlook, Shum, who had admitted liability to obstructing a court-ordered street clearance during the Occupy protests, a move that could land him in jail, also expressed confidence in his allies.
“I am sure they will definitely instil a positive energy to the democracy movement if imprisonment still cannot bring them down,” he said.
The ruling last week was also a huge blow to the young party Demosisto, as two of its iconic faces – Law and Wong – are now barred from running for office in the Legislative Council for five years.
Agnes Chow Ting, a core member of the group, on Monday stopped short of saying whether she would run for elections, but added that the high turnout of Sunday’s march, which was unexpected, was great encouragement to her jailed allies.