Venting anger and grief, thousands of people joined leaders of Occupy Central and other civic groups in Tamar Park last night as they vowed to start waves of protests against Beijing's decision to tightly control elections in Hong Kong.
While one of Occupy's leaders vowed to usher in "wave after wave" of protest, Joshua Wong Chi-fung, convenor of student-led Scholarism, urged secondary school pupils to boycott classes. "In addition to our academic responsibility, we also have our social responsibility," he said.
Watch: Occupy Central leaders promise civil disobedience campaign in Hong Kong
At 7pm, three hours after a state committee announced Beijing would essentially approve candidates for Hong Kong's 2017 chief executive race, throngs flowed into the park at the government headquarters in Admiralty.
"The decision [by the National People's Congress Standing Committee] is terribly heartbreaking," said Irene Chan, 40.
Many in the crowd urged the Legislative Council to reject election reform proposals that would deny residents the ability to cast ballots for a broad array of candidates. Under the terms laid out by Beijing, the central government would vet candidates, essentially barring pan-democrats.
"The framework is definitely unacceptable," said Lau Kim-ling, executive secretary of the Student Christian Movement of Hong Kong. "We should never let this reform proposal get passed as, with 'one man, one vote', it would offer fake credibility to the next chief executive. Hong Kong is more than ready to have democracy. We are not living in North Korea."
Professor Benny Tai Yiu-ting, a leading organiser of Occupy Central, strode on the stage set up at Tamar and said the city had officially entered an "era of civil disobedience".
"I know many people are here out of frustration. But we should not be frustrated. Why? It's because we see hope," Tai told the crowd. "We see injustice in society ... and we must voice out this injustice."
He did not specify when the group would stage its sit-in, fearing that police would arrest organisers for taking illegal actions. But he urged the crowd to await details in the next week or two.
Tiananmen Square activist Wang Dan and 14 other former student leaders of the 1989 pro-democracy movement in Beijing, issued a joint statement in support of Occupy Central.
Democratic Party founding chairman Martin Lee Chu-ming SC, said: "They are moving the goal posts again. Beijing can now select the candidates - puppets of course … but what's the difference between a rotten orange, rotten apple and a rotten banana?"
The protest was peaceful and there were no arrests. Police estimated the turnout at 2,640, while Tai put the number at 5,000.
"Even though the decision is unjust and undemocratic [it shows] that many people are willing to fight for democracy and for the ability to decide their own fates," Tai said after the rally.
The crowd included many elderly residents. Ho Yim-hung, 80, vowed to join Occupy Central even if it meant risking arrest. "The central government is a liar," Ho said angrily. "It says people who join Occupy are violent, but in fact it is violent itself."
After the rally, about 100 Scholarism members marched to the Grand Hyatt Hotel in Wan Chai to confront Li Fei, chairman of the Basic Law Committee, who was due to arrive early this morning. He will attend a forum on the reform decision today.
Watch: Scholarism protest against NPC decision outside of Beijing official Li Fei's hotel
The NPC in its own words: Highlights from its decision on Hong Kong elections
Excerpts from the Standing Committee of the National People's Congress explanation of its decisions on Hong Kong elections, as released by Xinhua:
- The chief executive must be a person who loves the country and loves Hong Kong. This is a basic requirement of the policy of "one country, two systems". It is … stipulated in the Basic Law, and called for by the actual need to maintain long-term prosperity and stability of Hong Kong [and] uphold the sovereignty, security and development interests of the country. [Therefore] the method for selecting the chief executive should provide corresponding institutional safeguards.
- There is still a small number of people in the Hong Kong community who do not properly understand the policy of "one country, two systems", do not abide by the Basic Law or acknowledge the central government's power over Hong Kong. A small number of people have even raised views that are contrary to the Basic Law and openly advocated illegal activities. Such development will inevitably undermine the rule of law in Hong Kong, the interests of Hong Kong residents and foreign investors, and the long-term prosperity and stability of Hong Kong.
- On the composition of the nominating committee: The provisions for the number of members, composition and formation method of the nominating committee shall be made in accordance with that of the Election Committee for the fourth chief executive [in 2012]. The committee shall be composed of members from four sectors in equal proportions … [as] prescribed by the electoral law enacted by Hong Kong. The committee members shall be elected by corporate bodies in various sectors on their own in accordance with the number of seats allocated and the election method as prescribed by law.
- Bearing in mind that the total number of seats of the Election Committee was increased from 800 to 1,200, in equal proportions for all four sectors, and with the endorsement and support from all sides, it is appropriate for the nominating committee to have the same number of members, composition and formation method.
- On the need of a chief executive candidate to have the endorsement of more than half of the members of the nominating committee: The nominating committee is a specialised institution for nomination. It collectively exercises the power to nominate chief executive candidates and must therefore reflect the collective will of the institution. The "democratic procedures" stipulated in Article 45 of the Basic Law that should follow the democratic principle of majority rule.