Hong Kong must continue fight for democracy, Occupy co-founders say on third anniversary
Despite facing charges relating to the 2014 protests, leaders of the movement are unwavering in pro-democracy message
The co-founders of the Occupy Central movement on Thursday implored the people of Hong Kong to continue to fight for universal suffrage and defy what they say is Beijing’s resistance to democracy in the city.
Speaking on the third anniversary of the start of the pro-democracy movement, University of Hong Kong law professor Benny Tai Yiu-ting said Occupy was the start of civil awakening.
“Over the last three years, Hong Kong people have been facing increasingly tougher state power and oppression,” Tai, who is one of three co-founders, said in a radio interview. “But their will to fight for justice has not changed. Their voices have become stronger.”
Another co-organiser Chan Kin-man, a sociologist at Chinese University, called on Hongkongers not to give up the fight.
“Our thought [during Occupy] was that if we still couldn’t achieve universal suffrage even after the movement, then maybe we would have to face a very long time to wait [for democracy]. As long as [President] Xi Jinping is still centralising power, it will be very difficult for Hong Kong to achieve universal suffrage.
“But if Hong Kong people have given up on the belief of democracy, then when one day the chances do come, it will not be realised.”
Watch: How Hong Kong’s Occupy protests kicked off
Launched in 2014, the 79-day sit-in brought parts of the city to a standstill. In its aftermath, the pro-democracy bloc was split amid the rise of localist sentiment.
Some young people, who had completely lost faith in Beijing and the “one country, two systems” policy, slammed traditional pan-democrats for being too moderate. They pushed for more radical protests and Hong Kong independence.
Chan said many people blamed Occupy for a more divided society and the rise of extremist views. But he said the movement was a final attempt to achieve democracy peacefully amid a trend of more civil unrest.
“In 2013 I wrote a newspaper commentary, saying Hong Kong had already been facing a political cliff,” he said. “What I meant was if our political system still did not change, we would face a great governance problem. At that time I predicted there would be three trends, including localism, radicalism and pessimism.
“The trends had already appeared. Occupy merely delayed the progress of the trends. We believed we should give peaceful movement one last chance.”
Chan, Tai and the third co-founder, Reverend Chu Yiu-ming, are among the nine Occupy leaders charged over the demonstrations.
Tai, Chan and Chu each face three charges: conspiracy to cause public nuisance, inciting others to cause public nuisance, and inciting people to incite others to cause public nuisance.
Each charge carries a maximum sentence of seven years in jail.
Speaking on the same Commercial Radio programme, Chu said he was planning for prison life.
He said he had thought of what topics to study, books to read and articles to write.
“We have been fighting for democracy for over 30 years,” Chu said. “The central government kept promising us we could get it but it kept taking [the promises] back. We value fairness. If there is no fairness in the system, society will divide.”
Writing in the British newspaper The Guardian, the imprisoned student leader Joshua Wong Chi-fung said he had no regrets and remained proud of his commitment to the Occupy movement.
“After reading Nelson Mandela’s autobiography and the memoirs of the recently deceased Chinese dissident Liu Xiaobo, I can’t help but think: what are these British-style marching exercises and the bad food here in Hong Kong compared to their sufferings?” wrote Wong, referring to Pik Uk correctional institution, where he is serving a six-month sentence.
Wong claimed Hong Kong had already entered a heightened authoritarian era and it was a “new normal” for activists to risk becoming a political prisoners.
Wong said his generation would not hold back until democracy arrives in Hong Kong, and called on the world not to forget the city.
Wong, alongside student leaders Nathan Law Kwun-chung and Alex Chow Yong-kang, were sentenced to six to eight months in prison for storming the government headquarters in the run-up to the Occupy movement in 2014. They were originally given community service but the High Court in August ruled in favour of the government’s bid for tougher sentences.
With additional reporting by Jeffie Lam