The week-long peaceful pro-democracy protests in Hong Kong will have a lasting impact on human rights not only in the semiautonomous Chinese territory and China but also across the world, according to Vaclav Maly, a leading voice of the 1989 Velvet Revolution that brought down the Communist government of then-Czechoslovakia.
Now auxiliary bishop of Prague, capital of the Czech Republic, Maly said on Monday that he is moved by the determination exhibited by the young generation in Hong Kong in pressing ahead with their movement against Beijing's decision to restrict election reforms in the former British colony.
"The nonviolent protests under the sign of [the] umbrella that you have succeeded to convene in so peaceful a way in Hong Kong have a profound sense [of significance] not only for you and for your country, but also for we who live on different continents," he said in a personal message to the Hong Kong protesters who have taken to the streets to demand the right to nominate who can run as their next leader in 2017 elections.
Czech Bishop Vaclav Maly in a file photo.
Beijing insists that only those candidates it has approved can contest the post of Hong Kong's Chief Executive.
"Your example of steady determination in this fight for freedom and for the respect of human dignity is captivating," said Maly, who was among the leaders of the Charter 77 dissident movement that spearheaded a bloodless revolution in Czechoslovakia leading to the collapse of the communist regime in 1989.
"I can measure how difficult the decisions you are about to take [can be],' Maly told protest leaders in Hong Kong, where the number of demonstrators Monday dropped into the hundreds from a peak of more than 100,000 following a warning from Chief Executive C.Y. Leung that "all necessary actions” will be taken to restore social order in Hong Kong. Respect for freedom
Maly recollected that more than 25 years ago in his own country, the former Czechoslovakia, many initiatives and protests prepared for the coming of a new political system based on respect for freedom and for fundamental human rights.
"All together, we succeeded to bridge our differences and create a force that challenged those who tried to erase our voices."
The Charter 77 document proclaimed by Maly and other figures such as dissident playwright Vaclav Havel, who later became the nation’s first democratically elected leader, called on Czechoslovakia's Communist Party to respect human rights and declared that Czechs no longer wanted to live in fear of state repression.
The charter later inspired Chinese dissident Liu Xiaobo in 2008 to propose his own Charter 08 initiative, which called for democracy and the improvement of human rights in China but later landed him in trouble.
Beijing sentenced Liu to 11 years in prison in December 2009 for his democracy initiative. To the great annoyance of China's leaders, Liu was later awarded the 2010 Nobel Peace Prize.
The 63-year-old Maly said he has no advice for the Hong Kong student leaders, but promised to pray for their success.
"I am really not in a position to give you any advice," he said. "Let me only assure you of our prayers to the Almighty Lord." Reported by RFA's Mandarin and Cantonese Services. Written in English by Parameswaran Ponnudurai.