One Year After Occupy Central, Democracy Activists Call on US For Support

hong-kong-umbrella-movement-aug2-2015.jpg A protester holds a yellow umbrella, the symbol of Hong Kong's pro-democracy movement in front of police in Hong Kong, Aug. 2, 2015.

A year after a mass student strike launched the 79-day Occupy Central pro-democracy movement in Hong Kong, activists are calling on the United States for more support for their cause, as President Barack Obama receives his Chinese counterpart Xi Jinping in Washington.

Founding chairman of Hong Kong's Democratic Party Martin Lee said Obama's administration has a "responsibility" towards the semiautonomous city, which saw hundreds of thousands of people take to its streets last year in support of fully democratic elections.

"This is his responsibility, because this is enshrined in the Hong Kong Policy Act, in his own foreign policy," Lee told RFA in an interview on a trip to the U.S.

"The U.S. government has always supported democracy, human rights, and the rule of law in Hong Kong," said Lee, who is in town for the 75th anniversary celebrations for the independent watchdog Freedom House.

"There is no reason for him not to bring up [Hong Kong]."

Lee said that China's growing military and economic power should put the former British colony high up on the agenda during the presidential summit.

"China's power is growing daily, and the world should be warned," Lee said. "Hong Kong should be a hot topic of discussion, that counterweighs Xi Jinping's claim to be a reformer."

Broken promises

Lee hit out at Beijing for failing to keep promises made before the 1997 handover to Chinese rule, under which Hong Kong was to enjoy a "high degree of autonomy" and the continuation of its rights and freedoms.

"China should keep its promises. Beijing signed agreements, including the Basic Law, but it hasn't respected them in the 18 years [since the 1997 handover]," Lee said.

Meanwhile, Occupy Central student leader Joshua Wong, who also attended the Freedom House event, said the existing "one country, two systems" formula under which Hong Kong is supposed to be governed is no longer enough.

"From the point of view of the next generation [of Hong Kong activists], we have to break out of current molds of thinking," said Wong, who was arrested on public order charges on the first day of the Umbrella Movement, when protesters used umbrellas to ward off tear gas and pepper spray fired at them by riot police.

"Now we are thinking about 15 years down the line," he added. "We need to start a debate about Hong Kong's future, to boost our bargaining power."

In a recent commentary published by Time magazine, Wong called on the international community to arrive at a consensus "that Hong Kongers shall have the right to determine their city’s future."

He said there are growing calls for self-determination among the city's younger activists, who see no hope of true autonomy or full democracy under the "one country, two systems" formula as it is understood by Beijing.

"If we can do this, we might have a slight chance for our ultimate goal: democracy and autonomy," Wong wrote.

Call to drop charges

While Wong and Lee have no involvement in Xi's official visit, U.S.-based rights groups this week called on the Hong Kong government to drop all charges against Wong and other student leaders for their part in peaceful protests.

"A year after Hong Kong people staged an unprecedented protest for democracy, the government continues to deny this fundamental right, while pressing charges against student leaders for organizing the peaceful movement," Sophie Richardson, China director at the New York-based group Human Rights Watch (HRW).

"This raises real concerns about adherence to international human rights standards," she said.

Some 1,000 people were arrested in connection with the Umbrella Movement during its existence, mostly for public order offenses like "unlawful assembly," "obstructing police," "assaulting officers," and "contempt of court," HRW said in a statement on its website on Thursday.

While most were quickly released and only 160 have been charged so far, the authorities last month announced charges against Wong and fellow student leaders Alex Chow and Nathan Law for “unlawful assembly” and “inciting others to take part in an unlawful assembly,” which could result in sentences of up to five years.

"Hong Kong people went onto the streets not only for their rights to democracy but also to express alarm over erosion of their treasured autonomy," Richardson said.

"The Hong Kong government has the power to push back against Beijing’s overreach, and to ensure that the institutions that protect human rights continue to uphold the law, not succumb to political pressure," she added.

The charges against the student activists stem from Hong Kong's Public Order Ordinance, which requires seven days' advance notice of large demonstrations, and which has been criticized as excessive by the United Nations Human Rights Committee, HRW said.

The group called for an independent investigation into Hong Kong's handling of the Umbrella Movement protests, saying it had documented "police use of excessive force on a number of occasions," some of which led to injuries.

It said the reports come amid growing concerns over Beijing's encroachment on Hong Kong's traditional rights and freedoms, which have until now been protected by an independent judiciary and a professional police force.

Public actions planned

Pro-democracy groups in Hong Kong are planning a number of activities from next Monday to mark the anniversary of the first mass sit-in of the Occupy civil disobedience movement.

Public anger soared in the wake of the clashes, which brought hundreds of thousands of people onto the city's streets at its height, many of them calling for fully democratic elections.

Protesters carrying yellow umbrellas will observe a 15-minute silence from 5:58 pm on Sept. 28, the time when police fired the first canister of tear gas against protesters a year earlier, local media reported.

Meanwhile, student groups are planning public seminars outside Hong Kong's Legislative Council and outside government offices in Tamar Park from Sept. 26-30 to discuss Hong Kong’s political future.

China's enactment in July of a new State Security Law making Hong Kong responsible for protecting national security has raised further concerns that such laws could be used as a basis to target dissent in future, as already happens across the internal border in mainland China.

Recent comments by high-ranking Chinese officials suggest that Beijing, which has warned that Hong Kong's autonomy is subordinate to its own diktats, will continue to encroach on areas traditionally regarded as the preserve of Hong Kong people.

Hong Kong activists have also slammed a lack of progress over video footage filmed live at protests last November by local journalists that showed Civic Party member Ken Tsang being beaten and kicked by a group of police officers in a dark area while they were clearing a main road of protesters in a violent crackdown.

Tsang later showed journalists his injuries and vowed to sue the seven officers—two inspectors and five constables—who were later arrested on suspicion of "assault resulting in grievous body harm," but have yet to be charged, prompting Tsang's lawyers to apply for a judicial review.

Reported by Ho Shan for RFA's Mandarin Service, and by Hu Hanqiang for the Mandarin Service. Translated and written in English by Luisetta Mudie.


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