Charged by the government for organising a demonstration, Jimmy Lai, Martin Lee, Margaret Ng, Albert Ho and Lee Cheuk-yan still believe that the fight for freedom and democracy in Hong Kong will continue. Beijing’s repression is a betrayal of the promises made to the people of Hong Kong.
Hong Kong (AsiaNews) – “If we give up on the fight for freedom and justice, we also surrender our dignity as humans,” wrote Jimmy Lai five years ago.
His newspaper, the Apple Daily, reprinted the same words this morning after the West Kowloon District Court convicted the pro-democracy media mogul, who is already in jail for violating national security, and other pro-democracy activists for organising and participating in a large anti-government demonstration held on 18 August 2019.
According to organisers, 1.7 million people took part in that protest, in defiance of an official ban, in order to denounce police brutality and call for the withdrawal of a proposed extradition bill.
In the courtroom, as usual, Lai greeted family and friends. According to his newspaper, the hard months of detention have not affected his composure. Even with chains, every time he appears in court, he exchanges glances and smiles with his family.
The 73-year-old billionaire has repeatedly said that his Catholic faith gives him the strength to face coming challenges. In addition to its owner’s story, the Apple Daily also cited four other defendants.
“It’s selective prosecution,” said Martin Lee. For the father of Hong Kong’s democracy and founder of Hong Kong’s Democratic Party, the goal remains the same, i.e. the establishment of democracy in Hong Kong, a cause shared by all generations.
In mainland China, Lee, also a Catholic, is seen as a traitor, but he has also been criticised by young pro-democracy activists for his gradualist approach centred on dialogue with those in power.
The veteran politician and activist took part in drafting Hong Kong’s constitution, the Basic Law. Initially, he was a supporter of the “one country, two systems” principle, which is the formal basis of Hong Kong’s autonomy vis-à-vis the central government. However, he admits that this principle now exists only on paper.
Lee readily admits that he might not live long enough to see a democratic China, but this won’t stop him from fighting. “It does not matter if I can’t see it. My son may. And if he doesn’t, my grandson may,” he said.
The National Security Act of June 2020 dealt a severe blow to Hong Kong's autonomy, this according to former lawmaker and Christian lawyer Margaret Ng. The law “is a very unjust kind of law and a breach of all the promises made to Hong Kong people, including the most fundamental principle of ‘one country, two systems’,” she says.
Albert Ho, another experienced pro-democracy fighter, is adamant that “The authorities can arrest us all, but our flame will live on regardless.” In his view, the Chinese Communist Party's crackdown will end in failure, as the international community will lose confidence in Hong Kong. Once a magnet for people, the territory is now losing people fleeing the repression, proof of the authorities’ failure.
Imprisonment is also a form of resistance to oppression. “It will not wear down one’s will,” said Lee Cheuk-yan, president of the Hong Kong Alliance in Support of Patriotic Democratic Movements of China, which traditionally organises a rally on 4 June each year to commemorate the Tiananmen massacre of 4 June 1989. Once he is behind bars, Lee is confident that others will continue his work to remember those who died 32 years ago.