Nine activists who led the 2014 Umbrella Movement in Hong Kong were convicted today of public nuisance charges. In one of the city’s most politically charged trials in recent years, legal scholar Benny Tai and sociology professor Chan Kin-man were convicted of two public nuisance charges each while Reverend Chu Yiu-Ming was convicted of one charge of conspiracy to commit public nuisance. Also convicted were lawmakers Tanya Chan and Shiu Ka-chun, former student leaders Tommy Cheung and Eason Chung, activist Raphael Wong, and Democratic Party veteran Lee Wing-tat.
The Umbrella Movement was a pro-democracy protest which was sparked by the decision to prescribe a selective pre-screening of candidates in the city’s 2017 chief executive election. The biggest in Hong Kong history, the Umbrella Movement saw tens of thousands of students and young adults occupy Admirality, Mong Kok, and Causeway Bay over a 79 day period from September to December 2014.
Reverent Chu Yiu-ming, who has throughout his life been active member of his community, reaching out to those in need through his church, delivered a final submission to the Court ahead of his sentencing on Tuesday (16 April).
In passionate statement, which was made public ahead of the sentencing, Rev. Chu said he has resolved to a live of friendship with the weak and poor, committed to the service of God.
He said, “But today, old and grey, I find myself in the Defendant’s dock, making a final plea as a convict. It looks so absurd, if not outright shameful for a person holding holy office.”
Rev Chu went on to say, “Ours is an age of absurdity. Living in a society on the brink of authoritarianism and of arbitrary rule, let me be a brave bell toller, ringing, waking up sleepy souls.”
He first talked about growing up destitute in China, living with his grandmother in squalid conditions and witnessing ‘the brutality of the land reform movement’. He described the hardships he had witnessed such as raging public trials where land owners were ‘summarily executed on the spot’. He also talked about the hardships he had to face as well, including losing his grandmother after primary school and returning alone to Hong Kong where conditions were no better.
Hong Kong’s past struggles for democracy
In his submission, Rev Chu went on to speak about Hong Kong.
“My generation has lived through war and chaos. We fled to Hong Kong, rootless and destitute,” he said.
He mentioned the Joint Declaration by the Chinese and British Governments in 1984 in which it was agreed that Hong Kong would return to China but ruled in a ‘One Country Two Systems’ arrangement where the city would be ruled by its own people and have a high degree of autonomy.
Rev Chu went on to describe various campaigns launch by different groups and organisations to build the people’s confidence, to call for ‘Power to the People’ which was supposedly granted in the Joint Declaration.
He said, “Post 1997 Hong Kong must enjoy a high degree of autonomy. God-given human rights and liberty, including freedom of the press and of publication, of association, of assembly. Citizens must be given the right to travel and to enter or leave the city. The freedom of religious belief and freedom to preach must be safeguarded.”
When the brutal massacre of Tiananmen Square happened in 1989, that only fuelled the flames of their ‘democratic aspirations’. During this time, there was demand for direct elections.
“Things were looking up though”, he said. When several legislative seats were open for direct election between 1991 and 1995, it seems there was a chance for a more democratic Hong Kong.
Unfortunately, in 1997 the sovereignty of Hong Kong was transferred from the British to China, the Chief Executive office was created to replace the Governor of Hong Kong. However, when it comes to the election of the Chief Executive, the right to make nominations and the right to be nominated were taken away from the Hong Kong People. The Chief Executive, who has sweeping powers, is elected by a select committee of 1,200 people instead of the general population.
Rev Chu said, “We can no longer stay silent. For equality in human rights, Democracy has to take a further step.”
Rejection of universal suffrage by the Central Government
By 2004, the Central Government announced that they rejected the interpretation of universal suffrage made by over 30 academics who had come together to develop a political structure consistent with the requirements of the Basic Law. This was a setback.
In February 2013. Professor Tai invited Professor Chan Kin-man and Rev Chu to join him in a civil disobedience campaign to demand for universal suffrage in the 2017 election of Chief Executive.
Rev Chu said, “At a time when government misgoverned, abandoned ethical norms, threw credibility to the wind and used confrontation tactics to divide and rule, it seemed there would be little chance for universal suffrage for the chief executive election in 2017 to which the two professors were committed. For this just cause, Tai and Chan were prepared to pay the price.”
“I was already 70, often sick, physically unfit. But I could not ignore the cry of conscience. I could never allow my brothers to go it alone.”
He continued, “So I resolved to follow with purity, simplicity and sanctity of spirit. No self-interest, No desire for power, No hidden agenda. My last ounce of strength for Hong Kong.”
Occupy Central with Love and Peace
Thus began the ‘Occupy Central with Love and Peace’ group spearheaded by these three men who declared their commitment to non-violent civil disobedience.
“‘Occupy Central with Love and Peace’ operates by citizens’ deliberation, authorisation, and dialogue. Its goal is election by universal suffrage. Civil Disobedience would be acts of final resort,” said Rev Chu.
Attempts to have meaningful dialogue with the Central Government failed when the government declared in 2014 that the Joint Declaration is no longer effective. There would be no universal suffrage, and no further discussion.
The three men decided to begin a non-violent protest on 1 October 2014.
Unfortunately, the protests grew out of their control as thousands of people joined in, some with more radical approaches. On 26 September, students on strike rushed into CitizensSquare. To find common ground for a common purpose, OCPL were in discussion with student leaders but then the Federation leaders declared two days later that this was not ‘Occupy Central’ but a students’ movement instead.
The birth of The Umbrella Movemment
Rev Chu said, “By now, and given that this piece of action was no longer ‘Occupy Central with Love and Peace’, I right away asked our volunteers and pickets to leave the scene, and not be arrested.”
He continued, “So initially the three of us decided I should leave with the volunteers. However, as it turned out, I finally stayed and waited for police clearance. Our decision was the three of us would stay, holding hands and be arrested together.”
Throughout the protests, the reverend stressed that he had not yet given up hope for peaceful dialogue between protesters and the Central government.
“With much persuasion and hard work, 21 October was agreed as the day for a public conversation between the Chief Secretary for Administration and the students. But the students felt they had had enough. No more talk.”
“On the streets, the people were without fear. They were unafraid. There was to be no retreat. 87 rounds of tear gas propelled 100,000 people to take to the streets. Thus the beginning of the epic, iconic, exhilarating Umbrella Movement.”
Staying true to peace and non-violent civil disobedience
Rev Chu said the 79 days of occupation with 1.2 million people participating demonstrated the ‘high quality of Hong Kong people’s capacity for peaceful and non-violent change.’
He added that no buildings were damaged and no properties were set on fire during that period. He also pointed out that instances of violence were instigated by triad gangs and there were incidents of police beating up protesters.
“Yet participants remained true to the codes of peace and non-violence. And refused to back down. The seeds of peaceful non-violent civil disobedience action have been planted deep in the heart of Hong Kong people,” he emphasised.
Rev Chu said, “This movement is an awakening of the civil spirit. Citizens offer what they can, with conviction, expecting to call the conscience of politicians and bureaucrats to account.”
Showing courage and compassion in the face of unjust systems
Rev Chu then went on to quote Reverend Martin Luther King who said “Resist, we must. Freedom never comes as a gift. The powerful oppressor would never offer freedom to the oppressed with both hands. Rights and opportunities have to be secured with the sacrifice and suffering of some. Hatred bleeds hatred. Violence begets violence. We must use love to deal with the powers of hate. Our goal is never the defeat or humiliation of white people. On the contrary, ours is to win their friendship and understanding.”
In his passionate submission, Rev Chu urged the people of Hong Kong to have compassion for the victims of ‘unjust systems’ including protestors and police officers. “I pray that compassion would generate courage in us to fight the evil of this unjust system.”
During the trial, Prof Chan had given evidence that the movement spiralled out the control of the three men. However, the prosecution argued that the ‘Occupy trio’ – Rev Chu, Mr Benny Tai, Prof Chan Kin-man – were still responsible for calling the public to participate in the unlawful occupation.