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Q&A: Hong Kong protest leader Audrey Eu

The chairwoman of the liberal Civic Party speaks to Al Jazeera about the effects of a week of pro-democracy rallies.

| Politics, Asia Pacific, Protests, China

As a Legislative Council member, Eu helped derail Article 23 in 2003 that would have limited rights [AFP]

By

Divya Gopalan

Divya Gopalan is an Emmy nominee, international news anchor and correspondent for Al Jazeera English.

Hong Kong - Pro-democracy protesters have held a week of rallies in Hong Kong demanding direct representation in government without interference from Beijing. 

Al Jazeera's Divya Gopalan spoke to Audrey Eu Yuet-mee, the chairwoman of the territory's Civic Party, who has been active in the ongoing protests.

Eu is a former Legislative Council member with a track record of successfully lobbying the government in the pro-democracy movement. She helped derail Article 23 in 2003, which would have limited the rights and freedoms of citizens.

Eu spoke to Al Jazeera in Admiralty hours before a Monday deadline for protesters to clear the streets.

Al Jazeera: What do you think these protests have achieved?

Audrey Eu: If you ask me, what is the success of this movement - I think basically the first thing is the awareness of the people about universal suffrage, and the second thing is that they are no longer afraid and they feel that they can do something about it. It's our city. You don't leave it to some legislators or some political parties. Everyone has a part. 

Al Jazeera: You've been taking part in these protests. What has it been like for you? 

Eu: It's been a very tense week for most of us here, because every day you hear all sorts of rumours. And where we are standing is right next to the PLA headquarters, and you know Hong Kong is a place which remembers the June 4 massacre [Tiananmen Square, Beijing, 1989] very well. Every year we commemorate the anniversary. So every moment you are thinking of a crackdown. 

Al Jazeera: What do you make of what happened in Mong Kok when the protests took an ugly turn? Did you feel it was time to get off the streets?

Eu: You know we saw the triads [gang members] coming out to try to clear the streets. And you see the young people very calm, trying to talk to them even though they were beaten up even though there was bloodshed, the protesters kept at it and kept their stations, kept polite, very peaceful and they said we are not budging until we get universal suffrage. It was very moving.

Al Jazeera: The Hong Kong government has been calling the occupation of the streets illegal. From a lawyer's standpoint, are they?

Eu: Well, according to Hong Kong, for a rally of more than 50 people, you have to give the government a notice of seven days and they give you a notice of non-objection. This particular rally was not authorised, or did not have the no objection notice from the police.

Al Jazeera: At the height of the movement, tens of thousands of people took to the streets.  Did you expect the protests to become this big?

Eu: The idea was to deliberately come here and paralyse the central district. At the time when this was initiated we thought this would last a day or two. And I said to myself, maybe it would last eight days, so I brought my sleeping bag just in case. But the movement surprised everyone. I think it was galvanised basically because the government used disproportionate force when they fired tear gas and pepper spray to break up the crowd. People suddenly came out in large numbers. The interesting thing is that after one experience with the tear gas, suddenly people become very courageous, they were saying they are not worried about bullets  - even tanks, so more people come out.

 Audrey Eu [Divya Gopalan/Al Jazeera]

Al Jazeera: The government has now given an ultimatum for people to leave the streets before Monday. Does the government have the right to break up these protests?

Eu: Technically you can say the people here are breaking the law in the sense the assembly was not authorised, was not held with a no objection from the police. So technically the police can come and clear the crowd. But people here are very orderly. In fact we are now known as the politest protesters in the world because we gather all our rubbish and even recycle. And so the police would have difficulty clearing the crowd with disproportionate force. If they use rubber bullets, there would be an uproar, and even more people would come out.

Al Jazeera: Do you think people will heed the ultimatum?

Eu: The government is trying all sorts of tactics, first of all they are using fear and they are telling people that tonight is the night we are going to clear you. Every night we are getting that. We are also getting all sorts of nice warnings from very highly established people: university heads, former chief justices, basically telling people that you should go home. And also we had experience of triads trying to physically assault the young ladies at the sit-in. Also the police are showing all sorts, carrying rubber bullets and carrying canisters and so on.

Al Jazeera: Why can't you lobby the government as you have before, within the legal system, instead of taking over the streets?

Eu: We have a long history of fighting for democracy, and we aren't able to get anywhere. Even now, though there were hundreds of thousands of people out here, the government isn't budging. The government has said go home so traffic can resume, and people to go back to schools - but they are not giving anything.

Follow Divya Gopalan on Twitter: @DivyaGNews

Source: Al Jazeera

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