#AJOPINION hears from one of the key leaders of Hong Kong’s pro-democracy protests, Joshua Wong.
Anti-government protests gripped Hong Kong for much of 2019. But the tension that triggered the unrest has not gone away despite the coronavirus pandemic.
The mass protests started in June 2019 against plans to allow the extradition of criminal suspects to mainland China and saw hundreds of thousands of people take to the streets.
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Critics feared the proposed bill could undermine judicial independence and endanger dissidents.
Until 1997, Hong Kong was ruled by the United Kingdom as a colony but then returned to China. Under the “one country, two systems” arrangement, Hong Kong has some autonomy.
After months of protests, the extradition bill was withdrawn in September, but the demonstrations continued, with protesters now demanding full democracy and an inquiry into police violence.
Clashes between police and activists became increasingly violent, with police using live bullets and tear gas and protesters throwing petrol bombs.
In November, a standoff between police and students barricaded on the campus of Hong Kong’s Polytechnic University became another defining moment.
Later that month, the territory held local council elections that were seen as a barometer of public opinion.
The vote saw a landslide victory for the pro-democracy movement, with 17 of the 18 councils now controlled by pro-democracy councillors.
Some protesters adopted the motto: “Five demands, not one less!” These are: for the protests not to be characterised as a “riot”, amnesty for arrested protesters, an independent inquiry into alleged police brutality and implementation of complete universal suffrage. The fifth demand – the withdrawal of the bill – has already been met.
Protests supporting the Hong Kong movement had also spread across the globe, with rallies taking place in the UK, France, the United States, Canada and Australia.
The Umbrella Revolution
One of the key leaders in the mass protests, Joshua Wong, tells Al Jazeera his side of the story in this new episode of #AJOPINION:
“Our strong sense of justice demands that we stand up, defend our freedoms, and protest against unchecked police violence,” he says.
Wong is a student, activist and politician from Hong Kong who serves as the secretary-general of the pro-democracy party Demosisto.
He rose to international prominence during the 2014 Hong Kong protests, often called the Umbrella Revolution, and his pivotal role in the movement resulted in his inclusion in TIME Magazine’s Most Influential Teens of 2014 and nomination for its 2014 Person of the Year.
In August 2017, Wong and two other pro-democracy activists were convicted and jailed for their roles in the occupation of Civic Square at the incipient stage of the 2014 Occupy Central protests.
In January 2018, Wong was convicted and jailed again for failing to comply with a court order for clearance of the Mong Kok protest site during the Hong Kong protests in 2014.
He also played a significant role in persuading US politicians to pass the Hong Kong Human Rights and Democracy Act during the 2019 Hong Kong protests.
Wong was disqualified by the Hong Kong government from running in the district council elections.
“To prevent China from further trampling on civil liberties, we need human rights sanctions as weapons,” Wong says.
“I urge the US State Department to include effective sanction mechanisms in the forthcoming report on Hong Kong’s autonomy.”
In this episode, he says: “This fight is not just about Hong Kong. This fight is a global resistance to the worldwide expansion of authoritarian regimes.”
The views expressed in this video are the speaker’s own and do not necessarily reflect Al Jazeera’s editorial stance.
This episode of #AJOPINION was co-produced by Aisyah Shah Idil and Al Jazeera NewsFeed’s Katya Bohdan and edited by Katya Bohdan.
Note: The next episode of #AJOPINION will air soon, in which Lawrence Ma, barrister and chairman of the Hong Kong Legal Exchange Foundation, will shed light on Beijing’s and Hong Kong government’s stance towards the unrest.