Democracy Chronicles welcomes the release of its author, the emblematic Hong Kong pro-democracy leader and activist, Law Professor, Benny Tai. Benny Tai’s release, albeit on bail, by the Chinese authorities, took place today, August 15, 2019. Tai, 54, was unjustly kept in detention for 16 months. He was sentenced as one of nine leaders “of a 2014 drive for universal suffrage known as the Umbrella Movement. He has been in prison since April.”
Most would breakdown after enduring such an unfair and certainly trying detention which repressive governments like that of China often use to deter any opposition. However, Tai appears to have come out of prison with his support for democracy unscathed and with even more resolve to keep pushing for democratic rights for the Hong-Kongese. In effect, Tai is reported to have said, following his release,
“In the last two months, even though I was separated from the others by the walls of the prison, I can still see many Hong Kong people who have sacrificed selflessly to defend the core values of Hong Kong… Even though the road ahead is very unclear and will be very difficult, very tough, I still have confidence that the future of Hong Kong must be bright. The golden era of Hong Kong is yet to come.”
While the Umbrella Movement which demanded greater democracy rights eventually died down, with its leaders, including Tai, arrested, it is viewed as having laid the foundations for the on-going pro-democracy protests that started in June of this year in opposition to Chief Executive Carrie Lam’s extradition bill, but soon transforming into protests in demand for greater democratic rights, amidst which Benny Tai’s release has come.
“The protest movement has been seen as the biggest threat to Beijing’s rule of the semi-autonomous Chinese city since its handover from the British in 1997.” China has progressively sort to renege on its engagements during the retrocession of sovereignty in 1997 by Britain as it has increasingly failed to respect the special administrative status of Hong Kong, imposing more and more of its communist politics on the territory.
Following “…a propaganda footage of Chinese soldiers garrisoned in Hong Kong drilling for intense urban fighting that looked more like a civil war than search and rescue or crowd control…, videos emerged…of armored paramilitary vehicles massing across the border” on August 13, 2019. The Guardian noted that “China considered the pro-democracy protests which swept across the former Soviet Union during the early years of this century, most prominently Ukraine’s 2004 Orange Revolution, to be existential threats to be tackled at almost any cost. Putting the same label on protesters implies Beijing will stop at little to crush the movement.”
However, Beijing’s escalating rhetoric over Hong Kong protests is uncalled for. Beijing must respect the Special Administrative Status of Hong Kong and the democratic rights of the Hong Kongers. Tai’s arbitrary detention was unfair and no other Hong Kong resident, or even the Chinese themselves, should have to face detention for their political views or for attempting to uphold basic democratic freedoms that are intrinsically natural human rights.
Democracy Chronicles therefore urges, in the strongest terms, Beijing to uphold democratic rights in Hong Kong and in the rest of China as well as discontinue the lawsuit against Tai or any such lawsuits, for that matter, against any other Hong Konger who is fighting for the respect of their rights to freedom, justice and democracy.