Hong Kong Federation of Students secretary general Alex Chow Yong-kang and his deputy, Lester Shum, told a human rights summit in Geneva, Switzerland, on Tuesday that the world must stay focused on the human rights situation in China and keep up the pressure on Beijing to allow more democracy in Hong Kong.
The student leaders behind the pro-democracy protests last year said there has been an “awakening” among Hongkongers. “People in Hong Kong [have started] to think that if they want a better future, they have to make more sacrifices. They are willing to [go to] prison so as to propel the progress of democratic reform,” said Chow.
The protests were triggered by Beijing’s ruling in August that candidates for Hong Kong’s chief executive would be chosen by a nominating committee of 1,200 mostly pro-establishment members.
Hongkongers embrace Western ideologies of freedom, democracy, rule of law and justice, said Shum. Beijing sees this as a threat and has broken its promise to Hong Kong on democracy to better control the city. He also said Hong Kong is overly dependent on the mainland for food, electricity, water and petrol.
Chow said the three most important tasks for Hongkongers are: voting down the government proposal on political reform; uniting society; and cooperating with democracy movements in Taiwan, Macau, and elsewhere.
“We must take the regional approach as all these places are interrelated. Progress can only be made by cooperation,” Chow said.
The Geneva summit is organised by 20 non-governmental organisations ahead of the United Nations Human Rights Council’s main annual session, which starts on Monday. The objective is to influence the discussions at the UN session, which is dominated by governments.
The two students were the first Hongkongers to speak at the annual summit, which takes place every February in Switzerland.
Shum said he was inspired by activists from North Korea and Nigeria, who faced dire consequences when “What we are handling is a little piece of cake. We haven’t been sent to prison, we haven’t been sent to a death row,” he says. He quoted Star Wars to encourage his fellow activists: “May the force be with you.”