Suddenly the pictures were back: the people who camped in the streets of the financial district of Hong Kong. Colorful umbrellas had stretched over many as protection from the sun and rain, but also from the tear gas of the police. Jurado Benny Tai revisits the video sequences of the protest four years later today. He was in the thick of it at the time, being one of the leaders of the movement promoting more democracy in the Special Administrative Region.
Tai is now in court with eight other defendants. At the beginning of the trial, they will be shown the protests on monitors. „The pictures still touch me a lot,“ Tai says, joking, „The process is not as boring as I feared“
Tai and two other men are accused of inciting and conspiring to disrupt public order. According to Hong Kong laws, they face up to seven years in jail. Like many other observers, he is confident that the Beijing government has a strong interest in condemning the leaders of the Democracy Movement. Willy Lam, associate professor of Chinese studies at the University of Hong Kong, cites a well-known Chinese cue: „They want to kill the chickens to deter the monkeys.“
The monkeys, in this case, are the Hong Kong people, who are still campaigning for independence from the Communist Party (CP) in China – even though the movement is much weaker today than at the beginning of 2014, when demonstrators were driving traffic in China Metropolis 79 days strongly handicapped. At that time, especially students joined the demands, such as for a direct election of the head of government. After all, in 1997, Beijing had promised the seven million Hong Kongers 50 years of far-reaching internal autonomy and free elections under the formula „one country, two systems“. Above all, the opposition does not see this as fulfilled.
Protests like 2014 should never happen again
„The ‚Umbrella Revolution‘ was a shock to Beijing,“ says Mareike Ohlberg of the Mercator Institute for China Studies (Merics) in Berlin. The indictment against Tai should now serve as a deterrent – so he is the chicken in the proverb. It was important for the Chinese government to finally take the stage off the activists. In addition, more stringent checks are being carried out on the campus of the universities. Students who are suspected of rebellion would also be taken aside and warned. „It is no longer only at the top government level, but also at a lower level,“ says Ohlberg.
However, identifying specific evidence of Beijing’s interference is difficult. However, there is certainly a sign that Beijing’s grip on Hong Kong is becoming tighter: for example, the case of booksellers who should have been critical writers, and at least one of whom was reportedly taken from Hong Kong by police officers to the People’s Republic. Or the deputies of the Parliament, who were also close to the movement, and should not have taken their oath of office „completely and solemnly“, which is why they were deprived of the mandate (read more here).
For the designated Chinakenner Lam is clear: „It is Beijing’s plan to reduce Hong Kong’s independence.“ The government of President Xi Jinping will never again tolerate what happened in 2014. Hong Kong government takes orders from Beijing. „The Hong Kong government is a KP straw man,“ says Lam. The ultimate goal is to silence the opposition. The process also serves that purpose. „Now it’s clear, Beijing determines the rules of the game.“
Concern over „Article 23“
Why it took four years to bring the activists to justice is explained by the judicial authorities as „the complexity of the case and the amount of evidence that needed to be verified“. Tai says the investigation was started when Hong Kong’s new head of government, Carrie Lam, came into office – she is considered well-disposed to the Beijing government.
Most of all, Lam and Tai worry about what happens when the National Security Act, also known as „Article 23“, comes into force. A bill to this effect in 2003 had already caused massive protests, after which the introduction was postponed. According to the „South China Morning Post“, according to the current version, „high treason, secession or overthrow of the central government“ as well as cooperation with foreign forces should be prohibited. An appointment for the introduction does not exist yet. „That would further restrict the freedom of expression and assembly,“ says Lam.