A leading democracy activist sought support for Hong Kongers as they strive for democracy and autonomy, speaking to a Seoul audience Monday.
“The movement in Hong Kong is about securing democracy, not independence from China,” Lai Yan-ho, vice convener of the Civil Human Rights Front, a pandemocratic group, said during a meeting with students, activists and reporters at an art gallery in Jongno, central Seoul.
On Saturday, a crowd marched on the streets of Seoul’s Hongdae in support of Hong Kong’s pro-democracy movement that has been unfolding for nearly eight months.
Democratic activist Lai Yan-ho speaks during a press conference on Monday in Jongno, Seoul. (Kim Arin/The Korea Herald)
The demonstrations kicked off in March to protest a local bill that sought to make it possible to extradite Hong Kong residents and visitors suspected of crimes to mainland China.
“Hong Kongers fear being subject to Chinese system where certain rights to freedom are restricted,” Lai said.
“For instance, a person could be put behind bars for speaking out against the government.”
Police violence against the protesters has escalated over the months, ranging from physical assaults to shooting to instances of alleged sexual assault, Lai said.
Earlier this month, a Hong Kong college student died, marking the first confirmed death resulting from a clash between police and protesters. In a separate incident, another young protester who was shot in the torso by police on Monday remains in critical condition.
The press conference commenced with a moment of silence for the victims.
“Our stance is that democracy and brutality by public authorities cannot coexist,” Lai said.
As for violence shown by some of the protesters, Lai said he, as well as the majority of the Hong Kong people, do not condone it.
“One of the defining characteristics of this movement is that there is no organizer or a leader,” he said. “In other words, it lacks a control tower to subdue individual extremists.”
A Saturday protest in Seoul is staged in support of Hong Kong’s pro-democracy movement. (Kim Arin/The Korea Herald)
A counterrally held by Chinese students on Saturday, also in Hongdae (Kim Arin/The Korea Herald)
Lai said he sees parallels between the current situation in Hong Kong and South Korea’s past struggles for democracy.
Like Korea’s student movements in the 1980s, young Hong Kongers are the driving forces behind the protests, he said.
“Korean films such as ‘A Taxi Driver’ and ‘1987’ were introduced in Hong Kong as ‘anti-authority films,’” he said, adding, that the Hong Kong protests came to be known as an “anti-authority movement.”
“While Korea’s democratic movement spanned decades, Hong Kong’s is happening at a more accelerated pace. I think there is a lot we can learn from your history.”
Lai said a change in leadership may bring about hope for progress in Hong Kong’s democracy efforts, referring to the district council elections slated for end-November.
“Some say if someone other than (Chief Executive) Carrie Lam was in charge, the situation might have been different.”
The protests are not likely to subside, he said.
“If we stop now, it would mean we have succumbed to the oppression by police. Which is why we have to keep going.”
Moving forward, what Hong Kongers need more than anything is the knowledge that they are not alone in the fight, Lai said.
“We are moved by your support and encouragement.”
Lai said he was aware of the opposition from Chinese mainlanders around the world.
“There have been reports of Chinese students’ attempts to stymie overseas acts of solidarity,” he said, referring to a counterdemonstration held the same day, also in Hongdae. “We saw it happen in Australia earlier in the summer, and here in Seoul on Saturday.
“I understand and respect them -- they are entitled to their beliefs and opinions -- but I hope they would show respect for the actions of others.”
By Kim Arin (firstname.lastname@example.org