Vancouver East NDP MP Jenny Kwan has issued the following statement after travelling to the People's Republic of China and visiting Hong Kong:
In the fall of 2014, Hong Kong was the subject of worldwide press coverage.
From late-September until mid-December, a series of nonviolent, sit-in street protests in several locations. These nonviolent acts of civil disobedience became known as the Umbrella Movement for their use of yellow umbrellas to shield themselves from the elements and attempts from law enforcement to break up the demonstrations, such as by deploying mace.
The Umbrella movement was a quest for democracy and a more accountable government in Hong Kong. Selfless youth leaders, including a then 18-year-old Joshua Wong, stood up and fought for what they believe in, and for the betterment of their society.
Following the protests, leaders were sentenced to community service for their roles in the movement. That decision has been appealed by the Hong Kong government and they have now been sentenced to jail terms.
As someone who is an activist at heart and was born in Hong Kong, I am deeply inspired by these courageous and nonviolent actions being undertaken by Hong Kong’s next generation. I am very disappointed that Hong Kong's Department of Justice recently deemed the original sentence of community services to be too lenient and took steps to appeal that decision.
This resulted in the Court of Appeal’s ruling to impose new and harsher sentences on the leaders of the Umbrella Movement, especially considering that they have all completed serving the original penalties from the first ruling.
It has been pointed out that the prosecutor's recommendation to not appeal the sentence ruling was overridden by the attorney general himself. This has generated much discussion in Hong Kong and elsewhere around the motivation of this move.
It is not lost on anyone that with a sentence of jail time of more than three months, these leaders will be barred from running for political office for five years. In addition, there are also concerns that this will have a chilling effect on people's right to peaceful demonstration and right to free speech.
Questions are now being asked if this was politically motivated and who is really behind the push for this.
Instead of restricting these voices and questions, I believe this is an opportunity for the government to ask itself why these questions are being asked and why these sentiments are arising. From my experience of working in government for more than 25 years, sentiments of distrust in government arise when there is a lack of transparency, accountability, and people feel that the government is not interested and responsive to their needs and concerns.
Now is not the time for the government of Hong Kong to become more punitive and restrictive of people’s freedom of expression and peaceful demonstration. Instead, it should take this opportunity to demonstrate good faith and to rebuild trust by showing that the government is aware of the people’s grievances and concerns on this issue.
I recently had the opportunity to meet with a panel of political observers and activists in Hong Kong which included: Mr. Frank Ching, senior journalist; Mr. Joseph Cheng, former professor of political science; Mr. Mark Daly, principal, Daly & Associates; Ms. Roseann Rife, Amnesty International; and Consul General Jeff Nankivell and his staff, about the political landscape of Hong Kong.
There is no question that they are very concerned and disheartened about these latest developments. One panelist stated that Hong Kong people sense that China is no longer interested in democratic reform as Beijing is no longer saying that democracy will eventually come. Further, he noted with great sadness that people in Hong Kong, especially the younger generation, more and more, do not identify with their motherland, and the general feeling is that they do not care about China.
While the majority of Hong Kong people are not supportive of sentiments like Hong Kong independence or are interested in challenging the authority of the Chinese government, it is clear that people want democratic changes to come to Hong Kong and feel that the sentences for the student leaders and activists are unjust. This can be seen by the 100,000 people who came out to protest the sentencing of the young activists, and that 2.5 million Hong Kong dollars were raised for their legal challenge within hours.
As China celebrates the 20th anniversary of the return of Hong Kong, the people of Hong Kong are very cognizant of the agreement signed between China and Britain 20 years ago.
It is important to remember the original agreement and its intent, which included the goal of reaching a democratic system for Hong Kong. The Umbrella Movement sought to do exactly that, to bring more democracy, more accountability, and more transparency to Hong Kong.
The latest development of imposing jail sentences on the leaders of the Umbrella Movement leave many wondering, is this the right and reconciliatory message that the new chief executive wants to send to residents of Hong Kong, and to the world?
Throughout my life in Canada and in my many years spent as an elected official at various levels of Canadian government, I have learned that diversity is the strength of an open society. A progressive government means the acceptance of dissent and difference of opinions. I sincerely hope that my place of birth will return to demonstrating commitments to increasing democratic principles.