Politics

'We will fight to the bitter end': Hong Kong pro-democracy activists recognized at Halifax security forum

The John McCain Prize for Leadership in Public Service was presented to Figo Chan and Emily Lau by the Halifax International Security Forum, which said the award is intended to pay homage to those who are fighting for freedom.

Emily Lau hopes award will show Hong Kongers international community backs them

Figo Chan is one of two residents of Hong Kong who will accept a leadership in public service award Saturday at the Halifax International Security Forum on behalf of all Hong Kong demonstrators. (Megan McCleister/CBC)

Wherever he goes these days, Figo Chan wears a simple black T-shirt stamped with the numbers 1 of 2,000,001 and the words "I'm free, therefore I am" emblazoned across his chest.

Skinny, pale and somewhat frail looking, Chan has, since the spring, regularly sucked in a lungful of tear gas as one of the pro-democracy protesters who regularly clashed with authorities in Hong Kong.

He is fresh from those mean streets where he claims to have witnessed a friend being shot in the eye with a rubber bullet at close range. 

Shortly after arriving in Canada, Chan was checked out by a doctor because of the lingering effects of the gas.  

He is one of two residents of the embattled former British colony who accepted a leadership in public service award Saturday on behalf of all demonstrators and Hong Kong residents who've stood up to increasingly violent reactions from police and threats of Chinese military intervention by the communist government in Beijing.

Only a handful of the T-shirts were made and they were meant to commemorate the estimated 2,000,000 people who came out to march following the death of one protester at the hands of authorities in mid-June.

Only a handful of the T-shirts were made and they were meant to commemorate the estimated 2,000,000 people who came out to march following the death of one protester at the hands of authorities in mid-June. (Megan McCleister/CBC)

"It's not for sale, [it's] just for me to remember," Chan told CBC News in an interview. "In Hong Kong, many people will wear [a] black T-shirt. I will wear this."

The John McCain Prize for Leadership in Public Service was presented Saturday to Chan and Emily Lau, a prominent Hong Kong pro-democracy former legislator by the Halifax International Security Forum, which said the award is intended to pay homage to those who are fighting for freedom.

To him and his friends, Chan said the recognition represents "hope" and that they are not alone in believing in human rights, and that the rest of the world is telling them "don't give up and use all, and any action, and don't be scared about the government; don't be scared about any people. Just stand up and confront the Chinese, mainland China."

At 23, a social activist, and veteran of the burning, sometimes bloodied and gas-choked streets, he said he feels as though the life he knew in the prosperous financial hub of the East is over and that somehow things might never be the same.

'We will fight to the bitter end'

It is, according to Lau, a common sentiment among young people in Hong Kong who see no future and are convinced that Beijing will not honour its handover commitment, which would see the former colony keep its political and economic freedom until 2047.

They see, particularly with a hated extradition bill which has now been withdrawn, the future has already arrived.

"We have nothing to look forward to," Lau said of the protesters' attitude. "And we've got nothing to lose. So we will fight to the bitter end. It's devastating."

She said she hopes the award will tell the people of Hong Kong that the international community is behind them. 

It is a necessary morale boost as the former colony approaches weekend elections, Lau said, "because this is a David versus Goliath fight."

The U.S. House of Representatives almost unanimously passed the Hong Kong Human Rights and Democracy Act this week, much to the outrage of the Chinese government, which considers the legislation to be interference in its internal affairs.

China's ambassador to Canada warned on Friday that the bill is "dangerous" and sets a bad precedent that other countries shouldn't follow.

But Chan said he hopes other nations will defy the intimidation and pass similar legislation.

"Hong Kong is an international city and there are many foreigners living there, including many Canadians," he said. "China wants to control Hong Kong completely. So that's why the international community should speak out."

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