As It Happens

Hong Kong activist Joshua Wong arrested days before 20th anniversary of Chinese rule

After almost 20 years of Chinese rule, pro-democracy activists in Hong Kong were arrested for protesting at the symbolic site of region's handover to China.
Student protest leader Joshua Wong shouts as he is carried by policemen at a monument symbolising the city's Handover from British to Chinese rule. (Damir Sagolj/Reuters)

Read Story Transcript

Pro-democracy activist Joshua Wong and more than 20 others were arrested earlier today in Hong Kong. 

The activist stormed the Golden Bauhinia Square in Hong Kong just one day before Chinese President Xi Jinping is expected to arrive to mark 20 years of Chinese rule over the region.

Britain transferred sovereignty over Hong Kong to China in 1997 under the condition the region would maintain a degree of independence from the Chinese government — an agreement known as "one country, two systems."

But with dissident arrests and crackdowns on voting rights, democracy activists say China has not honoured that agreement.

Derek Lam, a spokesperson for the Hong Kong centre-left political party Demosisto, spoke with As It Happens guest host Laura Lynch about the events that led to his colleagues being arrested.

Here is part of their conversation. 

Pro-democracy activists shout slogans and hang a black cloth that reads: "Release Liu Xiaobo unconditionally, Hong Kong people want genuine universal suffrage", in Golden Bauhinia Square. (Kin Cheung/The Associated Press)

LL: Can you describe to me what was happening around the Golden Bauhinia Square earlier today?

DL: This evening, Demosisto, a political party, LSD [League of Social Democrats], People Power ... and the university activists had stationed a protest at the black Bauhinia Square and we want to do that to show our anger to the China government because this year is the 20th anniversary of the Handover.

The China government has promised Hong Kong people to give us higher authority and promised that we can have a democracy. But what we saw in the last 20 years, is the Chinese government didn't fulfil their promise.  

So we want to do this protest in the black Bauhinia to show that Hong Kong people are willing to have democracy and that Hong Kong people will still protest for democracy.

We will have their passion and we will have their persistence and we will have their spirit.- Derek Lam 

LL: What happened to your colleagues, Joshua Wong, Nathan Law and others?

DL: The police arrested them.

And then the police arrest ... other colleagues, around 26 people, and charged them with public nuisance.

And this charge is a very serious charge in Hong Kong. The maximum punishment and maximum charge is seven years. Now, Joshua and Nathan, they have been arrested around more than eight hours. They're still in the police station.

LL: We spoke to Joshua Wong two weeks ago. He said then that he expected to pay a price, going to jail in other words, for doing this kind of activism. Was that the reason you decided not to attend today because you feared you might be arrested?

Derek Lam stands outside the Eastern District Court in Hong Kong on May 5, 2017. Nine pro-democracy activists facing charges for participating in a protest last year outside the Liaison Office. (Chan Long Hei/Pacific Press/LightRocket via Getty Images)

DL:  Some people are [in the] action and some people have to be the support role. So I am here to support them.

LL: They could be kept in custody for the entire [presidential] visit. Are you worried then that you won't be able to get a message to Xi?

DL: Even if Joshua and Nathan are not with us, their spirit of protest will encourage us and encourage every [person] in Hong Kong. And we will take it to the street and keep on our fight.

LL: This was the second protest in three days. Earlier this week activists covered the Golden Bauhinia statue with a black cloth. For those of us who may not know exactly what that statue represents, can you tell us about it?

Pro-democracy activist Joshua Wong chants slogans after covering the Golden Bauhinia, a gift from China at the 1997 handover, with black cloth to demand full democracy for Hong Kong. (Tyrone Siu/Reuters)

DL: The Golden Bauhinia is a symbol and a gift [from the] China government to Hong Kong, to represent that the one-country, two-systems is going well.

But every [person] in Hong Kong, and some of the people in the whole world, is knowing that the one-country, two-systems is not working at all in Hong Kong and it has become like a one-country, 1.5-system.

And in the foreseeable future, it may become one-country, one-system. 

LL: What else is the protest aimed at? What other kinds of messages are the protesters trying to send?

DL: We have three very important messages to send.

The first is we want the China government to withdraw their Aug. 31 agreement.

And then, [for] true universal suffrage letting Hong Kong people have democracy and ... rights to choose our leader of government.

And the third one, we hope that the Chinese government can release Liu Xiaobo, the Nobel Peace Prize winner.

LL: He has been released, has he not?

DL: He is still monitored by the government. ... He is not allowed to other countries to seek help.

LL: You want him to be able to be able to leave China to get medical help?

DL: Of course. This is a very basic human right.  

LL: The president is expected to arrive in Hong Kong on Thursday. How are you and others going to move forward with his arrival in the coming days?

DL: I'm sure that most of the Hong Kong people and everyone in Hong Kong who fights for democracy will be on the streets on the first of July.

Police remove a black cloth covering the Golden Bauhinia, a gift from China at the 1997 handover. (Tyrone Siu /REUTERS)

LL: Are you hopeful that your colleagues are going to be able to join you?

DL: Of course, I hope they will join us. But, unfortunately, if they are still in the police station. I can promise that there will be much more Hong Kong people coming out. And then we will have their passion and we will have their persistence and we will have their spirit.

LL: Will you be there?

DL: Of course I will be there.

LL: Do you expect to be arrested?

DL: I can only say I am ready to be arrested.

LL:  What does that accomplish for you?

DL: Every time when we do an action, even if we get arrested, we are still progressing something. So, we hope that by our every little step, we can make this city change. We can make more Hong Kong people know … the meaning of democracy.  

This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity. You can hear more of Derek Lam's conversation with Laura Lynch above. 


To encourage thoughtful and respectful conversations, first and last names will appear with each submission to CBC/Radio-Canada's online communities (except in children and youth-oriented communities). Pseudonyms will no longer be permitted.

By submitting a comment, you accept that CBC has the right to reproduce and publish that comment in whole or in part, in any manner CBC chooses. Please note that CBC does not endorse the opinions expressed in comments. Comments on this story are moderated according to our Submission Guidelines. Comments are welcome while open. We reserve the right to close comments at any time.

Become a CBC Member

Join the conversationCreate account

Already have an account?