Letter of Nomination by Prominent Scholars of 2022 Nobel Peace Prize to Hong Kong Pro-Democracy ActivistsComments Off on Letter of Nomination by Prominent Scholars of 2022 Nobel Peace Prize to Hong Kong Pro-Democracy Activists
January 28, 2022
Peace Prize Selection Committee
Norwegian Nobel Institute
Dear Members of the Nobel Peace Prize Committee:
We write to nominate Hong Kong prisoners of conscience Chow Hang-tung, Gwyneth Ho, Jimmy Lai, Lee Cheuk-yan, and Joshua Wong for the 2022 Nobel Peace Prize.
These five are among about one hundred and fifty others who have been arrested under a National Security Law imposed on Hong Kong in mid-2020 by leaders of the Chinese government in Beijing. The five symbolize the hopes not only of millions of Hong Kong people who are worried about the fate of their city but also of countless people on the China mainland who cannot express their views.
They also speak to the whole world. The principles that they act upon undergird human rights and human dignity everywhere, and their voices emerge at a time when human rights and dignity are coming under ever-greater pressure around the world. A Peace Prize to Hong Kong prisoners of conscience in 2022 would underscore the highest moral aspirations of humanity.
The rights to freedom, dignity, truth, justice, and rule of law for which our nominees have put their freedom on the line have been set down in United Nations documents such as the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (1948) and the International Covenants on Civil and Political Rights and on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (1966). The governments of most nations in the world have signed all three of these documents, yet words on paper often are not enough to bring reality into line with principle. The courageous acts of determined people often are necessary for that. Martin Luther King, Jr., Nobel Peace laureate in 1964, wrote from jail, the year before receiving your prize, that “an individual who breaks a law that conscience tells him is unjust and who willingly accepts the penalty of imprisonment in order to arouse the conscience of the community over its injustice, is in reality expressing the highest respect for the law.”
Other Nobel Peace laureates have shown the same adherence to high principle and readiness to sacrifice for it: Carl von Ossietzky (winner in 1935) spoke against Hitler’s re-armament of Germany and died in a Hitler prison-hospital; Andrei Sakharov (winner in 1975) was sent into internal exile for advocating disarmament and human rights; Lech Walesa (1983 winner) accepted prison in Soviet-dominated Poland as the price for defending Polish workers; the Dalai Lama received the prize in 1989, during the thirtieth year of a forced exile from his Tibetan homeland; Aung Sang Suu Kyi (1991) endured years of house arrest by a Burmese military junta; and Liu Xiaobo (2010), like Ossietzky, died in a prison-hospital in the custody of a police state whose leaders he had offended. All of these people acted out of loyalty to principles more exalted than the rules of the regimes that were oppressing them.
The city of Hong Kong, known to the world for decades as a bustling hub for finance and commerce, where the people have been said to be pre-occupied with money-making alone, might not seem a place that would produce martyrs to human rights. After July 2020, however, it became one. A city where the phrase “prisoners of conscience” had been unknown, except as it applied to other places, suddenly had them—first a few, then dozens, then even more. People who had been speaking and protesting peacefully became detainees of the state—with no meaningful legal rights, no presumption of release on bail, no requirement to be brought to trial. Simply to be charged under the National Security Law had become potentially a life sentence. This happened as China’s government was steadily imposing measures to constrict the freedoms and the rule of law that had been promised to the Hong Kong people in the 1984 Sino-British treaty known as the “Joint Declaration” and in the subsequent “Basic Law” that took effect when Britain handed Hong Kong over to China in 1997.
From three decades of records of voting results, popular protests, and public opinion polls, it is clear that the vast majority of Hong Kong people have consistently opposed Beijing’s encroachment. In recent years, anyone who challenges Beijing risks paying a personal price. Most people, understandably, opt for the safety of remaining parts of the crowds of hundreds of thousands, or even millions, who march or attend vigils. Beginning in July 2020, the extraordinary terms of the vague and sweeping National Security Law—which can send a person to prison for decades, even for life—increased the incentives for people to be cautious in expressing their opposition.
Yet that same National Security Law—by the very audacity of its affront to the human dignity and freedom that Hong Kong had come to cherish—called a number of people in the city to put principle above personal safety. It was as if the spirit of non-violent resistance of Martin Luther King, Carl von Ossietzky, and Liu Xiaobo now had bloomed in Hong Kong. Did those who chose to step forward, and who have become today’s political prisoners, realize the risks that they were taking? Did they know that what had long been normal behavior would now, overnight, under the National Security Law, leave them vulnerable to lengthy prison sentences? Many did.
For each of our nominees, the events in Beijing of June 4, 1989, when Chinese troops opened fire killing hundreds of peaceful protesters who had been asking for democracy in China, became a moral benchmark. Lee Cheuk-yan was in Beijing at the time, having gone there to bring the protesters supplies from Hong Kong. Jimmy Lai, watching from Hong Kong, was profoundly shocked and in response started a magazine devoted to democracy. Chow Hang-tung, Joshua Wong, and Gwyneth Ho were in a younger generation that learned of the massacre from their elders and came to embrace the cause of commemorating it so stoutly that it became what led them to their first trips to jail. For all five nominees, something deep in their characters—a powerful sense of right and wrong—was at play. We list the five below alphabetically.
Chow Hang-tung 鄒幸彤, born in 1985, was vice-chair and lead barrister for the Hong Kong Alliance in Support of Patriotic Democratic Movements of China until the group was forced to close in September 2021. She is currently in prison for unlawful assembly in June 2020 at Victoria Park, where she was planning to attend the candlelight vigil that had been traditional in Hong Kong since 1990 to commemorate the victims of the June 4, 1989 massacre in Beijing. She and our other four nominees face subversion charges under the National Security Law as well.
In 2003, after establishing a brilliant high-school record in Hong Kong, Chow went to Cambridge University for a bachelor’s degree and stayed for Ph.D. work in geophysics. During the same years she became interested in NGO work in social justice, and in 2008 the cataclysmic earthquake in China’s Sichuan Province brought her two interests into sharp focus. The new data that earthquake provided were a bonanza for geophysicists; but the challenges and sorrows in relief work for the quake’s hundreds of thousands of victims were heart-stopping.
Chow took stock, examined her conscience, and in 2010 left her Ph.D. program to return to Hong Kong, where she entered law school at the University of Hong Kong and also joined the Alliance in Support of Patriotic Democratic Movements of China. After finishing law school and passing Hong Kong’s barrister examinations, she became the Alliance’s lead barrister, arguing many cases involving voting rights, protests and other social-justice issues. In 2016 she became vice-chair of the Alliance.
As June 4, 2021 neared, a question arose as to whether the Alliance should continue its traditional candlelight vigil in Victoria Park. The Hong Kong authorities, on instructions from Beijing, warned that the Alliance could be charged with “state subversion” if the vigil went ahead. Chow and her colleagues decided to cancel the Alliance’s sponsorship but to encourage people to go to Victoria Park as free individuals. Chow herself went, but police blocked her. She he later wrote, “What legal offense can a person be committing by lighting a candle in a park?”
But the authorities did perceive an offense. Moreover they designated the Alliance a “foreign agent” and demanded that Chow hand over all of the group’s records. She refused, explaining that “the reason why the national security agencies want to force civil society groups to submit a lot of information is to plunge all of civil society into fear.” Then, rhetorically addressing the agents themselves, she wrote: “Your threats will stop with us. We will not help you spread fear!” And finally: “I am prepared to be arrested. This is how Hong Kong is now. If you fight for democracy under an authoritarian regime, being arrested is unavoidable. Let it come. I am willing to pay the price.”
At her court appearance on the matter, Chow read testimony from families of June Fourth massacre victims—about tanks crushing human beings, about bullet-pierced corpses lining the floors of Beijing hospitals, and so on. The emotion in Chow’s choking voice spread to listeners in the courtroom, and when she finished by saying, “Your honor, it is these voices, not my plea, that the court should be considering today,” spontaneous cheers and applause broke out among the listeners. Hearing the response, the judge instructed court police to find and record the ID numbers of people who had violated courtroom decorum. About her own case, Chow did not plead with the court. “I have said what I needed to say. The record is there, and we can all be our own judges of what it means. Our confidence in doing this is our first step out of the bonds of patriarchal authoritarian rule.”
Gwyneth Ho何桂藍, age 31, was schooled in Hong Kong until 2009, when she went to Beijing for college at Tsinghua University. There she saw first-hand how an authoritarian government limits speech and induces self-censorship. Returning to Hong Kong in 2012, she worked as a reporter for House News (later Stand News), one of Hong Kong’s most stalwart pro-democracy news outlets. In 2014 she joined Dash, an Internet platform of the student group Scholarism that was organizing strikes and sit-ins to demand universal suffrage in Hong Kong elections. In July 2017 she began work for BBC Chinese. During 2018-2020 she spent time in Amsterdam, Netherlands to do a Master’s degree in journalism. At the same time she moved back and forth from Hong Kong, where she rose to prominence for her frontline reporting on the protests of 2019-2020 against a proposed Extradition Bill—a measure that would have allowed Hong Kong authorities to send people to China for trial and punishment.
Her most famous piece of reporting came on July 21, 2019 when she filmed underworld thugs—apparently arranged by the government—as they indiscriminately attacked people who had come out to protest the Extradition Bill. As the beatings continued inside a metro station, Ho continued filming even after she herself was being beaten. The violently-lurching footage in her report went viral on the Internet. From then on widely known, she ran and won in a democratic primary election in July 2020 and was looking forward to running for Hong Kong’s Legislative Council in fall. The authorities, though, postponed the fall election while they altered voting rules in order to quash the democratic opposition. By the time the election took place, Ho was already in prison.
She was arrested for sedition under the National Security Law in January 2021. On February 28, 2021, she read a statement in court on the topic of the conditions of her bail that the presiding judge was about to determine. Her statement describes herself as eager to hear bail conditions that could work under the National Security Law. The question interests her because the law states that:
Human rights shall be respected and protected in safeguarding national security. Rights and freedoms, including the freedoms of speech, of the press, of publication, of association, of assembly, of procession and of demonstration…shall be protected in accordance with the law.
Such language leaves her, she says, “no way to determine or to uncover exactly what kinds of bail conditions might assure that a person will not re-offend under the National Security Law.” If all those rights are protected, and yet people who exercise them are imprisoned for doing so, where, exactly, is the line? Ho writes that it is “your job, honored judge,” to unlock that mystery and to “clarify for all Hong Kongers exactly what kind of behavior” will keep a person this side of prison.
She goes on to warn the judge that one bail condition she will never accept is one that in any way limits freedom of speech, including political speech. She knows the reason why political authorities curtail public speech. They do it in order to enforce social stability, but that reasoning, she says, is upside down. Political free speech in fact is “the foundation stone” of a healthy and peaceful society and “does not conflict at all with national security in the true sense.” Should a person have to shut up in order to stay out of jail? “I firmly believe,” she writes, “that a truly independent and fair court would never ask citizens to trade in their freedom of speech for freedom of person.” If such an exchange is enforced in Hong Kong, “the society will deteriorate and in the long run national security will suffer, too.”
Her bail was denied. She remains in prison awaiting trial for sedition. Her sparkling words may have stripped the National Security Law of every shred of moral authority, but the brunt of its power remains.
Lai Chee-ying 黎智英, known in English as Jimmy Lai, was born in Guangzhou in 1947 to a family impoverished by war and political violence. When he was a boy his father abandoned the family and his mother was sent to a labor camp, leaving him and younger siblings to fend for themselves under the casual supervision of neighbors. At age 12 he stowed away in a Chinese junk bound for Hong Kong, where he took work in a garment factory. Sleeping in the factory and teaching himself English by using a dictionary, he eventually rose to be a factory manager, set up his own garment business, and in 1981 founded a clothing chain that he called Giordano. His revulsion at the June Fourth massacre in 1989 led him to seek out new friends, including Martin Lee, a seasoned leader in the Democratic Party in Hong Kong, and the city’s Catholic cardinal Joseph Zen. He became a devout Catholic.
In October 1989 he founded Next magazine to provide a platform for pro-democracy voices. Barred from China in 1994 after directly attacking Chinese Premier Li Peng, he was left with no choice but to sell Giordano and to focus exclusively on publishing magazines and newspapers through his company Next Media. In 1995 he founded Apple Daily, the popular Hong Kong newspaper known for its support of freedom and its inveterate criticism of Beijing. In June 2021, Next Media’s bank accounts were frozen and its senior staff members jailed without trial under the National Security Law. Unable to pay employees or accounts, Apple Daily had to close. Thousands of supporters gathered outside company headquarters as the final edition rolled off the presses. A record print run of one million copies, instead of the normal 80,000, sold out quickly.
From the 1990s on, Lai has been monitored, threatened, and harassed. He has endured petrol-bomb attacks on his home and has been the target of a kidnap plot. Although a very wealthy man, who could easily have fled Hong Kong, Lai never considered leaving. He has marched in the streets with Hong Kong protesters, explaining only that “it is the right thing to do; this city has given me everything; without human dignity we have nothing.”
Hong Kong authorities have accused Lai of being a behind-the-scenes instigator of virtually all the popular protests in the city since 2003 and in recent years have charged that he “collaborates with foreign forces” and “subverts state power.” He was detained on December 3, 2020 and is now held in Hong Kong’s maximum-security Stanley Prison, where he is serving a sentence for unlawful assembly at the candlelight vigil for June Fourth massacre victims in June, 2020. In a self-defense read in court, Lai acknowledges that he “lit a candle in front of reporters” that day and continues:
If commemorating those who died because of injustice is a crime, …then let me [too] suffer the punishment [so that] I may share the burden and the glory of those young men and women who shed their blood on June Fourth to proclaim truth, justice, and goodness.
His prison sentence for the “unlawful assembly” charges was set at twenty months. Charges of “colluding with foreign forces,” under the National Security Law, remain pending and could be much heavier. Lai’s dedication to principle and willingness to pay a personal price have been noted around the world. A Wall Street Journal editorial observed that Lai is “willing to give up everything except his principles, even if it means trading in the life of a billionaire for the prison cell of a Chinese dissident.”
Lee Cheuk-yan, 李卓人, born in 1957, is a life-long campaigner for human rights, especially workers’ rights, and served many years as an elected representative in the pro-democracy caucus of Hong Kong’s Legislative Council. Beginning in the waning years of British rule in Hong Kong, Lee has been a constant and indefatigable advocate of rights for Hong Kong workers and for freedom and human dignity for all people, including those on the Chinese mainland. In spring 1989 he traveled to Beijing to deliver support, both moral and financial, from people in Hong Kong to the students who were protesting in Tiananmen Square. After the June Fourth massacre, he helped to organize Operation Yellowbird, a rescue channel for Tiananmen activists whom the Beijing authorities had targeted for arrest. Beginning in 1990 he was a moving force behind annual vigils in Victoria Park for the June Fourth victims. During the same years, when mainland security agents began to monitor him, he commented that he did not much care about that monitoring; he would continue to do what he needed to do.
A popular politician, Lee supported a number of labor strikes that improved the lives of Hong Kong workers. In 1990 he founded Hong Kong’s Confederation of Trade Unions and served as its head until it was forced to disband in 2021. In 2011, he founded the Hong Kong Labor Party. From 2011 to 2014 and again from 2019 to 2021 he served as chair of the Hong Kong Alliance in Support of Patriotic Democratic Movements of China. In spring 2021 Hong Kong authorities announced that the Alliance might be charged—as an organization—with intent to subvert the state. Authorities proceeded to freeze the group’s bank accounts, to ask Internet providers to block access to its website, to close its June Fourth Massacre museum on “licensing” grounds, and to confiscate all the display items. Lee and his colleagues saw no alternative but to disband the Alliance.
In November 2021 Lee appeared in court to face charges that he convened, joined, and urged others to join the unauthorized candlelight vigil for massacre victims at Victoria Park the previous June. Lee pled guilty to doing what the government alleged that he had done, but denied it was a crime. In a legal self-defense, he rebutted the charge against him of “provocateur.” “If there was a provocateur,” he wrote, “it was the regime that fired on its own people.” He continued:
We are all followers of Gandhi’s idea of non-violent struggle, hoping to bring democratic reforms to Hong Kong. Now that I am imprisoned as Gandhi was, I will learn to be as fearless as Gandhi was.
Gandhi was a perennial moral guide for Lee Cheuk-yan. Following the 1997 handover of Hong Kong to China, when Beijing cancelled collective bargaining rights for Hong Kong workers that Lee had sponsored, he emulated Gandhi in practice as well as in words: he went on a hunger strike. He lost that particular fight but—as he always did—continued to struggle on. He wrote:
Despite setbacks, we are steadfast in our belief that the universal values of freedom, the rule of law, human rights and democracy that we have been struggling for will one day take root in Hong Kong and China. And on that day, we will be able to console the souls who came before us.
Lee has relatives in the U.S. but always rejected the idea of emigrating. “If I must go to jail to re-affirm my will,” he has written, “then so be it.” Now in jail for “unlawful assembly,” he, too, faces heavier charges under the National Security Law.
Joshua Wong 黃之鋒, now 25 years old, began as early as age 13 to protest in public against moves in Hong Kong by China’s government. In 2009, a Beijing plan to build a high-speed rail link between Guangzhou and Hong Kong gave rise to fears in Hong Kong about cost, noise pollution, customs, border controls and the lack of need for such an expensive project. Thousands of people protested, and young Joshua Wong was among them.
The next year, when Beijing introduced a program it called “Moral and National Education,” whose objective was to instill loyalty to the Communist Party of China in Hong Kong’s schoolchildren, Wong and a schoolmate named Ivan Lam founded Scholarism, a student group that worked to block the intrusion. Many Hong Kong people, especially parents of schoolchildren, were ready to support the protests by Scholarism; crowds as large as 100,000 came out to support of student demonstrations and boycotts. The protesters won (at least for the time being). Moral and National Education was put on hold.
Scholarism’s next project was to draft a plan to bring universal suffrage within Hong Kong’s electoral system. The Basic Law that had gone into effect in 1997 called for the introduction of democratic elections and universal suffrage, and Scholarism advocated that the transition begin with the election of the Hong Kong Chief Executive in 2017. Beijing rebuffed the proposal, but in fall 2014 a strong groundswell of popular opinion, manifested in very large street demonstrations, supported it. When the demonstrators were met with teargas and water hoses and took out umbrellas in defense, the term “Umbrella Movement” was born.
In the first major act of the Umbrella Movement, Joshua Wong led a crowd into Hong Kong’s Civic Square, and after that event he was viewed as an important public face of the movement. His personal style, gentle in manner but steely in principle, attracted international admiration. In 2017, a documentary film called Joshua: Teenager versus Superpower was released world-wide. When Beijing accused Wong of being a puppet of hostile foreign forces, he was not angry. He simply did not take the charge seriously, commenting only that it “is nonsense,” and continuing on. When Beijing issued a “Blue Paper on National Security” citing him by name as a threat to Communist Party rule, he again chose not to be frightened. “People should not be afraid of their government,” he said. “The government should be afraid of their people.”
Today Joshua Wong is in Hong Kong’s Shek Pik Prison. At age 25 he is enduring his third stay in prison, not to mention a number of arrests and detentions. The offenses that have led to his detentions have included: unlawful assembly at a candlelight vigil; organizing against an Extradition Bill; organizing and participating in pro-democracy primary elections; failing to comply with a court order to clear a protest site; wearing a mask during a street demonstration; collusion with hostile foreign forces; and agitation to subvert state security. Packed within just a few years, these charges appeared with a regularity that seems to amount to we want you off the streets and never mind why. The colorful variety of the charges stands in contrast to the plain, unchanging message that Wong presents: just let us be ourselves and be free; we are not afraid of you and you should not be afraid of us.
* * *
A Nobel Peace Prize for people such as these would advance the high ideals on which the Nobel Peace Prize was founded. It would not only honor peaceful resistance in Hong Kong but strengthen for the entire world the principle of civil disobedience based on conscience. The world in recent times has been enduring an increasing confrontation between authoritarianism on one side and, on the other, the human rights that dictators fear and therefore inveterately attack: freedom of expression, freedom of assembly, rule of law, and others. The time-tested threat that dictators have used—“keep quiet about public issues or put your private interests at severe risk”—are spreading in today’s world, and the fate of the once-open city of Hong Kong is one of the clearest examples of this troubling trend. We hope you will agree that our nominees, in their iron dedication to human freedom, human dignity, and non-violence, honor the ideals of “international peace and fraternity” that Alfred Nobel set forth when he created the Nobel Peace Prize.
We attach a chronology of events in Hong Kong that gives fuller context for the activities of our nominees. We offer our email addresses should you need follow-up. Please let us know if we can provide more information.
(Names listed alphabetically)
Ako Tomoko, Professor of the Graduate School of Arts and Sciences, Tokyo University, Japan
Geremie R. Barmé, Professor Emeritus of Chinese History, The Australian National University, Australia
Jean-Philippe Béja, Research Professor emeritus, Centre National de la Recherche Scientifique, Centre de recherches internationales, Paris, France
Cai Xia (Mary Cai), Professor emeritus of Party Building, Central Party School, Beijing, China
Anita Chan, Professor of Political and Social Change, Australian National University, Canberra, Australia
Joseph Cheng, Professor (retired), Faculty of Humanities and Social Sciences, City University of Hong Kong; now living in exile in New Zealand
Josephine Chiu-Duke, Professor, Department of Asian Studies, University of British Columbia, Canada
Jerome Cohen, Professor emeritus of Law, New York University, USA
Larry Diamond, Mosbacher Senior Fellow in Global Democracy, Freeman Spogli Institute for International Studies, Stanford University, USA
Christopher R. Hughes, Professor of International Relations emeritus, London School of Economics, United Kingdom
Jin Xuefei (Ha Jin), William Fairfield Warren Distinguished Professor of English and Creative Writing, Boston University, USA
Perry Link, Chancellorial Chair for Teaching Across Disciplines, University of California, Riverside, USA
Andrew Nathan, Class of 1919 Professor of Political Science, Columbia University, New York, USA
Heiner Roetz, Professor emeritus, Chinese History and Philosophy, Ruhr-University in Bochum, Germany
Vera Schwarcz, Senior Research Professor, Truman Institute for Peace, Hebrew University, Jerusalem, Israel
A Related Hong Kong Chronology
For more than two decades, Hong Kong’s democracy movement has consistently sought, through non-violent means, to ensure that the Chinese government fulfill its promise of “Hong Kong people ruling Hong Kong” by popular vote. But instead of upholding this and other promises—of a free press, free assembly, free speech and others—that are written in the territory’s constitution and are part of international law, Beijing has attempted to crush a city that has sought autonomy. Years of largely peaceful protests were answered in 2020 with the imposition of a vague and sweeping National Security Law that has led to the arrests of more than one hundred people, most of them held without bail. The following chronology highlights key moments in Hong Kong’s history and its democracy movement, including roles of our five nominees for the Peace Prize.
1842: Hong Kong Island, at the mouth of the Pearl River on the southern coast of China
and sparsely inhabited, is ceded to Britain in perpetuity after the First Opium War.
1860: The Kowloon peninsula, facing Hong Kong island to the north, is also ceded in perpetuity to Britain.
1898: Britain obtains a 99-year lease on the New Territories, which includes land to the north of Kowloon as well as several surrounding islands. This addition increases the area of the colony about sixfold.
1945 and after: Hong Kong’s population increases from about 500,000 at the time of the Japanese defeat in 1945 to 5,000,000 in 1980 as mainland Chinese stream into Hong Kong in search of a better life. This tenfold population increase is the result largely of Mao Zedong’s political campaigns of the 1950s followed by the largest famine in world history during 1959-62 and a withering Cultural Revolution from 1966 to 1976.
1947: Jimmy Lai is born in Guangzhou to a once-prosperous family now caught in the tumult of civil war and revolution. He cares for his younger siblings after his father leaves the family and his mother is sent to a labor camp.
1957: Lee Cheuk-yan is born in Shanghai; when he is two years old his family moves to Hong Kong, where he grows up.
1959: Jimmy Lai flees to Hong Kong by stowing away at age 12 in a Chinese junk. He begins work in a garment factory, sleeping in the factory and teaching himself English by reading a dictionary. He rises to be a factory manager, sets up his own garment business, and in 1981 founds a clothing chain called Giordano.
1960: The United Nations’ “Declaration on the Granting of Independence to Colonial Countries and Peoples” asserts the right of colonized peoples, such as Hong Kong’s, to determine their own futures.
1972: Under pressure from the government of the People’s Republic of China, which has recently been admitted to the United Nations, the U.N. General Assembly adopts “Resolution 2908” that strips Hong Kong and Macau of their status as “colonies” and thus of their self-determination rights under the 1960 declaration.
1978: Lee Cheuk-yan receives a bachelor’s degree in civil engineering from the University of Hong Kong.
1984: The governments of the United Kingdom and the Peoples Republic of China sign a “Joint Declaration” on the future of Hong Kong after it reverts to China in 1997. The Declaration is formally an international treaty, registered with the United Nations, and sets out the terms under which sovereignty will be transferred.
1985: Chow Hang-tung is born in Hong Kong.
1989, May 21: A million and a half people march in Hong Kong in support of pro-democracy demonstrators in Beijing. On May 30, Lee Cheuk-yan arrives in Beijing carrying donations of money and supplies from supporters in Hong Kong.
1989, June 3-4: the Chinese government carries out a massacre of hundreds, perhaps thousands, of pro-democracy demonstrators in Beijing. Hong Kong people, viewing the events on television, are shocked: How secure are the promises of the Joint Declaration on Hong Kong if this kind of thing can happen in Beijing? More than 500,000 people take to the street to protest.
1989, July: Jimmy Lai enters politics by printing large numbers of pro-democracy T-shirts for his Giordano clothing chain.
1990, April: Drawing on the substance of the Joint Declaration of 1984, and based on the work of a joint commission including representatives from Hong Kong, the Chinese government promulgates Hong Kong’s Basic Law, which becomes its de facto constitution for the years after 1997. It calls for “one country, two systems” and “Hong Kong people ruling Hong Kong” with a “high degree of autonomy.” It guarantees rule of law, the freedoms of speech, press, religion, and assembly, and eventual universal suffrage in elections for the city’s chief executive (mayor) and its Legislative Council (city council).
1990, June 4: In Hong Kong’s Victoria Park, the first of what become annual candlelight vigils for the victims of the June 4, 1989 massacre takes place. The vigils continue without interruption until they are forcibly halted in 2020.
1990, August 24: Gwyneth Ho is born in Hong Kong.
1990: Lee Cheuk-yan helps to set up the Hong Kong Confederation of Trade Unions. Jimmy Lai prints the first issue of his pro-democracy Next magazine.
1994: During the first trip to the West after the 1989 June Fourth massacre by Chinese Premier Li Peng, Jimmy Lai writes an article referring to Li as a “turtle’s egg.” The result is that his Giordano clothing stores in mainland China are squeezed to the point where he is forced to choose between his advocacy of democracy and his clothing business. He sells Giordano in 1996.
1995: Jimmy Lai founds the independent Apple Daily, which quickly grows to be the newspaper
with the second-largest circulation in the city. Lee Cheuk-yan is first elected to the Hong Kong
Legislative Council, where he serves for twenty years.
1996, October 13: Joshua Wong is born in Hong Kong.
1997, June 26: On the eve of Hong Kong’s handover to China, Lee Cheuk-yan sponsors an Ordinance on Employees’ Right to Representation, Consultation, and Collective Bargaining. Hong Kong’s Legislative Council passes it.
1997, July 1: The United Kingdom transfers sovereignty of Hong Kong to The Peoples Republic of China.
2001: Jimmy Lai founds a Taiwan version of Next magazine; a Taiwan version of Apple Daily follows in 2003.
2003: The Hong Kong government proposes legislation that would implement Article 23 of the Basic Law in ways that would considerably tighten “national security.” Hong Kong people see the move as a serious threat to freedom of expression, and on July 1, about 500,000 people demonstrate against the legislation. On July 9 the Hong Kong government withdraws it.
2003: Chow Hang-tung, following a brilliant record in high school, travels to Cambridge University in England to study science. After a bachelor’s degree, she stays for a Ph.D. program in geophysics.
2007: The government in Beijing announces a timetable for instituting direct election of the Chief Executive and legislators in Hong Kong: the Chief Executive will be chosen by popular vote beginning in 2017, and direct election of Legislative Council members will follow soon thereafter.
2007: Lee Cheuk-yan supports successful strikes by construction workers and bar tenders.
2010: Chow Hang-tung leaves her Ph.D. program at Cambridge University and returns to Hong Kong, where she enters law school at the University of Hong Kong and joins the Alliance in Support of Patriotic Democratic Movements of China.
2010, January-February: Joshua Wong, at age 13, joins public protests against building a high-speed rail connection to Guangzhou. People are unhappy with its costs, its environmental damage, and its noise pollution.
2011: Lee Cheuk-yan becomes Chair of the Hong Kong Alliance in Support of Patriotic Democratic Movements of China as well as of the Hong Kong Labor Party, which he has helped to found.
2011, May 29: Joshua Wong and his schoolmate Ivan Lam found Scholarism, an activist student group that opposes the Chinese government’s “Moral and National Education” initiative to instill loyalty to the CCP in Hong Kong schoolchildren.
2012, August and September: popular resistance to Moral and National Education grows to the point where the government (for the time being) shelves the plan.
2014, June 10: Beijing issues a white paper entitled “The Practice of the ‘One Country, Two Systems’ Policy in the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region.” The paper states that “one country, two systems” obviously means that both systems are under one country. Therefore the Hong Kong Chief Executive and members of the Legislative Council must be “patriots.” The Chinese word for “patriot” is “one who loves guo,” where guo means both “country” and “state” but is also well understood to mean “Communist Party.”
2014, July: Gwyneth Ho joins Dash, an online media platform of the student organization Scholarism, covering its boycotts, sit-ins, and demonstrations.
2014, August 31: Beijing formally adopts its rules on selection of members of the Hong Kong Legislative Council in 2016 and the framework for selecting the Chief Executive in 2017. Neither selection is to be done by direct popular vote.
2014, September 27: Joshua Wong leads a crowd into Hong Kong’s Civic Square to demand direct elections of Hong Kong officials as provided for in the Basic Law. In the ensuing days protests spread to the Central, Causeway Bay and Mongkok Districts of the city. When police use teargas and water hoses to disperse crowds, protesters take out umbrellas and the term “Umbrella Movement” is born. Joshua Wong and 77 others are arrested. The occupations continue for 79 days.
2014, December 11: Jimmy Lai is arrested during an Umbrella protest. He resigns his post as Chairman of the Board of Next Digital, the parent company of Apple Daily.
2015, January 12: Two masked men hurl petrol bombs at Jimmy Lai’s home in Kowloon. The incident is one of a series of threatening events, including constant video and photographic surveillance, harassment of Lai’s family, threats of mob assaults on his home, and a kidnap plot.
2015, June 28: Thugs assault Joshua Wong as he leaves a movie theater in Mongkok. No one is arrested.
2015, December: Five publishers working at the Causeway Bay Bookstore in Hong Kong disappear. A few days later, all five, now appearing in the mainland, make “confessions” on television. After returning to Hong Kong, one of them, Lam Wing-kee, reveals at a press conference that he and his colleagues had been abducted to the mainland. Feeling insecure in Hong Kong, Lam flees to Taiwan.
Chow Hang-tung is admitted to the bar in Hong Kong and becomes Vice Chair of the Hong Kong Alliance in Support of Patriotic Democratic Movements of China.
January: Students at the University of Hong Kong strike in protest of the government’s political meddling in the appointment of a university vice-chancellor.
February: The Hong Kong government rejects political advertisements by Leung Tin-kei, a democrat running for the Legislative Council, because they contain the words “autonomy” and “self-determination” that, the authorities say, violate the Basic Law. Public controversy ensues.
April: Joshua Wong and other leaders of Scholarism found a political party called Demosistō.
July: For their entry into the Civic Square that launched the Umbrella Movement in 2014, Nathan Law and Joshua Wong are found guilty of “inciting others to participate in an unlawful assembly.” Candidates in elections for the Legislative Council are required to sign “affirmations” that they will uphold Beijing’s interpretation of key points in the Basic Law. Political parties that favor self-determination denounce the move.
August: Three candidates running for the Legislative Council on the “more autonomy” platform are informed that they will not be allowed to run. Protests follow and police disperse the protesters.
September 4: Legislative Council elections are held and 2.2 million voters—a record 58% of those eligible—cast ballots. The top vote-getter, Eddie Chu, receives death threats against himself, his wife and his daughter. These apparently come from the Triad Society underworld. Chu and family seek police protection.
October 5: Joshua Wong, invited to speak at Chulalongkorn University in Thailand about his Umbrella Movement experiences, is detained at the Bangkok airport. His Thai hosts explain that the Chinese government requested the action.
October-December: Beijing requires members of the Legislative Council to take an oath of loyalty to the Basic Law as interpreted by Beijing. Six elected democrats are accused of “sabotaging” the oath-taking ceremony and are disqualified as Council members on grounds that their oaths were not considered “sincere and solemn.”
January 8: A gang at the Hong Kong airport attacks Nathan Law, a young democrat on the Legislative Council, as he returns to Hong Kong from Taiwan.
January 18: The Hong Kong National Party is denied a license to erect a stall at the Lunar New Year Fair at Victoria Park on grounds that advocating Hong Kong autonomy endangers public order.
January 20: A documentary film about Joshua Wong, called Joshua: Teenager versus Superpower, is released.
March 26: Carrie Lam, Beijing’s hand-picked candidate for Chief Executive of Hong Kong, is chosen in the Beijing-approved election process.
March 27: Benny Tai, Chan Kin-man, and seven other participants in the Umbrella Movement of 2014 are charged with “conspiracy to commit public nuisance,” “inciting others to commit public nuisance,” and “inciting others to incite public nuisance.” The eight are given jail sentences of up to 16 months.
July 14: The Hong Kong High Court rules that four democrats in the Legislative Council (Lau Siu Lai, Leung Kwok Hung, Nathan Law and Yiu Chung Yan) are disqualified because of “invalid” oaths taken on October 12 the previous year.
August 17: Joshua Wong, Nathan Law and Alex Chow are convicted and jailed for actions during the 2014 Umbrella Movement.
October 13: Joshua Wong and 19 others are convicted for obstructing a court order to clear a protest zone in Mongkok in October 2014. On January 18, 2018 Wong is sentenced to three months in prison for the offense.
January: Two advocates of self-determination for Hong Kong—Chow Ting and Ventus Law—are barred from standing for election on grounds that “self-determination” amounts to “independence,” which, according to the government, violates the Basic Law.
February: After other democrats are barred from running for office, Chan Ho-tin of the Hong Kong National Party goes to court to challenge the government’s right to decide unilaterally whether a person’s political beliefs accord with the Basic Law. The petition is rejected.
May: Hong Kong education officials announce new syllabi for junior high school history courses. The history of Hong Kong is no longer a separate category from mainland history. The June Fourth massacre is no longer mentioned.
June: Hong Kong authorities pass a bill that designates 1.1 million square feet within a new Kowloon rail terminus as legally mainland territory. The purpose is to allow advance immigration for passengers headed for China, but the move fuels popular anxiety that Hong Kongers can now be arrested by mainland authorities inside the Kowloon rail station. There are protests.
July: Authorities notify the Hong Kong National Party that, because of concerns for national security and public safety, the party is an unlawful organization and must disband.
August: The Foreign Correspondents Club (FCC) of Hong Kong invites Chan Ho-tin, head of the Hong Kong National Party, to give a talk. Beijing’s representative in Hong Kong asks the FCC to reconsider, but the FCC proceeds. Outside the venue on the day of the talk, police carry away people who are sitting-in to support Chan. The authorities say that Chan is promoting Hong Kong independence and express their “deep regret” to the FCC. Pro-Beijing voices call upon the Hong Kong government to consider suspending the FCC’s right to lease land.
November: Mainland dissident writer Ma Jian is scheduled to participate in two events in Hong
Kong. The Hong Kong Jockey Club, which was to host the events, decides to cancel them because it does not want to “become a platform for any individual to promote his political interests.” The incident is chilling to Hong Kong journalists.
January 9: Pro-Beijing legislators in Hong Kong announce a National Anthem Bill. Henceforth it will be an offense to insult the Chinese national anthem by altering it in any way. Moreover the anthem shall be included in primary and secondary school education and shall be sung at oath-taking ceremonies for officials. Hong Kong people respond by composing their own anthem, called “Glory to Hong Kong.”
February 12: In what comes to be known as the Extradition Bill, Hong Kong authorities propose that the Chief Executive of Hong Kong have the power to surrender Hong Kong people for prosecution in other countries or other parts of China. The move stirs panic in Hong Kong, where people now realize that they could be sent to the mainland for prosecution and punishment under mainland law.
June 9: A march against the Extradition Bill draws more than a million people, making it the largest protest in Hong Kong since the 1997 handover.
June 12: Protesters rush the building where the Legislative Council meets as discussion of the Extradition Bill is about to resume. Police use rubber bullets, tear gas, pepper gas, bean bag rounds, and batons against the crowd. Amnesty International issues a report called, “How Not To Police a Protest: Unlawful Use of Force by Hong Kong Police.” The incident builds further opposition to the government among the public.
June 16: The largest march in Hong Kong’s history, some two million people, continues in protest of the Extradition Bill, despite Chief Executive Carrie Lam’s announcement
the previous day that she would not move ahead with the legislation.
July 21: Triad gangs in Yuen Long randomly attack members of the public during protests against the Extradition Bill. Gwyneth Ho, inside the Yuen Long metro station, herself is beaten as she films the beatings of others. Her footage goes viral on the Internet.
September 9: German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas meets with Joshua Wong; the Chinese Foreign Ministry calls the German move “disrespectful of China’s sovereignty and an interference in China’s internal affairs.”
November 17-29: A clash at the Hong Kong Polytechnic University in Kowloon turns into a siege of the campus by police, who allow no one to leave it.
November 24: District Council Elections draw a record number of voters and a turnout of more than 71%, the highest percentage in Hong Kong’s history. The democratic and localist camps win landslide victories and gain control of 17 of the 18 district councils that were up for election. The Beijing-backed government still holds its mandated majority in the Legislative Council but is embarrassed that the popular will so clearly is not behind them.
January 23: Covid-19 reaches Hong Kong.
February 18: Joshua Wong publishes Unfree Speech: The Threat to Global Democracy and Why We Must Act, Now (Penguin Books).
February 28: Jimmy Lai, Lee Cheuk-yan and others are arrested, and then released on bail, for their parts in protests of the Extradition Bill in August 2019.
March 5: The international human rights watchdog Freedom House releases its “Global Freedom Survey” in which it lists Hong Kong as only “partially free.” Hong Kong’s score of 55 is a record low for the survey.
April 18: Jimmy Lai, Lee Cheuk-yan and 14 others are arrested again on suspicion of organizing unauthorized assemblies of people who, between August and October 2019, were protesting the Extradition Bill.
May 22: A draft “Hong Kong National Security Law” appears on the agenda of the National People’s Congress in Beijing. It asks Hong Kong authorities to establish a “sound mechanism” for safeguarding national security. Moreover, “the relevant organs of the Central People’s Government” are to set up offices in Hong Kong according to their needs and are to perform their duties in safeguarding national security “in accordance with law.” A more forceful role for Beijing is clearly foreshadowed in Hong Kong.
June 4: Citing Covid-19, Hong Kong authorities ban the traditional candlelight vigil in Victoria Park for June Fourth massacre victims. People gather anyway. Jimmy Lai, Lee Cheuk-yan, and Chow Hang-tung are among them and are arrested for illegal assembly.
June 17: Police raid the offices of Next Media and arrest five senior executives charging a technical violation of a rental agreement that they say amounts to “fraud.” Ominously, the arrestees, who include Jimmy Lai, are assigned to the courtrooms of judges who handle National Security Law cases.
June 18: Gwyneth Ho announces her candidacy for the 2020 Hong Kong pro-democracy primaries.
June 30: The National People’s Congress in Beijing passes the Hong Kong National Security Law. The text is released at 11 p.m. and takes immediate effect. Under pressure, Joshua Wong and other leaders of Demosistō, saying “we will meet again,” announce that their party is disbanding.
Early July: Several Hong Kong political groups (the Hong Kong Alliance, the Hong Kong Independent Alliance, the Hong Kong National Front and the Victorian Community Association, among others) announce that they will disband. Their members may continue to protest as individuals, they say.
July 10: On the evening before a primary election organized by the democracy camp to field
candidates for scheduled Legislative Council elections in September is to take place, police officers conduct a search at the headquarters of the Hong Kong Institute of Public Opinion, the group that has designed the voting system for the elections. Claiming they have received reports of leaks and of fraud, the police seize all computers.
July 11: Joshua Wong and Gwyneth Ho are winners by large margins in democrats’ primary elections for the Legislative Council. Nineteen days later Wong’s and Ho’s candidacies are ruled invalid.
August 10: Hong Kong police arrest at least nine people, including Jimmy Lai, on suspicion of collusion with foreign forces to endanger national security. Two hundred police officers search the Next Media building and seal it off. Access is limited to media “that had not obstructed police officers in the past.” Lai is held for two days and then released.
September 24: Joshua Wong is detained and charged with “unlawful assembly” for his 2019 protest against a government ban on facemasks. (The authorities had banned masks in order more easily to identify and photograph people.)
October 11: The Civil Service Bureau issues a circular requiring that anyone who has joined the civil service on or after July 1 sign a declaration of support for the Basic Law and allegiance to the Hong Kong government. Disobedience may indicate “an intention to overthrow the government.”
November 11: The National Peoples Congress in Beijing rules that anyone who “advocates or supports the idea of ‘Hong Kong independence’, refuses to recognize the sovereignty of the state over Hong Kong, seeks interference in the affairs of the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region from foreign countries or forces outside the country, or engages in other acts that endanger national security” is ineligible to serve in the Legislative Council of Hong Kong. The authorities then announce the disqualification of four democratic legislators. The 15 democrats who remain respond by resigning in protest. Throughout the process Chow Hang-tung is the barrister for the democrats.
November 23: Joshua Wong is held in the Laichikok Detention Center on charges of having organized a protest on June 21, 2019 against the Extradition Bill. Wong comments that the Hong Kong criminal justice system is “manipulated by Beijing.” On December 2 he is convicted and sent to Shek Pik Prison.
December 3: Jimmy Lai is taken into custody and held at the Laichikok Detention Center. Later he is transferred to the maximum-security Stanley Prison.
December 11: Jimmy Lai, charged with “colluding with a foreign country or foreign forces to endanger national security,” becomes the first person to be charged with this offense under the National Security Law.
January 6: Accused of organizing and participating in the pro-democracy primaries of July 2020, fifty-three democrats, including Joshua Wong and Gwyneth Ho, are arrested under the National Security Law.
February 16: Jimmy Lai, in prison, is re-arrested on suspicion of helping Andy Li, a pro-democracy leader, flee to Taiwan.
February 28: Forty-seven of the 53 democrats arrested on January 6, including Joshua Wong and Gwyneth Ho, are charged with subversion.
March 30: The National Peoples Congress in Beijing announces a Reform of the Legislative Council in Hong Kong. It reduces the number of directly-elected representatives from 40 of 70 to 20 of 90 and institutes a vetting committee that will assure that candidates who run for election are “patriots.”
April 13: Joshua Wong is sentenced to four months in prison for his role in the protests of the Extradition Bill.
April 16: Jimmy Lai, Lee Cheuk-yan, and others are convicted of “unlawful assembly” during the protests against the Extradition Bill in August, 2019. Lai is sentenced to 20 months in prison.
April: Jimmy Lai sends a note to Apple Daily staff from his prison cell: “A journalist’s responsibility [is] to uphold justice. The era is falling apart before us, and it is time for us to stand tall.”
May 6: Joshua Wong is sentenced to ten additional months in prison for unlawful assembly in commemorating victims of the June Fourth massacre in June, 2020.
May 14: Hong Kong authorities, invoking the National Security Law, freeze Jimmy Lai’s company shares and bank accounts without a court order. For Hong Kong, this is an unprecedented government seizure of private property.
May 28: Jimmy Lai’s prison sentence for the autumn 2019 protests is increased by 14 months.
June 3: Hong Kong authorities for the second consecutive year seek to ban the candlelight vigil that the Alliance in Support of Patriotic Democratic Movements of China traditionally holds in Victoria Park to remember victims of the June Fourth massacre. Chow Hang-tung, Vice Chair of the Alliance, announces that she will go to the park as a private citizen. For that she is arrested for “promoting an unauthorized assembly” and released on bail.
June 17: Five hundred armed police raid the headquarters of Next Digital (the parent company of Apple Daily), arresting its top leaders on National Security Law charges and freezing Apple Daily’s bank accounts. (By the end of 2021, seven people from Next Digital are in jail. Only Jimmy Lai has been convicted of a crime; the others are held without bail.)
June 21: The board of Next Media announces that if the government does not unfreeze its funding, Apple Daily will need to close.
June 24: Apple Daily publishes its last issue. It prints one million copies, more than twelve times the normal print run. Thousands of supporters hold a vigil outside Apple’s headquarters as the last edition is printed. Copies sell out quickly.
June 30: Chow Hang-tung is re-arrested for “inciting others to knowingly participate in an unauthorized assembly.” She is released on bail on August 5.
September 5: The authorities, characterizing the whole of the Hong Kong Alliance in Support of Patriotic Democratic Movements of China as a suspected “foreign agent,” ask that the Alliance hand over all information in its possession. Chow Hang-tung refuses.
September 9: Police charge Chow Hang-tung, Lee Cheuk-yan, Gwyneth Ho and others of “incitement to subversion.” The next day the court rejects their bail applications. In court on October 5, all three plead not guilty.
September 29: The Hong Kong authorities, citing the National Security Law, freeze bank accounts of the Alliance in Support of Patriotic Democratic Movements of China and seize property at their June Fourth Memorial Hall, which is the only museum in China that commemorates the Hong Kong killings.
October 3: The Confederation of Trade Unions, founded and chaired by Lee Cheuk-yan, announces that it is disbanding because of pressure from the authorities.
October 12: Human rights experts appointed by the United Nations Human Rights Council issue a statement of concern over the improper use of charges such as “inciting subversion of state power” that were brought against Chow Hang-tung and the Hong Kong Alliance. A judge refuses bail for Chow Hang-tung on grounds that she might continue to threaten national security.
November 17: Lee Cheuk-yan pleads guilty to charges of holding, participating in, and urging others to join a candlelight vigil for June Fourth massacre victims at Victoria Park in Hong Kong. But he denies that any of that was criminal. He reads an eloquent self-defense in court.
November 18: The Committee to Protect Journalists awards Jimmy Lai the Gwen Ifill Press
Freedom Award, saying that “Jimmy Lai is not just a champion of a free press; he is a press
freedom warrior. He fights for the right of his Apple News organization to publish freely, even as China and its backers in Hong Kong use every tool to quash them.”
December 4: The Chinese Democracy Education Foundation in San Francisco presents its annual Outstanding Democracy Activist Award to Chow Hang-tung.
December 13: Jimmy Lai is sentenced to an additional 13 months in prison for the June Fourth vigil offense. Chow Hang-tang is sentenced to 12 months, Gwyneth Ho to 6.
December 28: Reaching back to a little-used law from the British colonial era, Hong Kong authorities charge Jimmy Lai with sedition. Police make arrests and confiscate computers at Stand News, one of Hong Kong’s few remaining independent media outlets. Popular singer Denise Ho and pro-democracy barrister Margaret Ng are arrested for their connections with Stand News.