PROTESTS IN HONG KONG
"It could be the last fight"
Hong Kong activist Joshua Wong led the demonstrations five years ago. Now after his relase from jail, he is taking part in the current protests over Hongkong's controversial extradition law and Chinas growing influence in the city
Photo: Kin Cheung / ap (Last Monday: Joshua Wong talks to supporters and calls to participate in the protests)
INTERVIEW FELIX LEEtaz: Mr. Wong, you have been in jail for five months for your involvement in the umbrella protests and have now been released early. The current democracy protests with almost two million participants are not related to your person. How do you feel?
Joshua Wong: In detention, I only occasionally caught a glimpse of the TV - it was in the common room, and there we were only detained at certain times. I also had no smartphone and no internet access. We had to ask the guards for permission before turning on the TV. But what I could see at breakfast from the demos on the news, I was very impressed.
Were not you jealous of your fellow campaigners?
Of course I would like to have been there. But that would not have made a difference. Unlike five years ago, there are no leaders this time; the protests are spontaneous. Indeed, when I started imprisonment in mid-May this year, I never dreamed that so many people could be mobilized on Hong Kong's streets during that time. After the umbrella protests we had said: We are coming back. Now we are actually back. And we are more than ever.
What is different from the protests five years ago that involved free elections?
We see a whole new level of mobilization ability here. At the same time, there is a new dimension of police violence. Five years ago, the police used 98 canisters of tear gas, this time supposedly it was over 150. Even the use of rubber bullets did not exist five years ago. In prison, I thought briefly: What an irony, I'm safer here than my fellow campaigners in the streets.
Why is everything more extreme this time?
There is more at stake. You see, even you, as a visitor to the city, could be arbitrarily handed over to the Chinese authorities should this evil law get through. The mere suspicion is enough, evidence is not needed. Extradition to
China is a topic that arouses great fears - even in business circles. The entire constitutional state is in danger. And that hits the city in the marrow. After all, Hong Kong is a financial metropolis. In addition, we have learned from our mistakes.
In what way?
The current protests organize themselves. That was different then. We had a lot of arguing. Most of all, I see a much broader support in society. Five years ago, the business people and the conservative part of society were still undecided. In the meantime, too, concern over the evil law prevails. It is a symbolic situation that it is now halted.
I would not call it a victory. Rather a first lesson.
What do you want more?
At present, the legislative process is only postponed. We, on the other hand, demand that the Hong Kong government undo the procedure irreversibly. We also demand a reassessment of the demonstrations. The government continues to speak of "turmoil". But they were protests. They must not have any criminal prosecution consequences. Another demand is the resignation of Carrie Lam. Each successor would be only a puppet of Beijing. But anyone who shoots at peaceful demonstrators must accept political responsibility and resign.
Hong Kong's fate depends on the authoritarian leadership in Beijing. Does your demand for more democracy even have a chance?
We do not have any illusions. Beijing has the last word. Free elections remain our goal. This was once acknowledged by Beijing. If the Legislative Council, our Parliament, were free to vote, then there would be no evil law, then there would be no classification as a turmoil, then the young people would be satisfied first. There would be much less dissatisfaction in the city overall. I hope that the HK top level gets this insight too.
It does not look that good at the moment. China's President Xi Jinping has tightened controls.
His regime is clearly increasing the pressure on us. Much depends on how long he will govern.
What role can foreign countries play?
I call for a worldwide stop on the supply of police equipment such as rubber bullets and tear gas to Hong Kong. Because that is obviously used to suppress a peaceful democracy movement. That would be a strong sign.
Are you not worried about your safety? Have you ever thought of getting yourself a foreign passport in order to be able to escape to safety?
No. At the same time I also lack the necessary funds for that. I belong here. I remain.
Martin Lee, a veteran of Hong Kong's pro-democracy movement, says that if the extradition law is not prevented, it will be Hong Kong's last fight for democracy. Is he right?
Yes, should this law come through, it could have been the last fight. We have succeeded in putting the law on hold. The fight is far from over.
(Joshua Wong, 22, has been an activist since the age of 14 and has been a prominent face of Hong Kong's pro-democracy movement since the umbrella protests five years ago. Already then he was arrested for a short time. He was released from prison earlier this week. He was sentenced to two months' imprisonment for his involvement in the 2014 protests, and was forced to serve one month).