HONG KONG - A prominent pro-democracy campaigner and founder of Hong Kong’s mass peaceful movement now known as the Umbrella Movement, professor Chan Kin-man, was released from prison Saturday, vowing to continue his fight for democracy.
The 61-year-old Yale-educated sociology professor emerged from the Pik Uk prison early Saturday after spending 11 months behind bars. He appeared to be in good spirits, smiling and waving to a waiting crowd of dozens of supporters and journalists.
"We want genuine universal suffrage!” exclaimed Chan, after hugging his wife.
"Life in jail was hard, but I have no regret at all, because a price has to be paid for the fight for democracy,” Chan told supporters, who chanted pro-democracy slogans upon seeing him.
Chan and other founders of the 2014 civil disobedience Occupy Central movement, law professor Benny Tai and Baptist minister the Rev. Chu Yiu-ming, were sentenced last April for conspiracy to cause a public nuisance -- a rarely used colonial-era charge. The sentence for Chu, 76, was suspended however. Tai was released in August on appeal.
The men were among nine pro-democracy activists convicted over their leading roles in the Umbrella Movement in Hong Kong in October 2014, the largest civil disobedience movement in the city’s history, which occupied thoroughfares in Hong Kong’s business district for 79 days. Protesters hoped to force the government into granting Hong Kong free elections, as promised in an agreement made before Britain’s handover of the territory in 1997.
The demonstration was sparked by Beijing’s ruling in August that year that Hong Kong people could only vote for the city’s chief executive from a list of candidates approved by Beijing authorities.
The movement ended peacefully in December 2014 without gaining any concessions from the government. An air of discontent and hopelessness pervaded Hong Kong in the following years, prompting many Hong Kongers' desire to emigrate.
The simmering political tension exploded into Hong Kong’s most severe political crisis last year. At the start of what became a monthslong anti-government movement in June, an estimated 1 million took to the street to demonstrate against a controversial extradition law that would have allowed for individuals to stand trials in China. The government’s initial refusal to scrap the law and police violence prompted hundreds more protests for more than half a year, with police using live ammunition, rubber bullets, tear gas and severe beatings while radical protesters resorted to Molotov cocktails, setting fire to objects and occupying roads.
Asked what he thought of the movement, which started after he was jailed, Chan said he believed more Hong Kongers now understand why he and others had to resort to civil disobedience to fight for democracy.
"We hoped to make leaders humble and the government be accountable to ordinary people. Only democracy can safeguard our freedoms and rule of law,” he said. “I hope everyone will continue to make efforts.”
He said he was “heartbroken” to see young people sacrificing themselves in the movement -- some committed suicide while around 40% of the more than 7,000 people arrested were students.
"Young people’s radical behavior was forced by the government,” Chan said, condemning the authorities for repeated refusal to launch an independent investigation into police violence, which generated widespread anger.
"The government has no sincerity to find out the truth, how can people not be angry?” he asked.
Even years before the anti-government movement erupted in 2019, Chan, a respected sociologist, already predicted that growing discontent would lead to social unrest.
"We knew that if [the Occupy Central campaign] failed, there would be riots,” he said in an 2017 interview.