Editor's Note:The following is the address activist Figo Chan made to the District Court on May 24, translated by CitizenNews.
First of all, I thank my legal team’s assistance. Since it no longer involves any point of law at this stage of the proceeding, I will make the following submission myself.
This case happened because of the government’s push in February 2019 for amending the Fugitives Offenders Ordinance, where it gives government the power to send suspects to stand trial in mainland, which “sunshine justice” does not exist there.
After witnessing June 4 massacre, the “forced suicide” of Li Wangyang, the death of Liu Xiaobo, and torture of human rights lawyers, people of Hong Kong have no confidence whatsoever over mainland’s legal system and therefore opposed the law change. That is why Civil Human Rights Front (“the Front”) has organised rallies to express our concern to the government and asked the amendment bill be dropped.
Throughout March 31 to June 9 in 2019, the Front has organised multiple lawful marches and assemblies to make our demands clear. Regrettably, the government has never really responded. The number of people joining the marches jumped from 10,000 on the first march, to 1 million on June 9. The government has insisted to retable the second reading of the bill despite all the opposition. People without much organisation besieged Legislative Council on June 12, and the bill did not pass as scheduled. Although the bill was suspended by the government on June 15, officials have declared those besieging LegCo as participating a riot, and multiple arrests were made, stirring eruption of public discontent. More than 2 million people took to the streets on June 16, demanding the government to respond to their “five demands”, i.e. to formally withdraw the bill, release those arrested, establish an independent inquiry, have the chief executive step down and implement universal suffrage, and withdraw the characterisation of riot.
Multiple marches were held from June to September, and legislators have asked to meet chief executive Carrie Lam to seek dialogues on resolving the social deadlock. The government would only withdraw the bill in September but did not concede to other demands. There was an apology from the CE, saying a mistake was made in the push for the bill, but she refused to resign. The Front therefore organised the national shame march on October 1, on one hand to demand Hong Kong government to respond to the “five demands”, and also asking Central Government to vindicate the 1989 movement, bring those responsible for the killing to justice, to end one-party rule, build a democratic China, and release all the rights activists.
People are entitled to their rights to demonstrate under the Basic Law and the Bill of Rights. But under the current system, people, however aggrieved, could only apply for a non-objection letter and seek police approval under the Public Order Ordinance. Even an application was filed, the October 1 rally was still objected by the police on baseless excuse, where the Front could not hold the march lawfully. To continue making our voices heard, we were determined to hold the march, rallying crowds to go on to the streets, and practise civil disobedience.
Although the prosecution played videos and told the court about the violent incidents occurred on the day, we must reiterate that we are determined to express our views peacefully. We never want to see violence, yet we could only call for peace without control over the crowd’s actions. Despite that, I hope your honour could understand the so-called “violence” exercised by the people.
As the saying goes: “Tyranny prompts violence, and the solution always lies with those who create the problem.” Not only has the government neglected the people’s demands from June to September, it also deprived people’s liberty with systemic violence and turned a blind eye to the “terrorist attack” in Yuen Long on July 21 as well as to police abuse of force. It was then completely normal for people to lose patience and become more agitated and anxious. If people could be heard lawfully, why would fellow defendants and I have to stand trial for breaking the law due to civil disobedience? Would the people need to turn to violence to press the government into responding to their demands if they were heard?
“Without democracy, there is no rule of law.” Your honour and other legal practitioners know better than I do that the law is to protect people’s rights. But under the Public Orders Ordinance, law is turned into tool of political oppression for those in power. At a time where peaceful expression of opinions will also be arrested and prosecuted, what other options do we have other than civil disobedience? In 1917, the leading women’s suffrage activist Alice Paul said while launching a non-cooperation campaign that, “When you put your hand to the plow, you can't put it down until you get to the end of the row.” I wish to slightly adapt this into “When you have spoken out, you cannot stay silent until you utter your last words of defiance.” We have made a choice of civil disobedience. We pleaded guilty accordingly, but we will absolutely not beg for forgiveness nor will we regret.
Democracy and freedom never happen overnight. That was what I meant when I said “today is not the end game” on October 1. There is only hope for change only if we hang on to our belief, persistently fight against the brutal regime, to seek support from more people, including your honour. Hope rests with the people, change starts with the struggle. No fear for civil disobedience! Fight on, never bow to fate!
I thank your honour’s patience for listening, the companion from all the predecessors. May peace be with you and all the people of Hong Kong, may Glory be to thee Hong Kong!