Demosisto, Hong Kong’s democracy movement

Hong Kong was established as a British colony and existed under British rule from 1841 to 1997. In 1997, Hong Kong was returned to China under a transfer of sovereignty, with its freedoms guaranteed for 50 years.

A new political party started by Millennials, called Demosisto, campaigns for the self-determination of Hong Kong, pledging to hold a referendum in 10 years to let the people decide their own fate beyond 2047, when the principle of “one country, two systems”, from the transfer of sovereignty agreement, expires.

 

The Umbrella Revolution

The political, pro-democracy Umbrella Revolution was a series of peaceful, sit-in street protests by students and young professionals in Hong Kong between September and December 2014. Umbrellas became the symbol of the protest, as protestors used them to shield themselves from tear gas. Supporters of the Umbrella Revolution fear civil liberties are disappearing at a rapid pace by the Beijing-backed Hong Kong government in advance of 2047.

The Umbrella Revolution protests ignited out of the NPCSC's (National People’s Congress Standing Committee) decision against electoral reform for the 2017 Hong Kong Executive election. Protestors demanded Beijing allow fully free elections of future leaders, retraction of the NPCSC’s decision, universal suffrage, abolition of functional constituencies of Legislative Council of Hong Kong, and the resignation of Chief Executive Leung Chun-ying.

As leaders of the Umbrella Revolution, Joshua Wong and Nathan Law were among those who founded Demosisto. Among the fractured opposition movement, nine newcomers were successfully elected in 2016 legislative elections. Law was elected the city's youngest ever lawmaker, but he was one of several disqualified from office by Hong Kong courts after Beijing enacted a rarely-used power to "reinterpret" the city's constitution, putting more stringent requirements on how legislators took their oaths of office. Law’s oath was determined to be “insincere”.

Wong was too young to run in the 2016 elections.

 

Fight for Justice

Joshua Wong, Nathan Law, and Alex Chow, were found guilty of unlawful assembly for the Umbrella Revolution protests and ultimately sentenced to time in prison. In November 2017, Wong and Law were released on bail pending appeals against their jail terms; Chow did not apply for bail. If they lose their appeals, Wong and Law could be sent back to serve the remainder of their sentences, six months and eight months, respectively.

Wong is now seeking a High Court ruling that a ban on anyone who has been jailed for more than three months from running for elected office for five years is unconstitutional. The rule ruins the political aspirations of Wong and another imprisoned Demosisto activist, Ivan Lam.

 

Looking Ahead

Wong, who is featured in a new Netflix documentary about himself and their democracy movement, acknowledges that continuing the fight is likely to become increasingly difficult as Chinese leader Xi Jinping emphasises zero tolerance of any challenges to Beijing’s sovereignty, “In the future — from elections to social movements — I believe Hong Kong people will advance and retreat with us,” he says. “It’s more dangerous and risky to fight for democracy in Hong Kong. But I think as the suppression intensifies, our resistance will be stronger.”