Occupy Central founders: We wanted to ′protect′ the students | Asia| An in-depth look at news from across the continent | DW | 04.12.2014
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Occupy Central founders: We wanted to 'protect' the students

The three founding members of Hong Kong's Occupy Central movement surrendered to the police for their role in the pro-democracy protests. Speaking to DW, they explain the reasons for their actions.

The protest leaders, accompanied by the highly respected cardinal Joseph Zen, surrendered at a police station in Hong Kong on December 3, and admitted to "participating in unauthorized assembly."

A day earlier, the three men - Benny Tai, Chan Kin-man and Chu Yiu-ming - had also called on all pro-democracy protesters to retreat. An hour after they surrendered, however, the trio was allowed to leave without facing any charges.

"I could no longer see the police using force against unarmed students," said Chu. "My heart bleeds when I see how young students and citizens are suffering. We therefore want to put an end to this movement in order to protect them," Chu told DW, adding that this is the responsibility of every "dignified" man.

Polizei geht gewaltsam gegen Demonstranten in Hongkong vor 01.12.2014

'My heart bleeds when I see how young students and citizens are suffering,' says Chu

Demand for fair and direct elections

The so-called Occupy Central movement started in 2013. The protesters have since been calling for political reforms in the Chinese special administrative region. They demand direct elections for the city's legislative council as well as for the post of Chief Executive.

So far, only 35 of 70 members in the legislative council are elected directly. The rest is chosen indirectly by select community groups. Also elected by a committee is the city's Chief Executive, who must then be appointed by the central government in Beijing.

Hong Kong's Basic Law envisages direct elections, but fails to mention a specific point in time when these must be held.

A difficult road

At the end of August, the National People's Congress - China's parliament - decided that the city's next leader would be elected by popular vote in 2017, but only after each candidate was approved by a majority of a 1,200-member election committee. This move triggered sit-ins and other forms of protest over the next several months.

'Occupy Central' co-founder and sociology professor Chan told DW that it was clear to him from the beginning how rocky the road to direct elections would be. "The road to democracy can be long and difficult," Chan said, adding that the movement hasn't failed. Instead, he argues, the city's government has failed in many ways.

Mixed reactions

Chan has high hopes for young people. He is convinced that they will continue the pro-democracy movement through legal means. One of the most notable faces of the protests, student leader Joshua Wong, understands Chan's position. The student groups would discuss the call for an end to the protests, he declared. Wong himself has been on a hunger strike since December 1 in a bid to demand talks with the government.

Nevertheless, some protesters are outraged by the "surrender" of the three leaders. Frustrated demonstrators told news agency AFP they felt "abandoned" by the move. "It is a betrayal of what we have insisted on all along," said 24-year-old protester Raymond Tsang, adding that "we should not consider an end to the campaign until there is a solid achievement."

As a first response to the self-indictment, Hong Kong's Secretary for Justice Riemsky Yuen stressed that the weeks-long road blockades were illegal and corresponded to a breach of law and order. He, however, said the cases will be handled fairly and in accordance with law.