‘Fighting ‘til the end’ is not just words--Lee Cheuk Yan’s activism under National Security Law

Over the past year, Hong Kong has experienced drastic changes. Many amateurs have taken part in the protest and their lives have become completely different. Lee Cheuk Yan, the general secretary of the Hong Kong Confederation of Trade Unions (HKCTU) and a senior activist, was also deeply moved by the unbroken line of protestors. Yan was charged with nine counts for four cases including the 8.18 Victoria Park Rally, 8.31 Hong Kong Island Demonstration, 10.1 Hong Kong Island Demonstration, and June 4th Victoria Park Assembly. In some of these cases, the DOI charged Yan with the ancient common law charge of ‘incitement’, with which the sentence is much higher than the more common charge ‘illegal assembly’. After the National Security Law took effect, Yan, who is also the chairman of Hong Kong Alliance in Support of Patriotic Democratic Movement in China, became a high-risk figure to be targeted by the regime. The closing of the prison gate is in a foreseeable future. What kind of change has Yan experienced this year, and how does he deal with the new situation after the implementation of national security law?

We must come forward

After the Umbrella Movement, the regime charged the ‘Occupy Central Nine Men’ with ‘inciting public nuisance’. In the end, Benny Tai and Chan Kin Man were sentenced to 16 months in prison, which was greater than the penalties for participating in illegal assemblies in the past. Last year the government banned the peaceful demonstrations of the Civil Human Rights Front, Yan chose to come forward. ‘At that time, I thought that someone needed to take the lead to encourage more ‘peaceful protesters' to come forward. Otherwise, it would be difficult to demonstrate the power of the people if there is only ‘small scales uprising in every district’. In the past, we always talked about civil disobedience, the police have no reasonable ground to ban a peaceful demonstration. We must come forward. What's more, too many people have sacrificed in this movement, too many people have sacrificed themselves. Even if I were in jail for inciting, it is no longer spectacular.’

Haven't been in jail yet already

On July 1, 2020, the National Security Law took effect, and for Hong Kong, it is not the same. When the white terror engulfed the city and the people were panicking, Lee Cheuk Yan attended the hearing specifically for the National Security Act held by the House of Representatives in the U.S. Congress in the form of a video conference. There were also Brian Leung, who has been in exile, and Nathan Law, who was recently listed as wanted by Hong Kong Police on suspicion of breaking the National Security Law. The arrest of Lee by the Department for National Security Safeguarding may only be a matter of time. Many people ask Yan, for ‘collaborating with foreign forces to endanger national security’, the minimum sentence is three years, and it could be ten years or even life imprisonment if the circumstance is serious. Is he not afraid?

‘I started participating in social movements in the 1980s. I have two major goals in my life. One is the labour movement struggle and the other is the democratic struggle. Over the past three decades, we have continued to support human rights defenders in Mainland China. Looking back at the struggles we participated in Hong Kong, I feel very lucky, but I also feel that we owed them much. The situation of the protesters in the mainland and Hong Kong is very different. We have not yet been in jail, we are very fortunate. […] Now the time to test us has arrived. We must be determined, stick to our ideals, defend freedom of speech, exert moral strength in the new era, and demonstrate our determination to fight a prolonged war.’

Concluding remark: Don’t shrink back

After the National Security Law came into effect, many organizations or groups have no choice but to think about the ‘political red line.’ Is it okay if I say this? Will it be dangerous to hold this activity? Yen has a message to the sisters and brothers of the HKCTU. It is inevitable to keep things in accordance with the situation of the time for an organisation, but you must not ‘shrink back’ and do not make endless self-censorship for the unpredictable red line. ‘In difficult days, the organizations will inevitably have more voices demanding ‘depoliticization’. If the union leader gives up whenever as soon as he or she is questioned by members, nothing can be done, and the government will only “get an inch, want a foot.”’ A storm is brewing in this city, to stabilize people's hearts and insist on struggling in everyday life, the political education of trade unions will be an important task for us.