April 19, 2019
Benny Tai played a pivotal role in Hong Kong’s 2014 pro-democracy protests. The year before, the law professor founded a civil disobedience campaign known as “Occupy Central”. The campaign later joined with student groups to create the Umbrella Movement. For 79 days between September and December 2014 more than 1 million people occupied major streets across Hong Kong to call for democracy in the city.
On 9 April, a Hong Kong court found Benny Tai and eight other prominent activists guilty of various vague and ambiguous charges, including “conspiracy to commit public nuisance”, “incitement to commit public nuisance” and “incitement to incite public nuisance”. for their roles in the Umbrella Movement. The nine activists will be sentenced on 24 April and could face up to seven years in prison.
This is the latest prosecution of Umbrella Movement protesters by the Hong Kong government, following the imprisonment of three student leaders in 2017.
Ahead of his trial, Benny Tai spoke to Amnesty International about civil resistance, the prospect of going to prison and why he is hopeful Hong Kong will one day have democracy.
“We both succeeded and failed with Occupy Central. Our goal was to advance democracy in Hong Kong and awaken more people to the cause. Over the 79 days more than 1.2 million people took part in different ways, young and old. There was more international attention than we had ever imagined.
“Civil disobedience at the right moment can bring change, but I was realistic our one action would not change the system alone. It is a long battle. This is the lesson I have learnt. We need to be resilient. We can’t blame others if we fail. Democracy won’t be given to us.