Nathan Law GRD ’20, a controversial activist from Hong Kong, discussed his involvement in the territory’s protests — which have intensified since his initial leadership in the pro-democracy movement in 2014 — at the Law School on Friday.
On Nov. 15, the Yale Law School’s Schell Center for International Human Rights hosted Law as part of an event — “Hong Kong on the Brink: A Struggle for Survival.” Law is an activist who became involved in the 2014 Umbrella Movement, which advocated for the implementation of democracy in Hong Kong. For more than an hour, Law — who is currently pursuing a master’s degree in East Asian Studies at Yale — discussed his personal activism, Hong Kong’s history and the ongoing movement’s developments. He began by showing the audience, packed into Room 120 of the Sterling Law Building, images of millions of people protesting on the streets. A livestream of the event also allowed attendees in a nearby room to watch Law’s talk. At its conclusion, several attendees raised questions regarding his perspective on the issue, which stands in contrast to the opinions of many people from mainland China.
“These are contentious events and ideas,” Law told the audience. “We should try to keep an open mind, so we can all benefit from the discussion.”
Law co-founded Demosisto, a group dedicated to promoting self-determination in Hong Kong, and was elected as the youngest Legislative Councilor in the Hong Kong Island constituency. Beijing later overturned his seat following the Chinese government’s controversial reinterpretation. Law was later jailed for his participation in the Umbrella Movement, sparking global concern over Beijing’s crackdown on human rights and the democratic movement in Hong Kong. In 2018, U.S. congressmen and the British Parliament nominated Law and his fellow student activists Joshua Wong and Alex Chow for the Nobel Peace Prize.
On Friday, Law cited police action — which sought to raid “one of the most prestigious universities” in Hong Kong — as the most recent major development in the conflict. He presented a video of police “trying to go in and arrest students” who were enveloped by “the white smoke generated by 1,500 cans of tear gas,” Law said.
“For the past 30 years, Hong Kong people and the Beijing government intersections have not been able to resolve this conflict, leading to the explosion of anger in June that evolved to the current state of the movement,” Law said.
Law cited both short-term and long-term reasons for the conflict. In March, China introduced a controversial bill which many in Hong Kong saw as a violation of the two legal systems central to the “one country, two systems” agreement, according to Law. He added that this bill was “the fuel that ignited the anger of the movement.” In the decades prior, Law said that Hong Kong’s relationship with China had varied throughout the twentieth century — including a period of colonial rule, increased freedom and then a transition into the “one country, two systems” structure in 1997.
The Beijing government also promised Hong Kong a “high degree of autonomy and democracy in the future,” according to Law.
“Things didn’t happen how we imagined,” Law said.
On Monday, Nov. 9, news outlets across the world reported on what Law described as an increase in police brutality. Law showed clips of police firing ammunition at protesters, and he said that more than 3,000 protesters have been arrested. Included in the thousands are 700 student protesters and 750 people under the age of 18, according to Law.
After five months of conflict, Law said he is worried about Hong Kong’s judicial system, police brutality and academic freedom.
Law’s perspective on the conflict was met with opposition from many attendees. At the conclusion of his talk, audience members’ hands shot up as many wanted to question him on his views, specifically the idea of police brutality. Law framed the conflict as an issue of law enforcement aggression, while many audience members considered the protesters to be the instigators of conflict.
No audience member agreed to be interviewed on the record, citing fear of backlash for their views on the issue.
In an email to the News on Sunday, Binger Clinical Professor of Human Rights and Director of the Schell Center James J. Silk wrote that the protests are of concern to Hong Kong, China and the international community at large. Schell Center Student Director David Moon LAW ’21 wrote that a central human right is the ability “to have a say in the direction of one’s community.”
“The Schell Center for International Human Rights wanted to provide a forum to discuss the recent events in Hong Kong, where this right is currently at stake,” Moon wrote.
The Orville H. Schell, Jr. Center for International Human Rights was established at Yale Law School in 1989.
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