One of the founders of Hong Kong’s Occupy movement was released from jail on Saturday, and said he had no regrets over his role in bringing the city to a standstill in 2014.
Chan Kin-man, looking tanned and healthy, smiled and waved as he walked out of Pik Uk Prison in Sai Kung at 9am after serving 11 months of a 16-month sentence.
The former sociology professor’s supporters chanted pro-democracy slogans and called for “genuine elections”.
“I have been in jail for months, and time in jail must be hard. But I have no regrets because that’s the price one has to pay for democracy,” said Chan, adding that he was happy to see his family and friends.
Chan said he believed the recent anti-government protests illustrated to the public why they had to take part in a civil disobedience campaign six years ago, and accused the government of lacking openness, transparency and impartiality.
He said he was aware that some young people had turned radical over the past few months, but accused the government of being responsible.
The Occupy founder was one of nine people found guilty by West Kowloon Magistrates’ Court last year over a host of public nuisance charges, as were law scholar Benny Tai Yiu-ting and Reverend Chu Yiu-ming, who co-founded the movement with Chan.
All of them waited outside the prison to meet Chan, including Chu and Tai. So did some of Chan’s friends, such as Cardinal Joseph Zen Ze-kiun, former Civic Party legislator Alan Leong Kah-kit, and Democratic Party lawmaker Lam Cheuk-ting.
Activist and former lawmaker “Long Hair” Leung Kwok-hung was also present.
The group held a calligraphed banner with a message in Chinese that read, “Noble spirits trot thousand mountains”, meaning that with integrity, one could go a long way.
Clutching a book by Alice Munro, a Canadian Nobel Prize laureate in literature known for her portrayal of human complexities, Chan paced towards his wife as soon as she emerged from a crowd to present him with a birthday cake, days after he turned 61 years old.
The second person he hugged was Chu, who turned up in a yellow sweater, the colour that symbolised the Occupy movement, before he put on a surgical mask he said he bought at the prison.
In 2014, protesters poured into various thoroughfares in Causeway Bay, Admiralty and Mong Kok, blocking these areas for 79 days to call for greater democracy for Hong Kong.
The movement was sparked by anger over the selection process of the city’s chief executive, with democracy activists calling for universal suffrage, but Beijing instead laid down a system where the eventual leader would come from a preselected candidate pool.
Chan was sentenced to 16 months in jail in April last year for inciting and conspiring with others to cause substantial obstruction. A government source said Chan, who served 11 months behind bars, had been released early for good behaviour.
His comrade, Tai, was also jailed for 16 months, but applied for bail in August, pending an appeal. Chu was spared jail and received a suspended sentence of eight months because of poor health and years of public service.
Legislator Shiu Kin-chun, for the social welfare sector, and League of Social Democrats chairman Raphael Wong Ho-ming were both sentenced to six months in jail. They were released in October last year.
Former lawmaker Lee Wing-tat and ex-student leader Eason Chung Yiu-wa had their eight-month term suspended, while another former student leader Tommy Cheung Sau-yin, now a district councillor, was ordered to perform 200 hours of community service.
Civic Party lawmaker Tanya Chan was also spared jail, and received an eight-month suspended sentence instead, after she needed an operation for a brain tumour.