Just before midnight on Jan. 7, legal scholar Benny Tai Yiu-ting solemnly walked out of the Ma On Shan police station in a black coat and a face mask to a scrum of reporters and flashing cameras. A day earlier, police had rounded up Tai and 52 other pro-democracy figures on suspicion of subversion in an early morning raid. Their crime: taking part in an unofficial primary election Tai had spearheaded.
Police released Tai, 56, on bail without charges after more than 30 hours of questioning. They barred him from leaving the city.
“Hong Kong has entered a cold winter. The wind is strong and cold,” he told reporters. “But I believe many Hong Kongers will still use their own way to move forward against the wind.”
For the past eight years, Tai has walked against the wind by engineering nonviolent strategies—public discussions, strategic voting, and civil disobedience—for Hong Kong citizens in a city that has grown increasingly deaf to the will of the people and the rule of law. Although his plans sounded far-fetched when he proposed them, they’ve had an immense influence in shaping Hong Kong’s democracy movement.
Authorities sentenced Tai to 16 months in prison for “inciting” the 2014 Umbrella Movement protests, and last July he lost his long-held position as an associate professor at the University of Hong Kong (HKU). With the passage of a draconian national security law last June, his January arrest is likely only the beginning of further punishment.
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