THE BLOG

One of Hong Kong's Most Influential Demonstrators Is in His 80s

09/30/2014 12:56 EDT | Updated 11/30/2014 05:59 EST
DALE DE LA REY via Getty Images
Pro-democracy demonstrators hold up their mobile phones during a protest near the Hong Kong government headquarters on September 29, 2014. The ranks of Hong Kong democracy protesters who have paralysed parts of the city swelled into their tens of thousands on September 29, digging in for another night of confrontation with police in their campaign for free elections. AFP PHOTO / DALE DE LA REY (Photo credit should read DALE de la REY/AFP/Getty Images)

One of the important figures in the democratic movement in Hong Kong is Joseph Cardinal Zen, the retired Catholic Bishop of Hong Kong. Cardinal Zen, aged 82, attended the recent demonstrations. He told Reuters that "It's high time that we really showed that we want to be free and not to be slaves...we must unite together."

After, police used tear gas and pepper spray on protesters, and there were fears of potentially deadly violence, leaders in the protest movement, including Zen, called on demonstrators to go home for the evening. Many demonstrators stayed anyways. On Monday, riot police retreated from various areas and the number of protestors grew.

If you're not familiar with Cardinal Zen, below are some items that may be of interest:

• In 2008, Cardinal Zen visited Quebec City for the World Eucharistic Congress. Also in attendance, on behalf of the Government of Canada, were then Secretary of State (Multiculturalism and Canadian Identity) Jason Kenney and Senate Speaker Noel Kinsella.

• On December 10, 2010, Deepak Obhrai, Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Foreign Affairs, spoke in the House of Commons and commended individuals, including Liu Xiaobo, Gao Zhisheng, and Joseph Zen Ze-kiun for raising "awareness about the struggle for the promotion of human rights."

• On December 10, 2012, Foreign Minister John Baird marked Human Rights Day with a statement: "On this day, we are reminded of those who promote greater freedoms for all, such as Joseph Zen Ze-kiun of Hong Kong."

• In February 2013, Cardinal Zen visited Thornhill, Ontario to speak on human rights and religious freedom. He was formally welcomed by then Citizenship and Immigration Minister Jason Kenney.

Most significant, on October 31, 2013, the Government of Canada awarded Cardinal Zen the John Diefenbaker Defender of Human Rights and Freedom Award. The following are highlights from the speech given by Foreign Minister John Baird at the award ceremony in Vancouver:

"In the face of pressure, Cardinal Zen has remained steadfast in his defence of human dignity. His actions, including calling for the release of detained political activists and demanding that the truth be told about what took place in Tiananmen Square in 1989 have earned him international acclaim...We have frank and respectful discussions with other governments -- including the Government of China -- but we do not shy away from issues because some may find them discomforting. That's more than true for Cardinal Zen. He has defended the universality of human rights and fundamental freedoms both in Hong Kong and in mainland China... In Hong Kong, Cardinal Zen has been -- and remains -- a tireless advocate of respect for human rights, a promoter of good governance and a beacon for Hong Kong's democratic development and march towards universal suffrage. Such exemplary engagement has earned him a reputation as "the new conscience of Hong Kong." He represents the best traits of humanity and the Government of Canada and the Canadian people are proud to stand with him."

Given that October 1 is the National Day of the People's Republic of China (65th anniversary), it is highly unlikely that the protests in Hong Kong will be done before that time. When and how this will be resolved remains to be seen.

However, it is highly likely that Cardinal Zen will continue to play an influential role in the democratic movement in Hong Kong.

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    HONG KONG - SEPTEMBER 30: Protesters sleep on a roadway in the early hours of the morning outside the Hong Kong Government Complex on September 30, 2014 in Hong Kong, Hong Kong. Thousands of pro democracy supporters have remained in the streets of Hong Kong for another day of protests. Protestors are unhappy with Chinese government's plans to vet candidates in Hong Kong's 2017 elections. (Photo by Chris McGrath/Getty Images)
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    HONG KONG - SEPTEMBER 30: Protesters sleep on the streets outside the Hong Kong Government Complex just after sunrise on September 30, 2014 in Hong Kong, Hong Kong. Thousands of pro democracy supporters have remained in the streets of Hong Kong for another day of protests. Protestors are unhappy with Chinese government's plans to vet candidates in Hong Kong's 2017 elections. (Photo by Paula Bronstein/Getty Images)
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