Hong Kong’s veteran pro-democracy leader Martin Lee has been nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize this year.
Known as the “Father of Democracy” in China’s autonomous region, Lee, 82, has been championing greater freedoms in Hong Kong for years.
He is the founding chairman of the city’ first pro-democracy party the United Democrats of Hong Kong in 1990 during the British colonial era, and also led its successor the Democratic Party. He served in the city’s legislature for over two decades.
In a statement, Norwegian parliamentarians Mathilde Tybring-Gjedde and Peter Frolich, who nominated Lee, expressed hope that the move will “be a source of inspiration for the pro-democracy movement in Hong Kong and advocates for freedom around the world.”
“Martin Lee Chu-ming has pursued every avenue for over 40 years that has been at his disposal for the aim of securing freedom and safety for the people of Hong Kong,” said Tybring-Gjedde.
“He has devoted his life to the cause,” she added.
Lee, an anglophile whose father was a connoisseur of Chinese ink brush painting and calligraphy, was a key advisor to Britain and China during the crucial negotiations in the 1980s that paved the way for the 1997 handover.
A forceful orator, who helped found the city’s first major pro-democracy party, he has long advocated engagement with China, to seek common ground in moving forward.
“They don’t want Hong Kong people to have hope for a full implementation of one country, two systems,” he said of the mainland leadership.
Lee, a longtime pacifist embracing the activism and philosophy of Martin Luther King Jr. and Mahatma Gandhi, is haunted by the Chinese military’s massacre of students and other civilians in and around Beijing’s Tiananmen Square in 1989.
The barrister thinks it was a mistake for Hong Kong’s protesters to resort to violence because “you give an excuse to the other side to use violence, and how can you beat them with violence?”
The has become a fixture at the city’s peaceful pro-democracy marches. He was arrested with 14 other pro-democracy figures last year over an unauthorized assembly in August 2019 and is currently on bail awaiting trial.
Commenting on his arrest at the time, Lee said he had “no regrets” and was “proud to walk the road of democracy” with young people detained over the 2019 anti-extradition protests.
“His experience of getting arrested really marks a very important milestone in Hong Kong’s downfall,” said Victoria Hui, a political-science professor at the University of Notre Dame, told The New York Times. “When even the moderates are arrested, then what is left?”
The chairman of the Norwegian Nobel Committee presents the Nobel Peace Prize on Dec. 10 each year. Since 1901, it has been awarded to 107 individuals and 28 organizations.
A prominent pro-democracy activist known as “Grandma Wong” and Hong Kong Free Press have also been nominated for the award.