HONG KONG - Hong Kong democracy activist Szeto Wah, a campaigner for the victims of Beijing's 1989 crackdown on protesters at Tiananmen Square and a voice for mainland dissidents, died yesterday of lung cancer. He was 79.
A teacher and a former primary school principal by trade, Szeto started his political career organizing teachers, building Hong Kong's Professional Teachers' Union into one of the territory's most powerful unions.
Szeto was shocked by Beijing's military suppression of the pro-democracy protests on Tiananmen, in which at least several hundred people were killed. Along with others, he organized the Hong Kong Alliance in Support of Democratic Movements in China. The group, which he headed until his death, became a key advocate for the victims of Tiananmen and mainland dissidents jailed by the government.
It continued to criticize the Tiananmen crackdown and called on Beijing to apologize, even after Hong Kong became a semiautonomous Chinese territory in 1997. Every June 4, the alliance hosts a candlelight vigil to mourn the victims.
Szeto was admired by student leaders of the Tiananmen protests and other supporters of the movement. His death drew emotional tributes.
"I am very, very sad. Uncle Wah was a spiritual leader for me and for the democracy movement," exiled student leader Wang Dan told Hong Kong's Cable TV. "The greatest achievement of Uncle Wah is that he passed on his spirit before his death. You can tell from [the turnout at] the 20th anniversary of the Tiananmen crackdown that the younger generation has remembered the event."