Hong Kong protests: activists call for further action

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People urged to continue protests after day of violent clashes with police

Riot police surround protesters near the Legislative Council in Hong Kong on Thursday.
Riot police surround protesters near the Legislative Council in Hong Kong on Thursday. Photograph: Kin Cheung/AP

Activists in Hong Kong have called for a march on Sunday and a boycott of work and classes on Monday in protest against an extradition bill that could result in suspects being sent to mainland China.

On Thursday, a day after a demonstration by thousands of people was violently cleared, a group of pro-democracy politicians and activists tried to march on the residence of Hong Kong???s chief executive, Carrie Lam, but were stopped by police.

???We need to come out in unity. We call on all demonstrators. We can win if all of us come out,??? said Lee Cheuk-yan, a politician and activist, condemning the police and Lam, who has been pushing the bill.

Debate in the Legislative Council over the bill was postponed again on Thursday. The proposed law, which critics say Beijing could use to target political enemies in Hong Kong, has brought up to a million people on to the streets to protest. Beijing and Hong Kong authorities insist the law is aimed at combating crime.

Quick guide

What are the Hong Kong protests about?

Why are people protesting?

The protests were triggered by a controversial bill that would have allowed extraditions to mainland China, where the Communist party controls the courts, but have since evolved into a broader pro-democracy movement.

Public anger ??? fuelled by the aggressive tactics used by the police against demonstrators ??? has collided with years of frustration over worsening inequality and the cost of living in one of the world's most expensive, densely populated cities.

The protest movement was given fresh impetus on 21 July when gangs of men attacked protesters and commuters at a mass transit station ??? while authorities seemingly did little to intervene. 

Underlying the movement is a push for full democracy in the city, whose leader is chosen by a committee dominated by a pro-Beijing establishment rather than by direct elections.

Protesters have vowed to keep their movement going until their core demands are met, such as the resignation of the city???s leader, Carrie Lam, an independent inquiry into police tactics, an amnesty for those arrested and a permanent withdrawal of the bill.

Lam announced on 4 September that she was withdrawing the bill.

Why were people so angry about the extradition bill?

Beijing???s influence over Hong Kong has grown in recent years, as activists have been jailed and pro-democracy lawmakers disqualified from running or holding office. Independent booksellers have disappeared from the city, before reappearing in mainland China facing charges.

Under the terms of the agreement by which the former British colony was returned to Chinese control in 1997, the semi-autonomous region was meant to maintain a ???high degree of autonomy??? through an independent judiciary, a free press and an open market economy, a framework known as ???one country, two systems???.

The extradition bill was seen as an attempt to undermine this and to give Beijing the ability to try pro-democracy activists under the judicial system of the mainland.

How have the authorities responded?

Beijing has issued increasingly shrill condemnations but has left it to the city's semi-autonomous government to deal with the situation. Meanwhile police have violently clashed directly with protesters, repeatedly firing teargas and rubber bullets.

Beijing has ramped up its accusations that foreign countries are ???fanning the fire??? of unrest in the city. China???s top diplomat Yang Jiechi has ordered the US to ???immediately stop interfering in Hong Kong affairs in any form???.

Lily Kuo and Verna Yu in Hong Kong

Demonstrators and observers were shocked by the violence of Wednesday, when police charged on protesters, firing rubber bullets and teargas. At least 72 people were taken to hospital, two of whom were in a serious condition.

???Emotionally, it???s devastating,??? said Yoyo Chan, who has been staging a hunger strike and sit-in on a path just outside the government headquarters. After the protests were cleared on Wednesday, she went to help clean up rubbish left on the streets and found a backpack abandoned by a protester ??? a young girl, according to her ID card left behind.

???She???s so young. [The protesters] are so hopeful and just want to help the city. The way they were oppressed yesterday, it???s heartbreaking,??? Chan said.

The city was slowly returning to normal after a shutdown on Wednesday. By Thursday morning main traffic arteries had been reopened and evidence of the protests ??? piles of broken goggles, bottles and umbrellas ??? had been shunted to the side of the road. Dozens of police patrolled the central Hong Kong area. Several shops in a mall near the site of the protests were shut.

Map

The mood was mostly upbeat on Thursday as dispersed groups of demonstrators organised supplies, cleaned up litter and chatted. In Tamar Park, outside the Legislative Council building where lawmakers will debate the proposed bill, a circle of demonstrators were singing worship songs accompanied by a saxophonist.

Others were more defiant. A few dozen protesters on an overpass leading into the government complex faced off with police blocking their way. The group stood in silence, holding up laminated signs that said ???Retract??? and ???Go Hong Kong???.

Later in the day a new group arrived and held signs that said ???Stop police brutality???. Secondary school students held signs up to the police that said ???Stop shooting Hong Kong students???. One group of protesters chanted: ???Stop all violence. Peace and love come to Hong Kong.??? Mike Tsang, 23, a recent graduate, said: ???We are coming here to show the police we won???t give up.???

Nearby another group was sorting bags of helmets, face masks and other supplies, and trying to find places around the city to hide the items for when the protesters return. ???Today we are safe,??? said one of the protesters.

Quick guide

Democracy under fire in Hong Kong since 1997

Hong Kong???s democratic struggles since 1997

1 July 1997: Hong Kong, previously a British colony, is returned to China under the framework of ???one country, two systems???. The ???Basic Law??? constitution guarantees to protect, for the next 50 years, the democratic institutions that make Hong Kong distinct from Communist-ruled mainland China. 

2003: Hong Kong???s leaders introduce legislation that would forbid acts of treason and subversion against the Chinese government. The bill resembles laws used to charge dissidents on the mainland. An estimated half a million people turn out to protest against the bill. As a result of the backlash, further action on the proposal is halted. 

2007: The Basic Law stated that the ultimate aim was for Hong Kong???s voters to achieve a complete democracy, but China decides in 2007 that universal suffrage in elections for the chief executive cannot be implemented until 2017. Some lawmakers are chosen by business and trade groups, while others are elected by vote. In a bid to accelerate a decision on universal suffrage, five lawmakers resign. But this act is followed by the adoption of the Beijing-backed electoral changes, which expand the chief executive???s selection committee and add more seats for lawmakers elected by direct vote. The legislation divides Hong Kong's pro-democracy camp, as some support the reforms while others say they will only delay full democracy while reinforcing a structure that favors Beijing. 

2014: The Chinese government introduces a bill allowing Hong Kong residents to vote for their leader in 2017, but with one major caveat: the candidates must be approved by Beijing. Pro-democracy lawmakers are incensed by the bill, which they call an example of ???fake universal suffrage??? and ???fake democracy???. The move triggers a massive protest as crowds occupy some of Hong Kong???s most crowded districts for 70 days. In June 2015, Hong Kong legislators formally reject the bill, and electoral reform stalls. The current chief executive, Carrie Lam, widely seen as the Chinese Communist party???s favoured candidate, is hand-picked in 2017 by a 1,200-person committee dominated by pro-Beijing elites. 

2019: Lam pushes amendments to extradition laws that would allow people to be sent to mainland China to face charges. The proposed legislation triggers a huge protest, with organisers putting the turnout at 1 million, and a standoff that forces the legislature to postpone debate on the bills. After weeks of protest, often meeting with violent reprisals from the Hong Kong police, Lam announced that she would withdraw the bill

Photograph: Dale de la Rey/AFP

In Tamar Park, another group was organising stations for food and water, first aid, and legal advice from social workers. A group of secondary students had come directly from school to bring snacks and fruit to the protesters, who planned to stay there until midnight. Some would camp overnight to keep watch over the supplies.

Some worried that the postponement of the debate was a ruse to throw off demonstrators. A group of university students huddled in a shopping mall near the government buildings, texting contacts to mobilise a group to gather outside the Legislative Council and block any lawmakers in favour of the bill from entering.

???Our only chance is to stop the lawmakers from coming in,??? said Jason Fong, 19, who said lawmakers could go in on Thursday, stay overnight and hold the reading of the bill on Friday.

The crackdown on the protests represented an escalation of police action against demonstrators. Pictures and videos on social media showed police firing rubber bullets and bean-bag rounds from shotguns, teargassing protesters and beating some with batons.

Hong Kong police deploy rubber bullets and teargas on protesters ??? video report

Man-kei Tam, the director of Amnesty International Hong Kong, said: ???This excessive response from police is fuelling tensions and is likely to contribute to worsening violence, rather than end it.???

Two protesters treated in hospital were arrested, according to local media. Protesters have been obscuring their faces with masks and using encrypted messaging platforms.

On Wednesday as police were clearing protests, the messaging service Telegram posted on Twitter that it was facing a ???powerful DDos attack???, referring to a distributed denial of service attack, that originated in China.

Despite the wave of opposition, Lam remains determined to put the bill to a vote, which would be likely to pass because of the dominance of pro-Beijing lawmakers in the legislature. Speaking on Wednesday evening, Lam said: ???If I let him have his way every time my son acted like that, such as when he didn???t want to study, things might be OK between us in the short term. But if I indulge his wayward behaviour, he might regret it when he grows up. He will then ask me: ???Mum, why didn???t you call me up on that back then??????? she said.

SCMP News (@SCMPNews)

Through tears, Carrie Lam says that she did not sell out #HongKong and that she believes the government has been doing the right thing all along. https://t.co/3Q6rl13yK8 pic.twitter.com/UQjhC0Csrf

June 13, 2019

Lam has the support of Beijing. In an an English-language editorial, the state-run China Daily blamed ???the opposition camp and its foreign masters??? for riling up residents. ???It is lawlessness that will hurt Hong Kong, not the proposed amendments to its fugitive law,??? it said.

The demonstrators disagree, pointing to the sense of community and collaboration fostered. Yau Wai Ping, an associate professor at Hong Kong Baptist University who was participating in a hunger strike, said: ???The protest is bringing people together. The bill affects us all.???

She added: ???We don???t know whether we are going to achieve what we set out to, but long-term I am quite optimistic. So many positive things have come out of this. Long-term it will be the beginning of a new era, of the kind of community and civil society we want to make.???