Hong Kong March: Vast Protest of Extradition Bill Shows Fear of Eroding Freedoms

HONG KONG — Hundreds of thousands of people filled the sweltering streets of Hong Kong on Sunday in an immense protest against a government plan to allow extraditions to mainland China that culminated after midnight in clashes with the police.

The mass demonstration was one of the largest in the city’s history and a stunning display of rising fear and anger over the erosion of the civil liberties that have long set this former British colony apart from the rest of the country. Organizers said they counted more than one million on the streets, or nearly one in seven Hong Kong residents.

The protest recalled the pro-democracy Umbrella Movement five years ago, which paralyzed several of the city’s main commercial districts but failed to persuade the government to make any concessions. Since then, China’s ruling Communist Party has been gradually exerting more influence over Hong Kong.

The local authorities have rejected demands for free elections and ousted opposition lawmakers, and critics say Beijing’s supporters are chipping away at the independence of the territory’s courts and news media.

The pressure on Hong Kong reflects a broader tightening of controls across China under President Xi Jinping, the party’s general secretary.

The crowd of protesters, which stretched more than a mile, represented a dramatic rebuke of the Communist leadership and a potential political crisis for Beijing and Carrie Lam, the leader it selected to govern Hong Kong.

“I think this law will take away our freedoms if it is implemented,” said Peter Lam, a 16-year-old high school student, referring to the extradition law that Ms. Lam is trying to push through with Beijing’s support. “We will not have the right to express ourselves. So we must stand up and express ourselves today.”

The police estimated there were 240,000 protesters at the peak of the demonstration, but organizers said it was the biggest rally since more than one million residents gathered in 1989 in support of the student-led democracy movement that was crushed in Tiananmen Square.

The crowd that poured through the canyons of downtown skyscrapers was so vast that many people said they had been stuck in subway stations waiting to join the protest, and some trains skipped stations because of overcrowding.

The immediate focus of the protest was a proposal to allow extradition to mainland China, which critics are worried the authorities will use to send dissidents, activists and others in Hong Kong, including foreign visitors, to face trial in mainland courts, which are controlled by the party.

Despite the large numbers, neither Beijing nor the Hong Kong government showed any willingness to back down, and officials confirmed that a second legislative reading of the bill would proceed as scheduled on Wednesday.

About 1 a.m., long after most protesters had left, riot police with helmets and shields moved in to remove a few hundred who were trying to occupy an area in front of the legislature. Some protesters pushed metal barriers and tossed bottles and sticks at the police, shouting, “Communist dogs!”

The police charged, firing pepper spray, striking people with batons and pushing the protesters away from the government complex.

Some demonstrators then temporarily blocked part of Gloucester Road, a major thoroughfare that was occupied during the Umbrella Movement. The clashes continued into early Monday morning, with both protesters and police injured.

Despite the size of the protests, the government was unlikely to be swayed, said Ivan Choy, a senior lecturer in the department of government and public administration at the Chinese University of Hong Kong.

“The major problem is that Xi Jinping holds power in China, and he is a strongman,” Mr. Choy said, referring to China’s top leader. “He will back up Carrie Lam’s decision to push forward.”

“Most people know this reality,” he continued, “but they have come out to show the world that this legislation is not the will of the Hong Kong public.”

The protesters had set off from Victoria Park in the afternoon, with temperatures in the mid-80s and scattered rains providing little relief from the humidity. Many wore white as a symbol of justice and also mourning in Chinese culture, and held signs saying, “No China Extradition” and “No Evil Law.”

They directed much of their ire toward Ms. Lam, shouting slogans for her to resign and booing as they passed a large screen displaying footage of her at a news conference.

At public events elsewhere in the city, Ms. Lam declined to answer questions about the protests. But the huge public outcry puts her in a difficult spot ahead of a vote on the bill expected later this month.

“Their judicial system is not good,” George Wan, 31, a freelance tour guide and writer at the protest, said of mainland China. He said the Hong Kong government was rushing the legislation through without properly consulting the public.

“We want to use our footsteps to tell the government we want more time,” Mr. Wan said as he waved a folding fan painted with characters that read “Oppose sending to China.”

Sahred From Source link World News

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *