Hong Kong prepares for more China extradition bill protests
Civil Human Rights Front (CHRF) said it was planning to hold a third protest on Sunday afternoon against the bill that would allow fugitives to be extradited to mainland China. Hong Kong police have granted the political advocacy group permission to do so.
In a press conference on Thursday, CHRF spokeswoman Bonnie Leung told CNN that they were planning “a very peaceful assembly.”
It was unclear whether Wednesday’s violence would serve to galvanize opposition to the bill or scare protesters off the streets.
The protests started on Sunday when organizers said more than 1 million people took to the city’s streets — the largest protest since the former British colony was handed back to China in 1997.
The city was again brought to a standstill on Wednesday, when tens of thousands of mostly young protesters swarmed around the Legislative Council buildings, where lawmakers were due to debate the bill.
Later that day, up to 5,000 riot police fired 150 rounds of tear gas, rubber bullets and bean bag rounds in clashes with protesters. The number of tear gas canisters used was almost double the amount fired during 2014’s pro-democracy Umbrella Movement, when the city was brought to a standstill for 79 days.
Videos from Wednesday’s protest showed police spraying tear gas directly into protester’s faces and beating them with batons.
On Thursday, Hong Kong Police Commissioner Steven Lo Wai-chung said officers had “no choice” but to escalate the use of force.
Lo said protesters hurled bricks, metal poles and planks at police, who responded with “anti-riot measures,” ultimately arresting 11 people. Lo said 22 officers were among the 81 people injured.
He said 19 complaints had been filed against officers, including for assault, which would be investigated.
Since Thursday, more than 23,000 people have signed a petition against the “excessive level of violence and firearms against citizens who are participating in a peaceful assembly.”
Amnesty International Hong Kong director Man-Kei Tam said the “ugly scenes” against “overwhelmingly peaceful protesters” was a “violation of international law.”
“This excessive response from police is fueling tensions and is likely to contribute to worsening violence, rather than end it,” Tam said in a statement.
Hong Kong University and the Hong Kong University Student Union on Friday dismissed reports that police raided the university on Thursday night. University communications director Katherine Ma said there was no police presence on campus, while the union said in a statement that two students had been arrested before Thursday night.
The debate over the proposed law was postponed on Wednesday, Thursday and Friday, and protesters are hoping they can push lawmakers to drop the bill altogether.
Despite the violence earlier in the week, pro-democracy lawmaker Charles Mok said he still expected people to protest on Sunday — including some who couldn’t make it last weekend. “The violence by the police angered a lot of people,” he said.
Samson Yuen, an assistant professor in politics at Hong Kong’s Lingnan University, agreed that the violence Wednesday wouldn’t deter people from attending the rally Sunday.
He said police likely took a hard line Wednesday as they had felt “defeated” during the 2014 protests and wanted to “show their muscle.”
“I think people are still angry,” he said. “As long as the bill is on the table, people will still come out.”
Fears of becoming another ‘mainland city’
Although Hong Kong is part of China, it has a different legal system — a concept known as “one country, two systems.”
Opponents to the extradition bill are concerned that if it is passed, they could be subject to opaque Chinese law, which allows for the death penalty.
The bill has also been met with opposition from the European Union and Hong Kong’s traditionally conservative business community, with some concerned the bill will expose foreign executives in Hong Kong to China’s justice system.
“We are afraid that we will become a mainland city,” lawmaker Fernando Cheung said Thursday. “We would no longer have rule of law, our own autonomy.”
Many protestors on Wednesday donned face masks and did not want to be identified or have their faces shown in pictures, with some saying they were worried about future repercussions from China.
Although many Hongkongers use WhatsApp to communicate, protesters coordinated with the Telegram encrypted messaging app. On Tuesday, police arrested a 22-year-old man who was the administrator of a Telegram group for “conspiracy to commit public nuisance,” police confirmed to CNN.
Chan Hiu-yung, a 17-year-old high school student, was told by his mother to avoid Wednesday’s protests as they were too dangerous. But he went out anyway, upset that the government had ignored the hundreds of thousands who protested on Sunday.
“I’m more concerned about Hong Kong’s future than my future,” the teenager said.