Hong Kong demonstrations continue as protestors flood the streets
Sunday marked the fifth and largest protest in Hong Kong over a controversial extradition bill. The bill would see incarcerated citizens deported to mainland China in certain situations. The reaction from protesters shocked the world as they came up against police who used heavy force in the hopes of stamping out future civil unrest. However, this is an issue which Hongkongers are willing to die over.
After police declared that protests on Wednesday constituted a riot, Hong Kong’s Chief Executive Carrie Lam announced on Saturday that the bill will not be scrapped and that she will not resign or apologise. A 35-year-old man subsequently climbed onto an elevated podium on the roof of Pacific Place, a shopping centre in Hong Kong’s Admiralty.
Wearing a yellow raincoat with the words, "brutal police are cold blooded" and, "Carrie Lam is killing Hong Kong", he put on a sign which read, "entirely withdraw China extradition Bill. We were not rioting. Release students and the injured. Carrie Lam, step down." He then jumped to his death, avoiding the inflatable air cushion set out by firefighters.
Lam has now suspended the bill, but the calls for her to give a full apology - and to resign - are just as loud. Organisers of Sunday’s protest stated that attendees totalled "almost 2 million plus 1 citizens", in reference to the protester who passed away. Radio France Internationale reported that online publisher Stand News used big data to predict that 1.44 million would have been in attendance.
"The advice we gave her is that she needs to apologise in person," Regina Ip, a member of Lam's cabinet, told CNN. "It's not too difficult to submit a resignation letter, I have done that myself ... but it's more difficult to stay behind and take care of the aftermath." A fractious ruling party, the cracks are truly beginning to show. "We would like her to continue to hold the fort,” Ip adds.”It's not easy to deal with the fallout and clean up this mess. I think she should do her duty."
In a slightly bizarre coincidence, student activist Joshua Wong was released from prison on Monday having served one month of a two-month sentence relating to political protests in 2014. "It's really good timing to join the fight for freedom and democracy," he explained after his release. "Five years ago after the end of the Umbrella Movement, we claimed we would be back. Yesterday two million people came to the streets ... it shows Hong Kong people realise this is a long term battle."
"Why did Carrie Lam need to wait to suspend the bill until one million people came to the streets, it's because she's not elected by the people of Hong Kong," he explained, in reference to the estimated 1.03 million people who protested on Wednesday. "It's time for her to step down."
There have now been five major protests, all of which took place over recent months. The inaugural rally, in March, was organised by Civil Human Rights Front (CHRF) and saw around 5,000 to 12,000 people in attendance. Protestors chanted "with extradition to the mainland, Hong Kong becomes a dark prison" and "stop the evil law".
The demonstration was led by Lam Wing-kee, the former owner of Causeway Bay Books who disappeared along with other colleagues and other bookshop owners in 2015. His incarceration is widely considered to be a reaction to the politically motivated books with which the shop was associated.
There have since been student protests and even a protest which brought together 3,000 lawyers - representing around one quarter of Hong Kong’s lawyers overall. As with more recent protests, they targeted governmental buildings in order to put pressure on decision makers.
“Hong Kong is just a small international city with seven million citizens, but two million people came to the streets, it shows that we have the consensus," Joshua Wong states. Speaking of Carrie Lam, he adds, "she has to end her political career".
Police stated that only 338,000 people followed Sunday’s planned route. However, a certain distrust of the government, and awareness of censorship, has led to these numbers being scrutinised. Furthermore, multiple streets nearby were also filled with protesters and overhead images showed a larger crowd even than that at a march in 2003 - formerly the city’s largest ever protest while under Chinese rule.
One of the last colonies relinquished by the British, Hong Kong’s political status as an autonomous region under Chinese rule has long been a cause for concern for those who live there. "We are afraid that we will become a mainland city," lawmaker Fernando Cheung stated on Thursday. "We would no longer have rule of law, our own autonomy."
As a comparatively compliant culture, the reactions of protesters to the bill has caused shockwaves. However, though currently suspended, the bill has dire connotations in terms of democracy and civil liberties. Lam Wing-kee, the former bookshop owner who previously disappeared, has now moved to Taiwan for fear the bill could be passed and used against him. While tyranny is often thought of as a thing of the past, or of a dystopian future, it appears to be alive and well in Hong Kong.