Header Ads

Breaking News

Hong Kong activists warn of violence if protests are ignored | World news

Category: Political Protests,Politics

Brian Chan, a 23-year-old university graduate, was having his arms rinsed in saline water at a makeshift first-aid station manned by volunteers. Both his arms were red from an allergic reaction after he was pepper-sprayed by police at the mass rally against a controversial extradition law under a sweltering sun on Wednesday.

Asked what he would do if the bill was passed, Chan looked pensively into the distance. “We don’t want to get violent and it’s wrong, but if the government keeps ignoring us, we can’t rule out escalating our actions.”

After the end of last Sunday’s estimated million-strong mass demonstration against the bill, which could result in suspects being sent to mainland China, the Hong Kong government issued a statement saying it noted the “peaceful and orderly” march but would resume the second reading of the bill in the legislature on Wednesday as planned.

Just an hour later, the scene turned ugly. Shortly after midnight, hundreds of protesters tried to storm the Legislative Council Building, throwing metal barriers and bottles and rushing towards the police line outside the building. Hong Kong’s top leader, Carrie Lam, condemned the violence and refused to retract the bill.

At Wednesday’s mass rally, which filled the streets outside the legislature and spilled over on to the dual carriageways in Admiralty, a downtown business district, at least a dozen protesters, mainly young, told the Guardian it was the government’s refusal to listen that had prompted them to stage another rally. They said they simply had no other way to make their voices heard.

Later that afternoon, riot police used rubber bullets, batons and teargas against protesters. In several cases, crowds charged at armed officers, throwing bottles and other debris.

Some unarmed protesters were shot at by police and several were arrested as they sought treatment in hospitals. At least 72 people were taken to hospital and two were in a serious condition.

Analysts warn that frustrations, particularly among the young, could soon boil over into even bigger and more violent confrontations if the Hong Kong government continues to ignore people’s voices.

After a long day of protest in sweltering heat on Wednesday, a young man and woman talked to the Guardian about their frustration and sense of helplessness in the face of their rights being increasingly infringed upon by China. On the subject of protesters increasingly resorting to violence, the young people, who declined to give their names, said it was “inevitable” as they had exhausted all peaceful channels. “It’s useless talking to them. They never listen to us.”

Ching Cheong, a veteran journalist who was jailed in mainland China for three years on trumped-up espionage charges, blamed the government for pushing the unpopular law in the face of opposition from groups across a diverse political spectrum, including the legal sector and even some pro-Beijing figures.

“They have completely ignored all the peaceful, rational and non-violent expressions. The frustrations are felt across the board,” he said. “The students’ emotions are just an expression of Hong Kong society. They feel there is no way out.”

Hong Kong’s government has taken an increasingly hard line on dissent in the years since the 2014 Occupy Central mass civil disobedience movement, jailing protesters and leaders, banning activists from standing for election and disqualifying elected pro-democracy lawmakers for flouting regulations at a swearing-in ceremony.

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 favored 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 organizers putting the turnout at 1 million, and a standoff that forces the legislature to postpone debate on the bills. 

Photograph: Dale de la Rey/AFP

Young people have also learned to be more protective of themselves than a few years ago.

On the surface, the scene on Wednesday looked like the 79-day Occupy Movement in 2014. Volunteers were handing out food, water bottles, towels and snacks at makeshift supply stations, which also gave out protective gear such as face masks, goggles, umbrellas and hard hats.

But despite the air of solidarity, people were reluctant to reveal their identity to reporters, refusing to be photographed and mostly declining to give their names and ages. When a Guardian reporter was interviewing a teenager in an underground station on Wednesday, his friends swiftly pulled him away.

And unlike the Occupy Movement, whose charismatic founders such as Prof Benny Tai and Prof Chan Kin Man, or young leaders such as Joshua Wong, Alex Chow and Nathan Law often made speeches, no leaders have emerged in recent days. Tai and Chan are now in jail for conspiracy to cause a public nuisance and inciting others to cause a public nuisance. Wong, Law and Chow were sentenced to between six and eight months in jail on charges of “unlawful assembly” for staging a demonstration, although they later won an appeal.

The NGO worker Isaac Tsang said the spate of arrests and jailings for involvement in the 2014 movement had made young people more protective of themselves. But at the same time, knowing that the government often ignored peaceful expressions, the youngsters increasingly believed they had no choice but to resort to radical actions.

“This is a vicious circle,” he warned. “More violent confrontations may happen and at this rate, it is a matter of time before the police use real bullets.”


Source link

No comments