The lack of response from Hong Kong government even after two million had come out to join rallies, the violence employed by the police against even 11-year old school children – these fuel the calls for democracy among protesters.
By MARYA SALAMAT
HONG KONG – To an outsider, the Hong Kong protesters had achieved their demand when the extradition bill they opposed was withdrawn last year. Yet, to this day, mass actions still happen and it is clear they have not yet calmed down. In fact, protests broke out in Hong Kong last December 25, on January 1 New Year’s Day and on January 25 to 26, Chinese New Year.
Despite the Hong Kong government’s quick dispatching of cleaners to tear down or erase pro-democracy art and writings on “Lennon Walls,” where people write the good things they could imagine with democracy, evidence of resistance remain in handwritten calls and in some blackened road signs around the city.
The Hong Kong residents’ ’fight against amendments to the extradition bill has become a bigger fight for democracy. In an interview with Figo Chan, 23, vice-convener of Civil Human Rights Front (CHRF), one of the organizations responsible for the biggest mobilizations in the island, he said that the protests would continue even though there are challenges to face. With the help of a 25-year old Hong Kong resident who requested anonymity, they shared that they are striving to improve organization and mobilization. They advised other protesters against resorting to tactics that gives the police an excuse to hurt and arrest protesters and innocent bystanders.
He stressed that the protesters had mostly been peaceful at the start. He said many people in Hong Kong were enraged at the way the government and the police have dealt with the protesters. People came out against the extradition bill since March 2019 because it’s “very dangerous,” Chan said. The CHRF helped mobilize 10,000 in the first protest against amendments to the extradition bill. By April, 130,000 people came out to protest, peaking with one million protesters on June 9 and two million in the week that followed. Violence against protesters intensified since June.
An August 2019 press statement by the International League of Peoples’ Struggle (ILPS) said that the stand of the protesters in Hong Kong is even more understandable. The proposed amendments to the extradition law that will bypass judicial processes in Hong Kong on extradition cases was preceded by dramatic cases of abductions from Hong Kong to mainland China.
The protests were conducted by peaceful people but the police used violence and injured many in an effort to disperse the rallies, Chan said.
The Hong Kong state police have brandished weapons, and used teargas, water cannons and truncheons against the people.
The government and the police call the protesters “rioters” to justify the violence, hunt down the injured in hospitals and increase the prison terms of those arrested. The extent of injuries enraged even the city’s health workers that they came out in droves in the subsequent protests.
Thousands have since been arrested. Almost a hundred remain in jail as of this writing. The police claimed that protesters had no permit to rally and that some were “wild.” But the police dispersed rallies which had a permit.
Another kind of risk or threat to protesters came from groups that are unofficially linked to state troops but may be working with the police. Last July 23, protesters were just beginning to gather at Yuen Long when men in white shirts attacked, beating down the unarmed protesters with sticks and metal rods.
“People from the Triad told protesters ‘You can’t come here!’’ They went after the protesters. Some people were trapped in trains. The people saw videos of the protesters being attacked and they got very angry and wanted to help,” Chan said.
The protesting groups now widely called as democracy groups condemned the police inaction. “The police could have easily been alerted about it through the CCTVs,” Chan said. Around the same time the gathering protesters were being beaten up by men in white shirts at Yuen Long, Chan said four other known frequent protesters were also attacked in other locations.
Last week, the pro-democracy groups gathered to remember and protest the Yuen Long mob attack. Some of the victims filed a civil case against the Hong Kong police chief over his failure to protect the residents.
“We can be like water”
This is a call to protesters to be flexible in facing confrontation with the police. It means avoid getting hurt, seek cover, even as they strive to continue protesting. Unlike the police, the protesters have no weapons, said Chan.
Chan said protests will continue to happen in Hong Kong because now the people see their realities more clearly. “In the beginning it’s just the extradition bill and now, it’s the problems we face in Hong Kong.”
The lack of response from Hong Kong government even after two million had come out to join rallies, the violence employed by the police against even 11-year old school children – these fuel the calls for democracy among protesters. Because of how the fight against the extradition bill had unfolded, Hong Kong residents, especially the young, are starting to see more clearly their problems, Chan said.
Nowadays, one of the protesters’ demands aside from democracy is “solve the problem of police violence.” Protesters would paste “Stop police cruelty” posters on walls leading to their rally venues.
They are seeking justice and accountability for the injuries suffered by protesters.
“We are fighting for freedom, justice, very simple human rights,” said Chan. He explained that the people want the government to stop the police violence and suppression of their democratic rights. He said the people “worry everyday because they have many bad experience with the Chinese government.”
The ILPS which held its global assembly in Hong Kong last June, recognized that the protestors’ rage in Hong Kong was further fueled by the Carrie Lam administration’s obstinacy to heed the people’s demands by refusing to dialogue or show any compromise. “In the face of the mass protests that manifested the will of the people against the unpopular and unacceptable proposal, the Lam administration declared the bill ‘dead’ but there has not been any move to fully withdraw the bill from future legislation.”
As for the central government (Beijing), it hasn’t sought “appropriate political solutions,” the ILPS said. On the contrary, it is threatening troop deployment.
Hopes for freedom, democracy
Chan hopes the various groups conducting protests will continue creating platforms and more spaces to talk and discuss issues. Talking politics and exchanging ideas in Hong Kong happen only when there’s an election, he said. Hong Kong held an election late last year with many politicians known for supporting pro-democracy actions winning in the polls. The post of Chief Executive, however, is not up for election. Carrie Lam is an appointee of Beijing.
A cursory look at their recent history shows that whatever freedom they have, the people of Hong Kong seem to have been defending it through rallies. Half a million of them came out on the streets in 2003 to oppose the enactment of a Beijing-demanded national security law that would have prohibited “treason, secession, sedition and subversion.”
After Tiananmen Massacre in June 1989 (which has yearly been commemorated in rallies in Hong Kong), the potential impact on human rights and freedom of expression and assembly of Beijing’s proposed national security law has been intensely resisted through rallies in Hong Kong.
Chief Executive Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor has been quoted as saying she will wait for a “suitable social climate” before she acceded to Beijing pressure to pass the national security law.
In a statement of solidarity to the democratic protest actions in Hong Kong, the Communist Party of the Philippines said that in the struggles of the Filipino people and Chinese people, both confront similar authoritarian rulers who make no qualms in using state power to advance their aims.
Given the rising antagonisms with China, the US and other superpowers have openly and discreetly backed the Hong Kong protests, the CPP noted. It added that the people of Hong Kong can accept such support but must also guard against foreign meddling in their affairs.
Asked to comment on this, Chan said some people may indeed just want to use the protest to advance their own agenda. He clarified, however, that the protesters who held US flags were doing so only because they heard messages of support from the US.
“It is just a way of showing the protest has the support of other peoples.”
In 2019, the core calls of the protest actions in Hong Kong centered on the extradition law and police actions against protesters. But some protesters have also laid down basic issues such as lack of jobs, lack of proper housing, the growing gap between the rich and the poor, low wage, long working hours, high cost of living and other economic concerns.
“We look forward to the strengthening and growing political clarity of solid mass organizations of the people in Hong Kong in order to broaden the struggle against all attacks on political, civil, social and economic rights,” the ILPS said.