Fresh Hong Kong protests planned for Friday

  20 June 2019    Read: 947
Fresh Hong Kong protests planned for Friday

Hong Kong is braced for another round of demonstrations after the government failed to respond to a list of protester demands including an investigation into police brutality and the withdrawal of an extradition bill by a Thursday afternoon deadline.

After cut-off set by protest leaders passed without word from the government, messages began circulating on social media calling people to come to central Hong Kong from 7am on Friday.

“No response – no retreat,” read one. It called on people to “picnic, sing, stroll, watch the turtles and keep [out of] the rain”, phrases used as thinly veiled calls to political action because the planned demonstration does not have police approval.

The city has been electrified by a series of mass protests – two peaceful Sunday marches on successive weekends and one unauthorised midweek demonstration that turned violent.

People turned out in huge numbers because of concerns that the city’s economy and society would be fatally damaged by the extradition law, which would allow authorities to send both visitors and residents for trial in China’s opaque, sometimes brutal judicial system.

The large turnout forced the Hong Kong chief executive, Carrie Lam, to publicly apologise and suspend the law she had once promised to ram through the island’s legislature.

In a further apparent concession, the president of the legislature, Andrew Leung called for a delay to another controversial draft law, which would criminalise “insulting” the Chinese national anthem. Hong Kong sports fans have regularly booed when it is played at matches, as a form of protest.

At a press conference on Wednesday, Lam hinted that the bill had been effectively abandoned but refused withdraw it, perhaps hoping to stave off further humiliation.

Opposition figures say they do not trust Lam and want the bill neutralised. They fear she could take it up again in future once some of the public anger has dissipated. Many have called for her resignation.

They also want an investigation into police use of force, the end of a crackdown on activists and for authorities to drop charges of rioting, which carry heavy sentences, against five people they have arrested.

“We are concerned, we feel the youth have been cornered by the government,” said Ho Chi Kwan, an academic, who was particularly worried about arrests and rioting charges. “What they are demanding is what all the people of Hong Kong demand.”

Ho was part of a small crowd of opposition activists who waited out the deadline in the sweltering heat outside government offices. They included student unions, church groups, scholars concerned about academic freedoms and Hong Kong parents who mobilised against police violence.

After the deadline passed without response, and as work and school finished, the crowds swelled slightly, but a much larger turnout is expected on Friday.

A similar last-minute protest on Wednesday last week turned violent, and there were fears there could be further unrest on Friday. “The students are still committed to a path of non-violent struggle, but who knows what the government will do,” said Ho.

The Hong Kong Journalists Association said it would be offering free protective gear for reporters covering the protests, including gas masks. It had not offered that for Sunday’s march.

Emily Lau, a veteran politician, was among many voices warning the protesters against violence, saying this would quickly lose them vital international support and was doomed to fail.

“Can you be more violent than the police or People’s Liberation Army?” she said, adding that the only escalation she favoured was of peaceful protest numbers.

Hong Kong’s next mass march is likely to be on 1 July, a national holiday to mark the city’s handover from British to Chinese rule in 1997.

There is a regular pro-democracy protest on that day, organised by the Civil Human Rights Front, which has also helped coordinate the last two Sunday marches. The group said it would support any peaceful protest before 1 July but its own efforts were focused on that day’s march.

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