Updated: Jun 21, 2019
Author: Olivia Lloyd
Since Hong Kong’s announcement of a new bill that would enable suspected criminals to be extradited for trial, residents of the territory showed up to protests in waves. They feared the bill would be used to try Hong Kong critics of the Chinese government in mainland China, where the legal system is harsher and less transparent.
Following mass protests that resulted in several violent clashes between demonstrators and police, Carrie Lam, the Chief Executive of Hong Kong and proponent of the bill, stated Saturday that she was suspending the bill. She had previously promising to fast track it through the legislative process.
Despite the bill’s suspension, protesters showed out in large numbers Sunday. Organizers reported that nearly two million of the territory’s seven million residents attended Sunday’s protests.
Many protesters rejected Lam’s apology, and now call for not only the bill’s suspension but complete withdrawal. Many also call for Lam’s resignation.
Roger Lam, 18, [of no relation to Carrie Lam], was born in Hong Kong and has lived there for the past five years. Like many protesters, he sees the extradition bill as a betrayal of the Hong Kong government. “Nowhere in the world has a country more voluntarily offered up their own citizens to anyone asking for extradition,” Lam said.
Hong Kong residents believe China will use the bill to crackdown on government dissenters living in Hong Kong. “With the extradition bill, what’s legal here and is illegal somewhere else, you can be persecuted for,” Lam said. “Specifically the concern is with China, which has a huge free speech barrier. Any disparaging talk toward the government doesn’t exist.”
The significant backlash the bill received could signify Hong Kongers’ resistance to Chinese encroachment on their rights and the territory’s autonomy. “Hong Kong is a place of opportunity, or it was for a long time,” Lam said. “Citizens who have been here, grown up here, are genuinely concerned. It’s scary to think about, because it feels like China is trying to push forward the merging of Hong Kong back into China.”
Hong Kong received its autonomy from British colonial rule in 1997, and as part of a deal with China, will remain an autonomous territory until 2047. This led to the creation of the “one country, two systems” understanding that has since guided relations between the two bodies.
Citizens are also rallying against the police conduct during the protests. Videos have spread showing police officers pepper spraying protesters, shooting rubber bullets and firing tear gas canisters into the crowds, in addition to beating demonstrators into submission with batons. This concern arose over violence during the first demonstration June 12, in which many of the participants were students.
Carmen Chan, 59, attended the demonstrations and saw the violence unfold. “We never believed the government and the police would use guns and gas to attack the citizens,” Chan said. “They ran to the building [Citic Tower] trying to escape the tear gas. Some policemen still attacked them in front of the building.”
A video shows demonstrators streaming into Citic Tower, fleeing tear gas. Video courtesy of we are Hong Kong/YouTube.
Many protesters brought umbrellas with them in tribute to the Umbrella Movement of 2014, also known as the Occupy Central Movement, a months-long series of pro-democracy protests demanding direct elections.
“Since the Umbrella Revolution in Hong Kong a few years ago, most people (especially students) will bring a paper mask, an eye mask, a plastic helmet and an umbrella to protect themselves,” Chan said.
Stephen Lo, Hong Kong police commissioner, defended the police officers’ actions, saying they had the right to use proportional force to protect themselves.
Some view Carrie Lam’s promise to suspend the bill but not eliminate it entirely as a way to appease her supporters in Beijing and the people of Hong Kong. Other members of Hong Kong’s executive council have also apologized for the bill. Despite the apologies, legislators have yet to kill the bill entirely, leaving speculation about its future.
“Most of the people [protesting], we don’t know each other. Everyone just has the same purpose on the street,” Chan said. “We love this place, and we are sad and angry.”