Hong Kong protest: Large-scale march under way despite suspension of controversial bill

Civil Human Rights Front member Jimmy Sham speaks in Hong Kong on June 15, 2019.

Large numbers of protesters began to gather in the city’s Victoria Park just after midday Sunday, donning black and wearing white ribbons on their chests. Many carried bunches of white flowers to honor a man who died after falling from a building on Saturday while holding banners opposing the extradition bill.

“We buy the white flower to hope that he can rest in peace,” said 23-year-old Michael, who works in concessions and only gave his first name. Like many others around him, he carried a sign saying “Freedom is Not Free.”

On Saturday, Chief Executive Carrie Lam, the top official in Hong Kong, said passage of the bill would be suspended and a second reading due to take place this month canceled. There is no timeline for discussions around the bill to resume, Lam said, and she indicated it likely will not pass this year.

But for the protesters, a suspension is not enough. They fear the bill could be used to extradite residents to mainland China for political or inadvertent business offenses and are pushing for it to be shelved completely.

“We need to come out and tell the government we cannot approve this China extradition bill,” said Michael, adding that he believed Lam would continue to push for the bill at a later date.

“We need to stop this because Hong Kong is a very special place. The economy, the culture, it’s a special one for the world,” he said.

The early crowd were predominantly young people, but there were some families and older people joining the throngs as well. Protesters are expected to march from the city’s Victoria Park through the downtown area to Tim Mei Avenue in Admiralty.

Mandy, who turned 18 on Sunday, said she didn’t attend the first anti-extradition protest on June 9 when organizers estimate more than 1 million people took to the streets in a peaceful march against the legislation — about one in seven of the city’s population.

“Through this week I think the problem has become more and more serious and I should stand out. So I joined this campaign today,” she said.

“I think this protest is more important than my birthday so I come here,” she said.

Chik Kim Ping, 65 and her husband Tse, 70, traveled from the New Territories in the north of the city to protest against the extradition bill.

“It’s important for us to do this for our children,” Chik Kim Ping said. “We are old and don’t have much time left. We won’t see what’s going to happen in 2047 (when Hong Kong fully becomes part of China) but our children will.”

Violent clashes

The decision to go ahead with Sunday’s protest follows violent clashes between police and protesters Wednesday, after tens of thousands of mostly young people surrounded the city’s government headquarters, forcing legislators to postpone a debate on the bill.

Protest organizers are calling for authorities to drop charges against the 11 people arrested during protests Wednesday, amid widespread criticism of police tactics.

Up to 5,000 riot police fired 150 rounds of tear gas, rubber bullets and bean bag rounds during the course of the day. The number of tear gas canisters used was almost double the amount fired during 2014’s pro-democracy Umbrella Movement, when the city was brought to a standstill for 79 days.

Videos from Wednesday’s protest showed police spraying tear gas directly into protester’s faces and beating them with batons.

Speaking after Lam’s news conference Saturday, pro-democracy lawmaker Claudia Mo said protests would continue throughout the city until she steps down.

“If she refuses to withdraw, to scrap this controversial bill altogether, it would mean that we wouldn’t retreat. She stays on. We stay on,” Mo said. “Carrie Lam has lost all credibility among the Hong Kong people. She must step down.”

Before she became chief executive in 2017, Lam said she would resign “if mainstream opinion makes me no longer able to continue the job.”

Legal concerns

Although Hong Kong is part of China, it has a different legal system — a concept known as “one country, two systems.”

Pro-democracy figures said that the bill, championed by the pro-Beijing Lam government, would lead to the erosion of civil rights in Hong Kong, including freedom of speech and rule of law.

“We are afraid that we will become a mainland city,” lawmaker Fernando Cheung said Thursday. “We would no longer have rule of law, our own autonomy.”

Throughout the debate Lam has maintained that the bill is necessary to ensure that Hong Kong does not become a sanctuary for fugitives running from justice in mainland China.

Hong Kong’s legislative council is due to go on summer recess on July 20, before beginning again in October.

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