Movements@Manchester

Anti-Extradition Protest, Hong Kong. Photo by Tang Yun-Tong, 9th June 2019.

Anti-Extradition Protest, Hong Kong. Photo by Tang Yun-Tong, 9th June 2019.

In September 2014, hundreds of thousands of protesters in Hong Kong went onto the street, standing up against the Chinese National People’s Congress’s decision to bar Hong Kong from having a free and fair universal suffrage. Protesters occupied the roads around the Hong Kong government headquarters and confronted the police. After a tense day of stand-off, the police fired tear gas at the protester. The strategy to disperse the protesters, however, backfired and provoked mass anger among Hongkongers. Enraged by the police’s excessive use of violence, over a million ordinary citizens turned up and joined the protest, thereby producing the historic Umbrella Movement. The Beijing government, Hong Kong’s sovereign master, nevertheless, stayed adamant and refused to give in. No fruitful outcome was achieved and the protesters’ goal to strive for universal suffrage failed. Yet on the last day of occupation, a big banner was left on the occupied zone, which wrote: “We Will be Back.”

Five years later, the Hong Kong protesters, once again, besieged the government headquarters. This time, the protesters were fighting against a controversial extradition bill with China. On 9 June 2019, 1.03 million people from all walks of life marched on the street to voice their disagreement with the bill. Yet the Hong Kong government refused to withdraw the bill and even tried to push for passing it before July, forcing the protesters to escalate their action. Three days later, the day to start the second reading of the bill in the Legislative Council, tens of thousands of protesters, who are mostly at their early 20s, seized control of the area around the government headquarters. However, they succeeded only temporarily. Compared to the Umbrella Movement, the policing strategy was a lot tougher this time. Not only tear gas but also plastic bullets were fired. Trying to stop another large-scale occupy movement from happening, the Hong Kong police attacked protesters and even journalists aggressively. The protesters had no choice but to retreat to some narrow streets. So far, more than 70 protesters were injured and some of them were in serious condition.

Despite increasing police violence, many youngsters still choose to stand in the frontline. Many of them see it as a desperate fight against the authoritarian Chinese government. As some of them call it, this is an endgame. What makes the young protesters feel the hopelessness and urgency to make the last roar? Over the past five years, political rights and civil liberties in Hong Kong have been on a rapid decline. In 2015, a local bookseller who sells books critical of the Chinese leaders was abducted and detained in China. In 2016, Edward Leung, a pro-independence young activist, was barred from running in the Legislative Council election because of his political stance. In 2017, six pro-democracy and pro-independence legislators were removed from their posts after the Beijing government unusually re-interpreted the Basic Law, the mini-constitution of Hong Kong, and claimed that the oaths they made during the commencing ceremony of the new legislative term were unqualified. From 2017 to 2019, several leading activists of the 2014 Umbrella Movement were sentenced to jail. Pro-independence activists, including Edward Leung, who were charged with initiating a “riot” in 2016, faced the same fate and they got a much heavier sentence. Two of them are now forced to seek asylum in Germany. For many Hong Kong people, the city is no longer the one they are familiar with. The proposed legislation of the extradition agreement with China in recent months came to be the last straw.

The extradition bill, formally known as the Fugitive Offenders Ordinance Amendment, was tabled after a Hong Kong man murdered his girlfriend in Taiwan and then returned to Hong Kong last year. Since there has been no extradition agreement between Hong Kong and Taiwan, the Hong Kong government claimed it was a loophole to be plugged. An amendment to the current Fugitive Offenders Ordinance was therefore proposed in February 2019, which would allow for extradition requests from authorities in mainland China, Taiwan, and Macau for criminal suspects. ​​​​​​​Once the amendment is adopted, anyone, including permanent Hong Kong citizens, businessmen, journalists, and visitors of whatever nationalities, could be accused to have violated Chinese laws in Hong Kong and extradited to China. Since the Chinese government often uses non-political charges to prosecute political dissent, and since there is no fair trial in mainland China, it is deeply worrying that this would pose another great threat to the human rights of Hongkongers. Although the Taiwanese authority has stated its concern about the possibility that Taiwanese citizens in Hong Kong could be extradited to mainland China, and although it is possible for the Hong Kong and Taiwanese governments to make a one-time extradition agreement, the Hong Kong government insisted on pushing forward the current version of amendment. Worse still, the government argued the urgency required to handle the current murder case allowed for only 20 days for public consultation.

Rejecting the extradition bill amendment, the civil society of Hong Kong, which had been low in morale after the failure of the Umbrella Movement, has become vibrant again. The fragmented relationship between the moderate and the radical flanks has been glued. Apart from the demonstration and the occupy action mentioned above, there were 3,000 lawyers, prosecutors, law students, and academics marching in silence to request the government shelve the bill earlier this month. University and secondary school students and alumni, overseas students, and many other civil society groups also started hundreds of petitions to protest against the amendment. More actions are going to be held in coming days, including a creative action to “occupy” the cars of the underground train—a non-cooperative action attempting to paralyze the city without confronting the police directly. Also, more petitions are going on locally and internationally, such as the one to request the U.S, British, and Australian governments to block or reject the visas of the Hong Kong officials and the pro-China legislators—many of whom claim themselves as patriotic, loyal Chinese while holding a second nationality and lots of assets in the West. We do not know what will work, but as Lu Xun, a leading Chinese writer, famously said, “although originally there was no path on the ground, as more and more people walked through, it became a path.”

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democracy, Hong Kong, Protest, Umbrella Movement