Politics

HK police clear protest on 1st anniversary of extradition bill rally

(Update: Adds Carrie Lam quote, more detail)

Hong Kong, Jun 9 (efe-epa).- Hong Kong police used tear gas to disperse hundreds of people who had gathered in the city center on Tuesday to mark the first anniversary of the start of massive pro-democracy protests.

Hundreds of people defied police orders and started gathering in the late afternoon in the Central district one year after the first large demonstration against a proposed extradition bill that has since been abandoned and would have seen suspects extradited from Hong Kong to the mainland for criminal prosecution.

The protests soon morphed into a movement calling for increased democratic freedoms and police reform, and featured violent clashes between protesters and police that lasted for months and led to thousands of arrests.

The demonstrations were brought to an end by restrictions imposed to stem the coronavirus outbreak.

At last month’s National People’s Congress, a new so-called security law which punishes acts that subvert state power, was passed and is expected to be enacted into Hong Kong’s Basic Law over the summer. Critics believe that the bill is intended to curb the democracy movement and increase Beijing’s influence over the semi-autonomous city.

Police had urged Hong Kongers not to participate in any unauthorized protests as gatherings of more than eight people remain forbidden as part of Covid-19 restrictions.

“Anyone participating in such events may be found guilty of “Taking Part in an Unauthorised Assembly” in accordance with the Public Order Ordinance and be liable to a maximum penalty of five years’ imprisonment,” police warned in a statement, adding that “engaging in public gatherings will also increase the risk of transmission of the virus in the community”.

To avoid detection, the locations of protests on Tuesday were only revealed on social media an hour beforehand.

“We are fighting for fundamental human rights, putting our lives, our jobs at risk, while being oppressed by a totalitarian regime,” one of the protesters, who identified themselves as CM, told Efe.

The demonstrators, whose numbers have dwindled drastically since last year, assembled in Chater Garden, and soon spilled into surrounding streets, bringing rush hour traffic to a standstill.

Activists called on demonstrators to shine the flashlights on their phones as a symbolic display that the people of Hong Kong have not renounced their five demands — namely withdrawal of the extradition bill, an investigation into alleged police brutality and misconduct, the release of all arrested protesters, a retraction of the official characterisation of the protests as “riots”, and the resignation of Carrie Lam.

Ahead of an Executive Council meeting on Tuesday, Hong Kong’s top official said that the Special Administrative Region “cannot bear the chaos” that has plagued the city over the past 12 months.

“Especially when the pandemic has caused a global recession, a stable environment is needed so that people can resume their normal lives. I think this is our common wish after these 12 months,” Lam said.

Exactly one year ago, hundreds of thousands of people dressed in white — the color that originally defined the movement, before it was replaced by black — took to the streets of Causeway, Wan Chai and Admiralty to protest the extradition law proposed by the Hong Kong government.

One week later, on June 16, an even larger protest took place, with nearly one million people assembling to demonstrate against the SAR’s authorities and express their concerns at the narrowing of ties to the central government in Beijing.

The rallies were the largest popular movements in Hong Kong since it was returned from British colonial rule to China in 1997. EFE

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