On Sunday, June 9, 2019, more than 1 million protestors in Hong Kong clogged busy streets to show their strong opposition to a new bill that would allow fugitives to be extradited to mainland China. A group called the Civil Human Rights Front (CHRF) organized the demonstration with police permission.
The enormous number of citizens jamming the city center is matched only by the 1997 protests when Great Britain ceded control of Hong Kong back to mainland China.
Hong Kong and China operate under the “one country, two systems,” originated by Deng Xiaoping, the Paramount Leader of the People’s Republic of China, in the early 1980s:
“He suggested that there would be only one China, but distinct Chinese regions such as Hong Kong and Macau could retain their own economic and administrative systems.”
Hong Kong has its own government and handles its own legal, economic, and financial affairs, including foreign trade relations, independently from China. The extradition bill would violate the governing principle formulated by the Paramount Leader.
On June 13, the protestors seized control of the main roads around the Legislative Council building complex where lawmakers were scheduled to debate the controversial bill. They made temporary camp, setting up makeshift beds and first aid stations. Food, water, and anti-tear gas equipment were passed out.
Praising and encouraging speeches were made by members of the Hong Kong legislature in support of the demonstrators. Opposition lawmaker Claudia Mo received loud cheers of approval after she said:
“[This] boils down to a display of people power in Hong Kong, a display in particular of young people power…You have every right – the young have every right – to express their feelings, their anger, their frustration, their resentment, in any way they want, because this is their Hong Kong, their future.”
Based on the crowd’s size and enthusiasm, heavily armed police riot squads decided to clear the blocked roads with force. Little to no warning signaled the multiple rounds of tear gas that targeted the crowd. Police used pepper spray and rubber bullets on anyone who wouldn’t obey orders and move along.
Several instances were recorded on video where police pulled unarmed protesters to the ground and beat them with batons. CNN reported seeing police aim guns which fire rubber bullets at reporters and protesters in retreat.
The following Sunday, June 16, saw another record crowd assemble to support a similar event, which was promoted by Bonnie Leung who spoke on behalf of CHRF, as “a very peaceful assembly.”
On June 18, Hong Kong Chief Executive Carrie Lam announced that the proposed extradition bill was “dead” with “no such plan” to resurrect it.
This news was met with continued protests and demands for the formal and complete withdrawal of the bill, Lam’s resignation, an inquiry into alleged police brutality, the release of those who have been arrested, and other pro-freedom democratic reforms.
Lam assured the crowd that the extradition law was no longer under official consideration:
“We have made many attempts to narrow differences and eliminate doubts. In the last week, tens of thousands of people took part in protests and gatherings. Serious conflicts broke out…resulting in a number of police officers, media workers and other members of the public being injured. I am saddened by this.”
Hong Kong protesters were not convinced by their leader’s promises and have continued violent attacks on law enforcement personnel. Outbreaks of violent protesting ramped up in early August.
On Sunday, August 25, another violent demonstration between police and protesters occurred in Hong Kong, described as “one of the most violent nights seen in Hong Kong since mass pro-democracy protests began in June.” The anti-extraditionists barricaded streets with traffic cones and street railings and threw bricks, metal poles, and gasoline bombs at police, injuring 21 officers.
After tear gas failed to disperse the sea of protesters, police deployed a water cannon for the first time in the city’s history. The force of the watery blast pushed people back but they still refused to leave.
At one point, a group of protesters surrounded six police officers to attack them. Believing their lives at stake, one officer fired “a warning shot to the sky without any other choices,” as reported in an official Hong Kong police statement.
The mass demonstrations are wreaking havoc on the economy in Hong Kong as business owners are being accused of taking sides with the protesters.
The Chinese government ordered Hong Kong’s principal carrier and local employer, Cathay Pacific, to prohibit workers who take part in protests from traveling to China. In all, canceled airline flights have stranded more than 74 million passengers.