This article was originally published by Radio Free Asia and is reprinted with permission.
Huge numbers of people took to the streets of Hong Kong on Sunday to call for the total withdrawal of an extradition law, as crowds filled several streets in the downtown area and turnout seemed likely to exceed last weekend’s million-strong protest.
Hundreds of thousands of protesters wearing black filled several major streets between Causeway Bay and government headquarters two miles away, shouting “Withdraw! Withdraw!” and calling for the resignation of the city’s leader Carrie Lam, who announced on Saturday that her administration would “postpone” plans to allow people to be sent to face criminal charges in mainland China.
Live video footage from the city also showed thousands lining up to lay flowers at the Pacific Place shopping mall, where a man fell to his death on Saturday after unfurling a banner that read: “Completely Withdraw the China Extradition Bill. We Were Not Rioting. Release the Students and the Injured.”
A yellow plastic raincoat hung near the mall, with the words “Carrie Lam is killing Hong Kong. The police are cold-blooded criminals.” Fire services had earlier removed a large yellow banner that read “Defend Hong Kong” from the city’s iconic Lion Rock in Kowloon.
Thousands of people also stood in queues waiting for public transport access to the route of the march, while thousands more poured into the area around government headquarters from other directions before the main march had even arrived.
Police had initially set aside only part of the highway for the march, but the sheer numbers attending meant that it quickly overspilled into several parallel streets, gradually closing off lanes available to traffic.
Police were visible, but were in regular uniforms, while crowds parted in an orderly manner to allow emergency vehicles and departing buses to clear the scene.
As the crowd swelled with the incoming march, traffic came to a halt as protesters began taking up further space outside the central government complex on Harcourt Road, a key site of the 2014 Occupy Central movement for fully democratic elections.
By nightfall, the six-lane highway was packed with protesters waving lit up smartphones and chanting, with more continuing to arrive at the scene.
Later in the evening, while the crowd thinned, some protesters made plans to dig in for the night and begin an occupation, while others left messages of support and protest on the “Lennon Wall” used previously by pro-democracy campaigners in 2014.
Most of the crowd were clad in black, as called for by protest organizers the Civil Human Rights Front, and many wore a white mourning flower as a mark of respect for the protester who died. High-schoolers folded white origami flowers, while flower shops donated white lilies to be used as a mark of respect at Pacific Place.
“What I really want is for Carrie Lam to withdraw the bill and relieve all the social pressure,” the group’s spokeswoman Bonnie Leung told reporters. “So we demand Carrie Lam apologize to the people … to the protesters, also to withdraw saying that the protest was a riot.”
“Only when Carrie Lam apologizes, withdraws the bill, and steps down will Hong Kong people end all of our protests,” she said.
‘No sort of answer’
Protesters on the ground agreed.
“I think Carrie Lam is talking rubbish,” a student told RFA at the protest. “I think she’s pussyfooting around the issue. I think she should withdraw the bill, not postpone it. That’s no sort of an answer to give the people of Hong Kong.”
One father said he had come out after his young son saw footage of the police beating protesters on Wednesday.
“I didn’t have any way to explain why the nice policemen were dressed up as Transformers and beating up these unarmed kids,” he said.
“We try to teach children that the police are there to protect everyone, but their actions that day were entirely about oppressing people.”
After six hours of renewed protest on Sunday, Lam issued an apology via the government’s press office.
“The Chief Executive apologizes to the public and promises to accept criticism with the utmost sincerity and humility,” the statement said. “[She] acknowledges that government failings have caused a high degree of conflict and tension in Hong Kong society.”
“The government reiterates that there is no timetable for restarting the process,” it said, but stopped short of withdrawing the planned amendments entirely.
March organizers the Civil Human Rights Front dismissed the statement.
“This is no f***ing apology at all,” the group said in a post on its Facebook page. “She is only apologizing for ‘government failings,’ not for pushing through this draconian bill or the violent crackdown by police.”
Police violence protested
Protesters also waved signs that read “Stop Killing Us!” in protest at police violence against protesters who surrounded the city’s Legislative Council (LegCo) on Wednesday, while others took issue with the government’s description of that action as a “riot” that “forced” police to use batons, tear gas, rubber and bean bag bullets, and pepper spray to keep order.
Others held up banners that read “Hong Kong Limit. Do Not Cross!” and “You SHOT Us,!” in imitation of police warning banners used before the firing of tear gas rounds.
Police lined metal traffic barriers around government headquarters at the start of Sunday’s march, but were relatively few in number, and most wore regular uniforms instead of full riot gear.
Some protesters wore T-shirts emblazoned with the words “Freedom – Hi!” in English, a pun on a Cantonese expletive shouted at protesters by a special police officer in a viral video earlier in the week.
Others chanted, in a reference to Carrie Lam’s earlier remark that she would no more give in to protesters’ demands than she would to her small child, “Carrie Lam is not our mom!”
Christian protesters sang a popular hymn “Sing Hallelujah to the Lord” and turned out to provide water and supplies to protesters, as well as to call for a peaceful demonstration.
The Civil Human Rights Front has also called for a general strike on Monday, vowing to go ahead with the strike unless Lam fully withdraws the extradition bill.
Support in Taiwan
Meanwhile, some 10,000 people turned out to support Hong Kong’s protest in Taiwan, whose democratic government has repeatedly criticized the extradition bill and Lam’s use of a Taiwan murder case as justification for closing a “legal loophole.”
Holding up signs that read “Taiwan with Hong Kong,!” protesters gathered in the capital, Taipei, watching a live feed of the Hong Kong protests on a large screen.
Taiwan-based student activist Ho Wing-chan, who founded the Fugitive Offenders Ordinance Concern Group, said many present were angry over police violence meted out during Wednesday’s protests.
“We condemn the Hong Kong government’s suppression of peaceful protests, and we hold the police responsible,” Ho said. “We demand that the Hong Kong government recognize that the demonstration on June 12 wasn’t a riot.”
“Please release all protesters and cease all prosecutions,” he said. “We demand that the Fugitive Offenders Ordinance be withdrawn, not just postponed.”
U.S.-based legal scholar Teng Biao also attended the Taiwan protest.
“Freedom isn’t a gift, but a duty that everyone must fulfill,” Teng said. “In supporting Hong Kong against China renditions, we should be able to render this law defunct, and the Chinese Communist Party regime with it.”
Lin Fei-fan, who led the Sunflower movement that occupied Taiwan’s parliament, the Legislative Yuan, to oppose closer ties with China under then president Ma Ying-jeou, said the postponement of the extradition bill means that it could be reintroduced to Hong Kong’s legislature at any time.
“The Legislative Council could still move to amend the law … allowing renditions to China in future,” Lin said. “We must once again condemn the Hong Kong government.”
‘Living under the shadow’
Taiwan’s foreign minister Joseph Wu tweeted: “I salute the brave #HongKong citizens on the streets, uncowed by the threat of police brutality. The people of #Taiwan share your values & struggle.”
Wu said both Taiwan and Hong Kong live “under the shadow” of the Chinese Communist Party regime, which has refused to rule out the use of military force to invade and annex Taiwan in the name of “unification.”
“We shall overcome together,” he said.
The amendments, which Lam has said need to be put on hold and re-explained, not withdrawn, are widely seen as a huge threat to Hong Kong’s way of life, which was supposed to have been protected under the “one country, two systems” framework under which the former British colony was handed back to China in 1997.
If they become law, the city could lose its status as a separate legal jurisdiction and trading entity, while journalists, visitors, rights activists, dissidents, democratic politicians, and the business community could all be targeted for actions deemed illegal by the ruling Chinese Communist Party.
The move to change Hong Kong’s extradition laws has left many in Taiwan feeling very worried about their future, too.
In a Jan. 2 speech titled “Letter to our Taiwan compatriots,” Chinese President Xi Jinping said that Taiwan must be “unified” with China and refused to rule out the use of military force to annex the island.
But Tsai has repeatedly said that Taiwan’s population of 23 million have no wish to give up their sovereignty, a view that is borne out by repeated opinion polls.
Reported by Gao Feng for RFA’s Mandarin Service, and by Wen Yuqing and Chung Kuang-cheng for the Cantonese Service. Translated and edited by Luisetta Mudie.