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China keeps mum on Hong Kong withdrawal pledge, questions supporters

Hong Kong anti-extradition bill protest (Studio Incendo/Flickr)
September 10, 2019

This article was originally published by Radio Free Asia and is reprinted with permission.

Authorities in the central Chinese province of Hunan have questioned more than 20 people after they took selfies with one hand covering their right eye as a gesture of support for the Hong Kong anti-extradition movement.

The gesture refers to a woman known only by a pseudonym, Tsai Lam-miu, who made international headlines as she lay on a pavement during the protests bleeding from one eye after being hit by what was likely a rubber bullet found nearby.

Anti-extradition protesters now regularly cover one eye in reference to her injury, and to protest police violence against them.

Hunan-based rights activist Chen Siming, who launched the online support action, which he described as performance art, was called in for questioning by police in his hometown of Zhuzhou on Thursday and warned not to express support for the Hong Kong protests.

“I covered the right side of my face with my hand, and posted it to Twitter and to a WeChat group,” Chen told RFA. “We have a regional WeChat group in Zhuzhou, Hunan, with more than 20 friends in it.”

“They also posted similar photos.”

“Covering our right eye with our right hand shows that we are sympathetic and supportive to the girl who lost her right eye in the protests,” he said.

“It is also a complaint against the abuse of violence by the Hong Kong police,” he said. “It also means that the whole world is paying attention to Hong Kong and supporting Hong Kong.”

‘Everyone was questioned’

Chen said 24 people in total had been contacted by police after posting the selfies.

“Everyone was questioned because of these photos,” he said. “When they called me in for questioning, the police told me that I wouldn’t want to go to jail, and that I don’t have to go there.”

“They warned me in a threatening way not to keeping pushing it,” Chen said.

Chen’s friend Ou Biaofeng was among the other activists questioned by police.

“They asked me why I wanted to post such a thing, and did I support independence for Hong Kong,” Ou told RFA.

“They deliberately asked me some leading questions, and they also warned me not to speak out about Hong Kong in future,” he said, vowing to continue to speak out nonetheless.

He said the Hong Kong protesters had achieved an “initial, minor victory” last week when the city’s leader Carrie Lam pledged that hugely unpopular amendments to its extradition laws enabling criminal suspects to be sent to face trial in mainland China would be formally withdrawn.

“It is an initial, minor victory, but it only addresses one of the five demands, so there are still four demands that have not been met,” Ou said. “I hope the people of Hong Kong will continue to insist.”

Ou said he hopes Hong Kong will eventually achieve its goal of fully democratic elections for the post of chief executive, and for seats on the Legislative Council (LegCo).

Announcement played down

China’s state-run media has played down Lam’s announcement that she will formally remove amendments to the Fugitive Offenders’ Ordinance from the government gazette, a list of legislation to be debated by LegCo, when the legislature reconvenes in October following a refurbishment in the wake of its storming by protesters on July 1.

Lam has asserted that Beijing respects and supports her decision, but Chen Kuide, executive chairman of the Princeton China Society, said Beijing’s low-key response likely indicates some dissatisfaction.

“I don’t think the Chinese government was happy with Lam’s withdrawal of the amendments because there have been sources in the past indicating that the [ruling] Chinese Communist Party had hoped she wouldn’t cave in to pressure to respond positively to the five major demands of the people of Hong Kong.”

But he said it could also be that Beijing simply wants to wait and see what happens next before commenting.

Hu Ping, editor-in-chief of the U.S.-based Chinese-language political magazine Beijing Spring, said Beijing is biding its time.

“The Central Committee will understand and respect this,” Hu said. “It will not necessarily feel the need to make strong statements, and official statements are likely to use more neutral wording.”