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Five years after Beijing ruled out democracy, Hong Kong is aflame

Thousands of protesters surround the police headquarter in Hong Kong on June 21, 2019. (Paula Bronstein/Getty Images/TNS)
September 03, 2019

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

Hundreds of protesters converged on Hong Kong’s International Airport and a major subway terminus on Sunday, smashing up a train control room, setting up barricades outside the airport and disrupting check-in and transportation services after a night of violence and growing public anger at the authorities.

Riot police fired tear gas and moved in to clear the airport of protesters, some of whom had walked from the nearby town of Tung Chung after the airport express train link was also shut down.

Tung Chung MTR Station and part of the Tung Chung subway line were shut down after the station became crowded with thousands of protesters, journalists and police later in the afternoon, with some protesters smashing windows in the station control room, and police ordering journalists to leave, live video streams showed.

Protesters also set up flaming barricades on the streets of Tung Chung, a new town not far from the international airport at Chek Lap Kok in northern Lantau Island.

The MTR Corp., which runs subway and train services across Hong Kong, stopped services to and from Tung Chung Station, saying that anti-extradition protesters had vandalized ticket machines and smartcard readers, causing “large-scale damage”.

Some of them smashed windows in the control room and sprayed graffiti across it, government broadcaster RTHK reported.

Arriving passengers were seen pushing suitcases along the street as protesters blocked key roads approaching Chek Lap Kok after train and bus services to the airport were suspended on Sunday afternoon, local media reported.

The renewed protests came after Hong Kong special police charged into a subway station late on Saturday and attacked passengers aboard waiting trains with batons and pepper spray, according to video footage posted to social media sites from inside Prince Edward Station in Kowloon.

The police, who wore the black, armored uniforms of the “raptor” special forces, appeared to be in pursuit of protesters, but instead attacked passengers indiscriminately, the footage showed.

One was a small boy who was left with head injuries.

Pepper spray, beatings

Protesters formed a barrier of umbrellas inside one train, while police fired pepper spray inside the train, beat up several people and arrested an unknown number of black-clad protesters, Stand News reported.

Police continued to attack passengers with batons even after bystanders asked them to stop, and those who tried to approach them were sprayed indiscriminately with painful doses of pepper spray, the report said.

Earlier on Saturday, police had deployed water cannon and rubber bullets against anti-extradition protesters as clashes continued through the weekend following a string of arrests of prominent pro-democracy figures.

Thousands of people turned out for the “Walk Free” protest in spite of the closure of large numbers of subway stations by the MTR Corp.

Outside government headquarters on Saturday, a water cannon fired blue dye apparently intended to stain the skin of those present for identification at a later date, while protesters set street barricades aflame and hurled Molotov cocktails across a barrier set up to protect government buildings.

At a rally in Victoria Park, Causeway Bay, protesters surrounded and interrogated four people they believed to be undercover police officers or other agents.

One of the four was searched and found to be carrying a police handgun, which he later fired after regaining his belongings. Nobody was injured in the incident.

A protester surnamed Chan at the Victoria Park rally said she had turned out in spite of the police ban out of anger that the administration of Carrie Lam was ignoring the protesters’ demands.

“The fact that the government has made no response at all has made public anger much more intense,” Chan said. “It wouldn’t be this intense if they hadn’t refused to respond positively, if they’d made even one positive response, to the march of a million people on June 9, instead of disregarding everyone’s opinions.”

“All we can do now is come out and support [the movement],” she said. “No one knows how things will develop.”

Christian groups — who have added their “Sing Hallelujah to the Lord” chant to the protests since the outset — also held their own “Sinners’ March” protest in support of the five demands.

‘Freedom DNA in their bones’

Democratic Party lawmaker Lam Cheuk-ting told the religious rally in Wanchai district that Hong Kong will likely be changed forever if the government refuses to listen to the people.

“If the government doesn’t respond to the five major demands of the Hong Kong people eventually, it will be hard for Hong Kong to return to the way it was, to the old social order,” Lam told the rally.

“Today we came to this religious gathering in Wanchai, hoping that the government will respect the law,” he said.

A mainland Chinese visitor at the scene of one protest said he felt privileged to have witnessed an anti-authoritarian movement in Hong Kong at first hand.

The ruling Chinese Communist Party’s state-run media have consistently depicted the anti-extradition movement as a violent separatist movement fueled by a “small minority of radical protesters” backed by foreign powers.

“[It’s like] they have some kind of freedom DNA in their bones,” he said. “I really don’t get the impression they want to secede from China: they are fighting for freedom and democracy, and for the protection of human rights.”

“That’s why they have to come out onto the streets: the government hasn’t given a positive response to any of their demands,” he said.

More than 30 people were admitted to hospital, eight of whom were admitted and were in a stable condition following the clashes, government broadcaster RTHK reported.

The protests came after police banned a planned march along a specified route, which was to have marked the fifth anniversary of a decree from Beijing that Hong Kong election candidates would have to be screened by a Beijing-backed committee before standing in elections to the Legislative Council or for the chief executive.

The Aug. 31, 2014 decree by the standing committee of the National People’s Congress (NPC) sparked the 79-day Occupy Central movement for fully democratic elections, which called for genuine universal suffrage.

The anti-extradition protesters are calling for the formal withdrawal of planned amendments to extradition laws, an amnesty for arrested protesters, an end to the description of protesters as rioters, an independent inquiry into police abuse of power, and fully democratic elections.

The amendments to existing extradition laws are widely seen as a 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 be targeted for words and actions deemed illegal by the ruling Chinese Communist Party, and extradited to face trial in mainland Chinese courts.