The Aftermath of the Hong Kong Protests: the Calm after the Storm?
The recent extradition protests in Hong Kong ended in nothing short of an eruption. What started out as peaceful protests on June 9th escalated into something much more violent.
It all started out when Carrie Lam, Chief Executive of Hong Kong, announced the push of the Fugitive Offenders and Mutual Legal Assistance in Criminal Matters Legislation (Amendment) Bill 2019, which would enable Mainland China to prosecute those in Hong Kong, Taiwan and Macau. Hong Kong currently operates under the “One Country, Two Systems” policy, wherein it maintains its own economic and administrative systems separate to that of China.
The introduction of the Bill would mean that Hong Kong’s legal system would not be its own, rather that of China’s, meaning that the Special Administrative Region would lose a large portion of its own autonomy. This is incredibly important to Hong Kong residents, who identify as Hongkongers, rather than Chinese.
In addition to the loss of autonomy, Hong Kong currently has different laws and bans to China. Many political books that are banned in Mainland China are allowed to be published and sold in Hong Kong. Five staff members of Causeway Bay Books, one such Hong Kong based book store selling political books, disappeared in 2015, two of whom were last seen in the Mainland. Some see the extradition bill an extension of this, claiming it enables “legalised kidnapping” of those that China views as breaking the law.
Many are opposed to the bill for a variety of reasons. This was demonstrated when over a million people showed up to peacefully protest on June 9th. MTR stations were closed down to control the crowds, and police opened up roads after protesters climbed over metal barricades to reduce the overly cramped conditions that the crowd was packed into.
The night of June 9th saw a turn away from peace, when some protesters attempted to occupy streets overnight. The Hong Kong Government announced that the bill would still be read three nights later, despite the protests, leading to a stand-off between civilians and police force. Frustrated demonstrators threw bottles and metal barriers at police, who retaliated with batons and pepper spray. The stand-off ended around 3am, with many injured and 19 protesters arrested.
The protests resumed shortly after, coming to a head on June 12th, the day of the proposed reading of the bill. Some came in peace. Others came willing to do anything to be heard. One 20 year old protestor, who asked not to be named for fear of governmental retaliation, told InsideOver: “The youthful generation is desperate. We no longer trust the establishment. We believe that peaceful means are certainly futile, as the government has been targeting young political participants in various ways.”
The police fired tear gas, rubber bullets and smoke bombs at the protestors, a large portion of whom were under 25. The protestors armed themselves with umbrellas, face masks and goggles to protect themselves from the barrage. Sixty two people between the ages of 15 and 66 were injured in the violence, including two men who are said to be in critical condition.
Many are calling the reaction from police forces police brutality, as videos are circulating on the internet of unarmed individuals being wounded. One video shows a sole man being beaten with batons by a large group of policemen, while another shows an individual being blasted by a water cannon.
The Hong Kong government have labelled the protests as a “riot”, which is the first time the term has been used to describe demonstrations since the 1967 leftist riots. The reading of the extradition bill has been delayed, but BBC News reports that the government has not backed down.
Despite the chaos and uncertainty of the future, protesters are determined to continue in the fight against the bill. InsideOver is told: “We’ve lost patience and will strike back in whatever way we can. The government and those in power must pay the price of discarding the younger generation.”