Children of Hong Kong to Boycott Class as Pro-Democracy Activists Arrested

Students from universities and schools in Hong Kong are to take part in a class boycott in September, following weeks of protests in the city against the Government’s planned extradition bill. The boycott follows the news that prominent pro-democracy campaigners including Joshua Wong and Agnes Chow were arrested on Friday 30 August in what appears to be a government crackdown.

Reports suggest that up to 10,000 students from around 200 schools could boycott classes at the beginning of next week. 10 universities are also due to take part in the walk outs, set to commence on September 2. A joint statement released on Friday from Secondary School Student Organizations and Students’ Unions of Higher Institutions outlined the motives behind the boycott:

“How is it possible, when the Government brutally tears Hong Kong apart and turns every street and district into battlefields, for us to sit down at our desks in school like nothing happened?”

“We call for the participation of all secondary school students and students of higher institutions in the upcoming class boycott starting on 2 September. Hong Kong is no longer what it was; students will not be willing to be the puppets of the Government that go to school every day as if nothing happened.”

The statement was released hours after prominent pro-democracy campaigners and members of the ‘Demosisto’ group Joshua Wong and Agnes Chow were both arrested and charged with inciting unlawful assembly for demonstrations that took place in the city on 21 June. Both have since been released on bail at HK$10,000. The case has been adjourned until November.

Moreover, reports surfaced on Wednesday that Ivan Lam, Chairman of the Demosisto group and one of the principal organizers of the upcoming student walkouts, has been charged, but not arrested due to currently being outside of Hong Kong.

Independence campaigner Andy Chan was also detained on Thursday evening while attempting to board a flight to Japan, and Former HKU Student Union President Althea Suen has been arrested and charged with conspiracy to destroy or damage property and entering the precincts of Legislative Chamber, following the storming of the building on July 1. At the time, the move sparked a heavy counter-reaction from police authorities, with pepper spray and rubber bullets having been deployed against protestors since then. Following Friday’s arrests, a protest scheduled for Saturday which had been organised by the Civil Human Rights Front, has now been cancelled due to public safety concerns, according to police authorities.

Meanwhile, in a dramatic twist in tensions between Hong Kong and Beijing, reports have surfaced of talks between Hong Kong Chief Executive Carrie Lam and the Chinese central government – in which Lam allegedly proposed that the controversial extradition bill be withdrawn in order to appease the protestors. Reuters reports that the Chinese central government refused to take Lam’s advice. On Friday, a Hong Kong Government spokesperson declined InsideOver’s request to confirm the reports.

The recent arrests involving specific individuals central to the pro-democracy cause in Hong Kong may give momentum to next week’s class boycotts, which will involve students skipping classes once a week to join rallies at schools over the city.

Young people in Hong Kong have become increasingly mobilized in political protests over recent years. In 2012, following a proposal by the Hong Kong government to introduce educational reforms that would bring the teaching curricula in the city closer to that of mainland China, a new group emerged – with Joshua Wong, Anges Chow and Ivan Lam all featuring with prominent roles in the group.

This collective, known as ‘Scholarism’ organized a series of demonstrations and managed to mobilize the student community in Hong Kong. The group managed to force the government to retract the reform plans and used the momentum to take them into the so- called ‘Umbrella revolution’ of 2014 – a series of uprisings against the Hong Kong government’s plans for electoral reform that would have seen Beijing vet potential Hong Kong leadership candidates.

This time around, protests have been ignited following the presentation of an extradition bill that would have given authorities in the city the right to deport suspected criminals from Hong Kong to China. However, opponents to the bill believe that the measures would have seen many pro-democracy campaigners exposed to the risk of facing deportation.

Meanwhile, on Friday, the EU’s Foreign Affairs Chief, Federica Mogherini condemned the recent developments in Hong Kong as “extremely worrying”.

“We expect the authorities in Hong Kong to respect the freedom of assembly, expression and association as well as the right of people to demonstrate peacefully,” Mogherini said, speaking after a meeting of EU Foreign Ministers in Helsinki.

“We will continue to pass messages publicly and privately and continue to work for the situation not to continue to go into the wrong direction but rather the opposite, to reverse to a more positive trend,” she added.

Joshua Wong has previously called for Europe to assist Hong Kong activists in their fight for democracy, as reports of police brutality become more and more commonplace. The European Parliament adopted a resolution in July that sought to put pressure on authorities in Hong Kong to desist from using force in the quelling of the demonstrations, as well as demand that an independent enquiry take place into the reports of police brutality.