After five months, two million protestors, and three thousand injured or arrested persons, the Hong Kong protests still rage on. Started in late March of this year, Hong Kongers began to protest when a new extradition bill was proposed by the Chinese backed Hong Kong government that would allow China to arrest and transport someone to China from Hong Kong, if they believe that they are a criminal. As protests continued, riot police were deployed; using increasingly brutal tactics to quell the rioters and protesters.
In response, five key demands were laid out by the protestors. Unless these demands were to be met, protests would not stop, guaranteed by the Hong Kongers unwillingness to let go of their freedom. The demands included:
Complete removal of the proposed bill allowing extradition from Hong Kong.
The government must no longer label the protests of June 12th as riots.
Release of all arrested protesters unconditionally without any criminal charges being held against them.
An independent investigation into the police force of Hong Kong, on grounds of use of extremely high level of violence without justification.
Resignation of Hong Kong Chief Executive Carrie Lam and the implementation of universal suffrage and democratic elections.
For us to really understand the demands of the protesters and what they are fighting for, we have to look at the history of Hong Kong itself. Up until 1997, Hong Kong was a British owned colony, and was handed over to China with an agreement that Hong Kong would maintain its own government for 50 years after the handoff to protect their own liberties. Ever since then, China has slowly eroded the rights of Hong Kongers. By controlling the Hong Kong government and choosing leaders that strictly support Chinese policymaking, rights that were once protected by the Hong Kong government have been disappearing. Tensions have been high ever since the handoff, with Britain even suggesting to extend citizenship to Hong Kong. However, with Britain embroiled in Brexit, freedom from a Chinese controlled government must instead be achieved through the protestors demand for universal suffrage and democracy.
So far, only one demand has been met-the shelving of the extradition bill. However, despite this, two million protesters, over a fourth of Hong Kong’s population, marched on after the removal of the bill. The need for the other demands only grows as time passes, with the level of police brutality increasing and the number of Hong Kongers arrested or beaten rising. In videos that have surfaced, police members can be seen beating civilians who haven’t done anything wrong. In another, white clad men storming a train station and beating civilians with weapons. Perhaps the worst video yet was of a team of officers forcibly stripping female protesters and carrying them out of sight.
There are accusations of the police members indulging in extreme activities being Chinese-hired soldiers, with instances of them being unable to provide proper police badge identification.. There are also reports of Chinese gangs getting involved after being paid off by the government. The white clad men are known as Triad members, a type of gang not too far from the Italian mafia. Reports of these Triad members showing up have been increasing, which begs the question- Why would Chinese Triads choose to travel to Hong Kong, storm a train station after a protest ended, and beat random, innocent people unconscious?
As Hong Kongers protest, one of their key demands is the removal of Carrie Lam, Chief Executive of Hong Kong. Her position of power is representative of China’s control over Hong Kong, and so her removal would mean the removal of Chinese influence over Hong Kong’s government. She has already responded, revealing that she does not want to stay in office. Intriguingly enough, the government of China, that elects officials to run Hong Kong, is not letting her resign. This news has only enraged protesters further, and the call for her removal has intensified. It has become clear that China controls every aspect of the Hong Kong government- even their ability to leave the office. With the Hong Kong government not able to run properly, many public services are no longer working, the most important of which being schools. Schools across Hong Kong have stayed closed despite summer vacation ending in schools everywhere else. As a result, students and teachers alike are now turning to join the protests en masse. However, until China decides to find a replacement for Carrie Lam or implements democracy as demanded by the protesters, the government of Hong Kong remains at a stand still.
Despite the situation looking dire and dangerous for protesters, they have remained one of the most organized and peaceful groups of protesters in the world. Divided into two, separate and peaceful groups, even the most radical of protesters only commit actions such as disabling of tear gas canisters thrown by police officers or taking down facial recognition camera towers set up by the Chinese government. Although separate, both groups have made an agreement to act together as neither group would be nearly as powerful alone. Protesters have taken to the internet and the Hong Kong airport to spread their message to the outside world, making usage of internet memes and Apple’s AirDrop system to send tourists and internet explorers pamphlets and articles. However, five Hong Kongers so far have taken a far more somber approach to urging their government to change and have committed suicide, leaving behind notes telling Hong Kongers to fight on, and denouncing the Chinese government.
As Hong Kong enters its sixth month of protests, there’s no sign of the protesters slowing down, and no sign of the governments of either Hong Kong or China giving in. However, the Chinese military has increasingly been building up at the border of Hong Kong and China. As Hong Kong fears yet another Tiananmen Square, protesters continue the fight not only for their rights, but for their lives.