Wednesday, May 27, 2020

Hong Kong Protests Return

300 people were arrested during day-long protests across Hong Kong, as residents railed against controversial legislation aimed at bringing the territory further under Beijing’s control. Police fired pepper-spray bullets crowds as people shouted slogans. Officers stopped and searched residents, including students, and rounded up suspected protesters, forcing them to sit in rows on the ground. Roads around the Legislative Council building, where lawmakers were holding a debate on the anthem law, were blocked off and pedestrian walkways open to only those with work passes. Nearby shops were also closed. 

Thousands of armed police had flooded the streets to stop the planned demonstrations aimed at halting a law criminalising ridicule of China’s national anthem. Opponents say the anthem law could be weaponised against pro-democracy activists and legislators. Under the proposed law “intent to insult” the anthem, such as by changing lyrics or music or singing in a “disrespectful way”, carries financial penalties and jail of up to three years. The March of the Volunteers is the national anthem of the People’s Republic of China, as well as Hong Kong and Macau. Booing of the anthem at Hong Kong football marches has previously embarrassed Beijing.

Police in riot gear stopped and searched mainly young people outside Hong Kong’s MTR railway stations, prompting accusations on social media that the city had become “a police state”.  People were detained in Mong Kok, with at least 180 arrested in Causeway Bay for an unauthorised gatherings and protesters repeatedly charged at in Central and fired at with pepper-spray rounds.

 The protests have been given a fresh urgency with Beijing announcing last week plans to force a sweeping anti-sedition law on Hong Kong. Protest organisers on social media urged people to “be water” and keep moving throughout the city, but acknowledged it would be difficult to stop the anthem debate without high risk of arrest. The crowds remained chanting: “Hong Hong independence, it’s the only way.”

“But you can at least make a statement,” said one post. 

“Of course I need to make my voice heard. They’re forcing this upon us and we can’t fight against them,” said Mrs Lam, 74. 

A 73-year-old woman who gave the surname Cheung said she swam to Hong Kong from China to “escape the dictatorial rule of the CCP [Chinese Communist party]” when she was 15. “The Communist party is not trustworthy,” she said. “When they say you’re guilty then you’re guilty. Is there still ‘one country, two systems’? Of course we need to fight.”

“I’ve come for something I care deeply about – ultimately it’s freedom,” said a 40-year-old lawyer who wished to remain anonymous, citing the national security laws, Beijing encroachment, and a recent report clearing police of wrongdoing. “If we keep quiet, they can get away with it. I don’t think we can change things but need to make sure our voices are heard.”

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