Hong Kong protesters take over park and roads to support US democracy act
Hong Kong protesters fill Chater Garden and spill onto nearby roads in Central, calling for United States to pass democracy act
Rally was first to have secured police go-ahead after anti-mask law took effect on October 5.
Hong Kong Human Rights and Democracy Act is expected to be put to vote in the US as soon as Wednesday morning.
Tens of thousands of Hong Kong protesters – some waving American flags – filled a downtown park and spilled onto nearby roads on Monday evening, urging US congressmen to pass a bill that would sanction and penalise Chinese and Hong Kong officials deemed to have acted against the city’s democratic freedoms.
But the atmosphere turned tense as dozens of radical anti-government protesters later took over main roads, setting up barricades to block traffic and confronting riot police.
At one point, police pointed their guns in the direction of demonstrators, demanding they disperse, while protesters responded by aiming laser pointers at officers. At least one black-clad man was seen being subdued by police inside Central MTR station. At 10pm, the MTR Corporation announced the temporary suspension of Airport Express services because of incidents in Central.
Around 10.30pm, riot police took dispersal action and subdued at least one protester near the GPO building.
The rally was the first to have secured a police go-ahead after the newly imposed anti-mask law – a measure to quell the worsening violent protests in recent months – took effect on October 5.
Organisers warned participants in advance of the possible legal risks they faced if they breached the tough law. And the crowd, comprising mainly young people, largely took no chances, with only a handful wearing surgical masks.
The organisers, Rally for Hong Kong Human Rights and Democracy Act Organising Committee, said 130,000 people attended. They had expected a turnout of about 2,000. Police put the figure at 25,000 at the peak of the rally.
Contrary to the violence on streets over the weekend that saw mobs assaulting protesters and hurling petrol bombs at police stations and MTR stations, in general protesters attending Monday’s rally took a more festive approach.
They sang pop and protest songs while intermittently chanting anti-government slogans. They cheered for the US – as a “protector of freedom” and “regulator of world order” – to pass tougher laws against Hong Kong.
Activists and opposition lawmakers, including Joshua Wong Chi-fung and Civic Party’s Dennis Kwok, took to the stage to address the crowds.
Wong said: “We hope other US allies will follow suit and make laws to sanction Hong Kong officials for suppressing democracy here.”
A spokesman for the organiser said: “Our rally is to urge US congressmen to pass the Hong Kong Human Rights and Democracy Act. We also want to show them our stance on freedom.
“Resistance has become a part of Hong Kong’s daily life. Hongkongers are not afraid and will continue to come out to fight for our rights and freedoms.”
The rally concluded after two hours, with participants singing the US national anthem, The Star-Spangled Banner.
The bill was expected to be put to vote as soon as Wednesday morning in Hong Kong. If the bill is passed in the lower house, it will need to pass the senate and then be signed by US President Donald Trump to become law. The act could pave the way for diplomatic action and economic sanctions against the city’s government.
Among other things, the act also seeks to allow those who have taken part in pro-democracy protests in Hong Kong to get travel visas to the US despite “adverse government action” against them, including arrest and detention.
In a statement, a Hong Kong government spokesman expressed regret over the assembly.
“Since the return to the motherland, the [Hong Kong government] has been exercising ‘Hong Kong people administering Hong Kong’ and a high degree of autonomy in strict accordance with the Basic Law,” the spokesman said.
“The ‘one country, two systems’ principle has been fully and successfully implemented. Human rights and freedoms in Hong Kong are fully protected by the Basic Law, the Hong Kong Bill of Rights Ordinance and other legislation. The [Hong Kong government] attaches great importance to them and is determined to safeguard them.”
The spokesman reiterated that foreign legislatures should not interfere in any form in Hong Kong’s internal affairs.
Half an hour before the rally started at 7pm, crowds already packed Chater Garden and spilled out onto the roads around the park in Central district. Riot police were on guard.
Most protesters appeared to have just gone after work. Before the rally started, the organisers called for a minute of silence for those who have been injured or committed suicide during the past four months.