A proposed bill in Hong Kong that will allow the extradition of offenders to China has been met with unprecedented opposition.
Protests have taken place ahead of the vote in Hong Kong’s Legislative Council, mobilising up to one million people.
Historic protest action on June 9 was followed by a strike and more protests on June 12. This latest action, which ended with police violence outside the Legislative Council building, was initiated by the Hong Kong Confederation of Trade Unions (HKCTU).
Police fired rubber bullets, bean bag rounds and tear gas, and used batons against protesters. Responding to the violence, the HKCTU issued a statement on social media, saying: “The government has ignored a million people in Hong Kong and has contributed to the situation today, and the CTU condemned the police for using violence and asked [HK CEO Carrie Lam] to withdraw the draconian law. Hong Kong people will not give up and continue to fight.”
Green Left Weekly’s Susan Price spoke to Rena Lau, a Hong-Kong based activist, who attended the protests.
How bad was the police violence on June 12?
The violent suppression by the police against protesters started around 3pm. Police were permitted to use tear gas, rubber bullets and pepper spray [against the people] into the night.
The police were inhuman and ruthless in hurting people — who were only armed with umbrellas, eye masks and face masks. [Protesters] were bombed with numerous tear gas canisters ... [just] for wanting to occupy the Legislative Council in order to stop the legislative process.
It was much worse than during the Umbrella movement.
Can you tell us what the atmosphere was like on June 9?
The protest on June 9 was the largest ever after the return of Hong Kong to China. The people were disciplined, peaceful and all of one mind.
People wanted to tell the Hong Kong and the Chinese governments that Hong Kongers are very persistent against the extradition law [and demanded] to stop the legislation immediately. Some people also expressed their desire to ask the Chief Executive [Carrie Lam] to step down.
On the night of June 9, many young people were arrested by the police. These young people were very angry and thought — very similarly to the later period of the Umbrella movement … that the government won’t be changed if people leave after the march, no matter how many people were there. [They believed] it was necessary to be more radical. Due to the lack of organising and tactics and [the fact that] these people were new to action, they failed quickly.
Many emotions and discussion arose after their arrests. We still need to think of new tactics to tackle these conflicts among people. However, the discussions are more rational than that in the past.
Are there similarities with the 2014 ‘Umbrella’ movement?
The protest was quite different from the Umbrella movement … [which] was aimed at the occupation. The trigger point of the mass strike was the arrest of students as well as the use of tear gas by the police.
The appeal by the demonstrators on June 9 was more specific and simple. It was “no extradition to China” … I think the protest of [June 9] was closer to the rally in 2003 against Article 23, which is the legislation [concerning] national security law in Hong Kong.
One similar thing with the Umbrella movement is that many people joined the protest [for the first time, including] many students. More than 300 schools launched petitions and some secondary schools organised their students and alumni to join the protest.
Also, I believe that many people had participated in the occupation of 2014, and they [were] on the scene to support or occupy.
Did the demands of the protest go beyond scrapping the proposed law? If so, what issues did they take up?
This appeal is absolutely just, legal, reasonable and with people's hearts. The Hong Kong government initially [intended] to amend the extradition bill on the [basis of a] request for surrender of a Hong Kong suspect in a homicide case in Taiwan. However, both China and Macau are also included in the [proposed] amendment. This is undoubtedly a political consideration.
Although the government has made concessions to the bill, the problem is no one has confidence [in the] Chinese judicial system, especially [in regard] to political dissidents (though the government removed political reasons to extradite from the bill). [Lam] would be [in charge] of the surrender of offenders, but she seems to be easily affected by the central government of China under the current system.
How has Hong Kong politics changed since the 2014 democracy movement?
After the Umbrella movement, freedom of speech and political freedom of the people were tightened very quickly. The elected legislative councillors who supported Hong Kong independence or democratic self-determination were disqualified. Activists involved in the Umbrella movement were sentenced to jail.
The government is continuously introducing policies for integration with China. These policies violate public opinion, for instance, the co-location ordinance for high-speed railway [the Guangzhou-Shenzhen — Hong Kong Express Rail Link], and the policies to cooperate with the Greater Bay Area (a region of 11 cities in Southern China).
Is the left and progressive movement in Hong Kong in a stronger or weaker position right now?
This is very difficult to answer. After the Umbrella movement, democratic political power was dragged apart. The movement entered a long period of low tide.
A month ago, public opinion rebounded again as the government tried to push this evil law. The rebound of public opinion was unexpected for many organisers.
The power of the left-wing has experienced a low tide and partially split. But some new organisations seem to have greater vitality and [with] more organising efforts … I believe the power of the left and progressive movement will be stronger than before.