Hong Kong’s anti-government protest started in June against plans to allow extradition to mainland China. The extradition bill which triggered the very first protest was introduced in April. It would have let criminal suspects to be deported to mainland China under certain circumstances. Opponents said this put the Hongkongers at risk to unfair trials and violent treatment. Critics feared this could erode judicial independence and endanger dissidents. They also argued the bill would give China greater authority over Hong Kong and could be used to target activists and journalists. A large number of people gathered on the street in opposition. After weeks of protests, leader Carrie Lam ultimately said the bill would be suspended sine die.
HOW DID THE SITUATION ESCALATE?
Protesters feared the bill could be reintroduced, so demonstrations persisted, calling for it to be withdrawn completely. By then clashes between police and protesters had become more incessant and violent. In September, the bill was finally extracted, but protesters said this was “too little, too late”. On 1 October, while China was commemorating 70 years of Communist Party rule, Hong Kong went through one of it’s most “violent and chaotic days.” An 18-year-old was shot in the chest with a live bullet as protesters grappled officers with poles, petrol bombs and other projectiles. The government then prohibited protesters wearing face masks, and in early November a pro Beijing lawmaker was knifed in the street by a man pretending to be a supporter. A week later, a policeman shot one protester at spitting distance when activists were trying to set up a road block. Later that day another man was set on fire by anti-government demonstrators. In November, a standoff between police and students barricaded on the campus of Hong Kong’s Polytechnic University became another defining juncture. Later that month, the territory held local council elections that were seen as a barometer of public viewpoint. The vote saw a grand slam victory for the pro-democracy movement, with 17 of the 18 councils now controlled by pro-democracy councillors.
WHAT DO PROTESTERS WANT?
Some protesters have taken up the motto: “Five demands, not one less!” These are:
- For the demonstrators not to be characterized as a “riot”
- Pardon for arrested protesters
- An independent inquiry into asserted police brutality
- Implementation of complete universal franchise
The fifth demand, the extraction of the bill, has already been met. Protests in favor of the Hong Kong movement have spread across the globe, with rallies taking place in the UK, France, US, Canada and Australia. In many cases, people supporting the protesters were confronted by pro-Beijing rallies. Chinese president Xi Jinping has forewarned against separatism, saying any attempt to divide China would end in “bodies smashed and bones ground to powder”.
WHAT IS HONG KONG’S STATUS?
Hong Kong is an erstwhile British colony handed back to China in 1997. It has its own judiciary and a independent legal system from mainland China. Those rights comprise freedom of assembly and freedom of speech. But those freedoms – the Basic Law – lapse in 2047 and it is not clear what Hong Kong’s status will then be.