rotesters in Hong Kong took their message to a new audience on Sunday – mainland Chinese tourists – as coverage of the anti-government movement has been heavily censored by Beijing authorities.
Thousands marched peacefully through popular tourist areas, snarling traffic in main thoroughfares, in the first major demonstration since Monday, when a small group of protesters seized the city’s legislature.
A travelling band sang songs and hit drums, lifting spirits along the roughly two-mile route, and chanting slogans: “Hong Kong people, add oil!” .
Organisers said about 230,000 turned out for the protests, though police said the turnout was 56,000 at its peak. Police arrested six people during the demonstration.
Many chatted with mainland Chinese tourists, explaining freedoms enjoyed in Hong Kong, a former colony whose freedoms are guaranteed in the Sino-British Joint Declaration, an agreement that went into effect when the British handed the territory back to Beijing.
Others detailed why controversy erupted over an extradition proposal that would send suspects to face trial in China, where the ruling Communist Party largely controls the courts.
State media coverage of the protests that have roiled Hong Kong for a month – ending in police spraying tear gas and firing rubber bullets – has been heavily restricted in China, largely focused on condemning demonstrators for engaging in violent clashes with the police.
Beijing authorities have also said little, scolding the UK and other countries that have urged the government to uphold its end of the Joint Declaration for meddling in Chinese affairs. Censors in China routinely heavily control everything from news to movies available inside the mainland.
Waves of people out on the street confounded Chinese tourists, some of whom were visiting Hong Kong for the first time and had never seen a demonstration – ever. “I don’t really understand the issue,” said Miao Yiwen, 20, a university student, who arrived in Hong Kong two days ago and was reading a local newspaper on a street corner half a block from the protests. “When I arrived in Hong Kong, I learned that there would be an event here today, but I don’t get what’s going on. Why is everyone so easily excitable?” she said, as the sound of protesters chanting in unison rose into the air. Another visitor, Summer, 20, said it was “stupid” of Hong Kong people to organise such a demonstration.
“If you do this – have a lot of people to come out to demonstrate – then for sure there will be some unforeseen impacts on the economy, on tourism,” he said, declining to give a surname. He thought it would the demonstrations would leave a bad impression on foreigners, and dissuade others from visiting.
Others were upset their travel plans had been upended - trains going between Hong Kong and mainland China were cancelled Sunday and some tour groups rescheduled their outings. Crowds swelled quickly as more joined along the way, quickly reaching the march’s end point – a high-speed rail station that connects mainland China to Hong Kong.
The rail station itself was a flashpoint when it opened last September – a physical sign of China encroaching on Hong Kong – mainland law applies to the station and passengers must go through Chinese immigration and customs inside. It’s also part of the “Greater Bay Area” plan to better integrate Hong Kong with its neighbouring Chinese cities, feeding unease of those who fear greater mainland presence in the city.
Other changes have been less visible, say residents, with many worried about how a broader crackdown in China against lawyers, activists, journalists and anyone who opposes the government might be felt in Hong Kong as Xi Jinping, the head of the Communist Party, has consolidated power in recent years.
Ever since the pro-democracy protests in 2014 Umbrella Movement ended without any concessions by the government, the political environment has completely changed, said Jasmine Fung, 28. “Even today, people are pretty upset, and pretty disappointed at the government,” said Ms Fung, an office worker.
“People are asking now, ‘if I say this out loud, will I get in trouble?” I can see this loss of freedom of speech.” After much violence over the last month between police and demonstrators, those out on Sunday wanted to keep the peace. The most aggressive behaviour came from a handful of protesters cursing at the police, accusing them of being more committed to protecting the rail line – high barricades and rows of police surrounded the station – than the people.
While Hong Kong’s chief executive, Carrie Lam, has said the extradition bill will be suspended for the time being, protesters have continued to take to the streets to demand the full withdrawal of the bill, Ms Lam’s resignation and for an independent investigation into police brutality.
Protesters plan to keep coming out in force to show the government that they remain united in their demands. More demonstrations are planned for the coming week. “We must protect our freedom, our autonomy,” said Thomas, 25, who declined to give a surname over fears of government backlash. “Otherwise we could lose it overnight.”
سایت تابناک از انتشار نظرات حاوی توهین و افترا و نوشته شده با حروف لاتین (فینگیلیش) معذور است.