Hong Kong's Long Fight
Updated: May 16, 2020
The most recent protests in Hong Kong started in March of 2019. With a long history behind them, these have become the largest protests Hong Kong has ever seen. Hong Kong was once a British colony, but was handed back to China in 1997. In order to aid the colony’s assimilation into Chinese communism, a one-country two-party system was created. This system allows Hong Kong to have rights such as freedom of speech, as well as the allocation of their own currency, legislation, and court system. This structure is to remain in effect until 2047, after which Hong Kong will be fully under China’s rule. There are five major demands protesters are asking for, including the withdrawal of the extradition bill, retraction of the protests characterized as "riots,” an independent investigation into police conduct and brutality, and the resignation of Hong Kong’s chief executive, Carrie Lam.
On February 17th, 2018, nineteen year old Hong Kong citizen, Chan Tong-kai, murdered his girlfriend Poon Hiu-wing. This murder sparked the series of recent protests. Because the murder was committed in Taiwan, he could not be prosecuted for murder in Hong Kong; he was merely charged for money laundering after using his girlfriend’s credit card. Carrie Lam claimed that an extradition bill was needed to prosecute Chan Tong-kai. The bill would allow people who are citizens of countries or territories, like Hong Kong or Taiwan, to be transferred and prosecuted in mainland China, under the communist ruling. This bill worried protestors and skeptics because it can be used to prosecute activists or politicians who oppose communism and support democracy, thus dissolving the thin barrier of protection Hong Kong holds against communism.
Several previous events have led to the high tensions between Hong Kong and China. The first occurred in 2014, known as the “Umbrella Movement." Under the one-country two-party system, China was made responsible for electing the Chief Executive of Hong Kong until the year 2017, after which point Hong Kongers would receive a democratic election system. That year, China reinterpreted this agreement and stated that, while the civilians of Hong Kong can vote for a Chief Executive, the candidates must be approved by a pro-Beijing committee. Hong Kong citizens felt this was a violation of their human rights and that the Chinese government went back on their promise of democracy. Protestors took to the streets, defending themselves against tear gas with umbrellas--thus coining the movement's name. The protests that are currently happening are a continuation of the Umbrella Movement and the struggle of Hong Kongers to undergo free elections. In 2016, four pro-democracy lawmakers in Hong Kong were disqualified for modifying their oath of allegiance to China. Bookstore owner Lam Wing-Kee (1 of 5 booksellers) was abducted, only to reappear in China months later. He states that he was kidnapped and interrogated for selling banned books and was forced into a confession on Chinese television. These cases have contributed to the fear of the extradition bill and overreach by the Chinese government.
While the bill that sparked the protests has been overturned, the protests remain because people fear the potential state of Hong Kong after the current system ends in 2047. Colleges have been popular settings for protests, as younger generations take action to assert control over their future. During these protests, police have come under fire for their violent treatment of peaceful protestors. This includes beating, torturing, sexually assaulting, and using unnecessary force on protestors, as well as refusing to show identification when asked by citizens. The Chinese government has also failed to acknowledge and condemn these actions. One man, who was arrested, told Amnesty International, “Immediately I was beaten to the ground. Three of them got on me and pressed my face hard to the ground. A second later, they kicked my face; everything I had on my face, including my glasses, flew off. The same three STU kept putting pressure on my body. I started to have difficulty breathing, and I felt severe pain in my left ribcage. They said to me, 'Just shut up, stop making noise. You came out; you’re a hero, right?'" He spent two days in the hospital and was diagnosed with a fractured rib and other injuries, according to medical records reported by Amnesty International.
Some social media platforms have become incredibly useful in promoting the protests, especially Twitter. Protestors have used the platforms to publicize police brutality and bring awareness to their cause. By using the hashtags, #HongKongPoliceBrutality and #HongKongPoliceTerrorism, protestors have been able to keep track of accounts of police brutality and use them to gain international attention. A man who goes by Chronicler told The Nation that, “The main purpose of documenting and preserving the database is that it will show the world what we Hong Kongers are confronting, thereby securing sympathy and assistance from the international community…and to keep a comprehensive historical record of our revolution so that we, and our future generations, will never forget the heavy price we are paying for freedom, democracy, and justice.”
Democracy will provide Hong Kongers with the free elections they have been denied. With these free elections, officials would better represent the values and morals that they hold, and be able to hold police accountable for their actions. Hong Kong has made strides in political change, but there is still more to fight for. By continuing to document and increase awareness, protesters can gain support from other countries and human rights activists. With international support, real change can continue, and their voices can be heard.