Thousands of people took to the streets of Hong Kong on Monday in protest over a recent decision from Beijing that many say has made a nonsense of the city’s planned autonomy, and the disqualification of directly elected six pro-democracy lawmakers.
Carrying banners that read “Protect Hong Kong!” the protesters marched through the downtown area to Civic Square, a controversial space only recently reopened in the wake of the 2014 pro-democracy movement.
“We are here to tell the government that we will not give up,” Joshua Wong, a former student leader of the 2014 Occupy Central movement, told the crowd.
“We … encountered many difficulties last year, including some of us being sued and jailed, but we will stand with Hong Kong people. We will fight for the rule of law, fight for Hong Kong, fight for the future, fight for the next generations,” said Wong, who was sentenced to jail for the storming of Civic Square last August, and who is currently on bail pending appeal.
Last week, Beijing’s rubber-stamp parliament, the National People’s Congress (NPC), said it would extend Beijing’s authority to part of a high-speed railway station linking the former British colony to the rest of China’s high-speed rail network.
But critics say the move, which is intended to enable a streamlined entry and exit process for passengers, makes a mockery of the city’s status as a separate immigration, policing, and customs jurisdiction.
A protester surnamed Wong told RFA that the NPC’s decision had overridden agreements made ahead of the 1997 handover to Chinese rule.
“I don’t think that the one country, two systems arrangement can be saved now,” Wong said. “Various comments [coming out of Beijing] have made it clear that the national constitution overrides [Hong Kong’s mini-constitution,] the Basic Law.”
“We haven’t even gotten halfway through the 50 year-period during which nothing was supposed to change in Hong Kong, and we’re already seen it turn into one country, one system,” he said.
‘Step after step of encroachment’
A second protester surnamed Leung said she felt she had to turn out to show the city’s government the depth of public anger at recent developments in Hong Kong.
“We feel very angry at the interference that Hong Kong is currently getting from Beijing, including the co-location checkpoint arrangement and the way their word is law with no regard for the rule of law,” Leung said.
“Now we are seeing step after step of encroachment on Hong Kong’s autonomy, and this protest is to show the mainland and Hong Kong governments how unhappy we are about that,” she said.
The city’s legal profession and pro-democracy politicians have also slammed the “co-location” arrangement as unconstitutional, but pro-Beijing politicians and government officials have said the decision will stand, and that new laws will be tabled this month in the Legislative Council (LegCo) to implement the ruling.
Recent high-profile interventions by the NPC have also triggered a series of court decisions resulting in the loss of six pro-democracy seats in LegCo, meaning that the plan is unlikely to meet with effective opposition once tabled.
Protest leader and Civil Human Rights Front convenor Sammy Ip said the theme “Protect Hong Kong” had been chosen to reflect concerns that the city’s traditional freedoms and promised autonomy are being eroded by the ruling Chinese Communist Party.
“The co-location checkpoint, the stripping of legislative office, political suppression [are all of concern],” Ip said. “The people of Hong Kong probably thought that the lawmakers they voted for would be the ones to deal with these issues, but now those LegCo members can’t hold their positions.”
Ip said NPC standing committee deputy chairman Li Fei, who announced that the decision is Beijing’s final word on the controversy, had managed to “override the Basic Law,” the city’s mini-constitution, with a single blow.
“This should be reminder to the people of Hong Kong,” he said. “You may think that such things aren’t so close to home, but you could find one day, when you come to go through that checkpoint, that you have lost some of your rights.”
Reported by Lam Kwok-lap for RFA’s Cantonese Service. Translated and edited by Luisetta Mudie.