HK protesters against extradition bill head to Admiralty as non-cooperation campaign kicks off and Teresa Cheng apologises

22-Jun-2019 Intellasia | South China Morning Post | 6:02 AM Print This Post

Hundreds of people were gathering in Hong Kong’s political centre on Friday morning as part of a citywide campaign of non-cooperation to pile more pressure on the chief executive to fully retract her suspended extradition bill.

The latest show of public displeasure at the bill came as the city’s justice chief became the third senior official to apologise for the government’s handling of the recent crisis.

By 9am, close to 1,000 young protesters, wearing masks and dressed in black, were in Tamar, the Admiralty area home to the city’s legislature and government headquarters, and their numbers were growing.

Elsewhere, police officers were seen patrolling major subway interchanges, such as Kowloon Tong and Admiralty, to guard against disruption.

On Saturday, Chief Executive Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor suspended the bill, which would allow offenders in Hong Kong to be sent to jurisdictions the city has no extradition deal with, including mainland China. That came after a huge march on the north of Hong Kong Island and a demonstration on June 12 which ended in clashes between police and protesters.

While the government had insisted the legal amendments would close legal loopholes, critics said they could lead to unfair prosecutions north of the border.

The bill’s suspension was not enough for student protesters, who announced Friday’s campaign after the government failed to respond to their four demands by the Thursday evening deadline. They had called for the legislation’s full withdrawal; the retraction of references to the June 12 protests as a riot; an investigation into alleged police brutality during the protests; and the dropping of charges against protesters arrested.

The campaign of non-cooperation was expected to involve actions ranging from disrupting roads and public transport to mass picnics in Tamar and near Lam’s residence of government House in Central. Organisers also called for workers to go on strike or work to rule, students to skip class and businesses to close for the day.

Jacky So Chun, president of the Chinese University student union, said 10 student unions would announce their action plan on Friday afternoon, when the crowd had grown.

“We have been discussing this with various pro-democracy groups,” So said. “We will wait until people can at least fill the whole Legco demonstration area.”

He said the student leaders would not start or encourage any violence.

A spokesman for Lam noted on Thursday night the city leader had already apologised for her handling of the extradition saga.

“The chief executive… hopes residents can understand. We also hope residents can express their views peacefully and rationally,” he added.

On Friday morning, Secretary for Justice Teresa Cheng Yeuk-wah broke her silence and issued a written apology over the bill. She joined not only Lam but Secretary for Security John Lee Ka-chiu in saying sorry over the government’s performance.

“I offer my sincere apology to all people of Hong Kong,” Cheng’s statement, on her blog, read.

“We promise to adopt a most sincere and humble attitude to accept criticisms and make improvements in serving the public,” it continued, using the exact same wording as Lam’s apology.

At the protest site, university student Benson Lam rejected Cheng’s show of contrition.

“I would rather all the officials save their apologies and give us a substantial response to our demands instead,” he said.

The 22-year-old insisted all four demands must be met and said it was acceptable to escalate the actions if they were not met. “But I think we should not move in haste if the police don’t move,” he said.

Protesters were relaxing at the site, with no uniformed police in sight in either the Legislative Council’s demonstration area or Tim Mei Avenue. A Legco transport panel meeting was cancelled as protesters blocked the car park.

Student Dicky Chan, 21, arrived at the demonstration area before 7am, waiting to see how things would unfold.

I think it’s okay if people later decide to storm the government premises. Because it has been proved that peace can’t bring us anything

Travis Fong, protester

“I believe the government should meet all of our four demands,” said Chan, who was on sick leave.

But, noting recent history, he was not completely confident that would happen.

“Since the handover in 1997, how many times have we won?” he said.

The campaign prompted the government to shut down its headquarters, citing security reasons, leaving thousands of civil servants working in other offices or from home for the day.

A stylist in her 30s, surnamed Lee, turned up at Admiralty wearing goggles and a helmet early on Friday morning.

“Of course I have to gear up. We have so many hooligans here,” she joked, in derision of the authorities’ previous characterisation of some of the protesters as rioters.

“Have they seen what a riot in a foreign country looks like?” she said. “We did not even burn any tyres.”

She said she wanted the police to “unconditionally release” protesters arrested on June 12. While she had no plan in mind for the day’s action, she would see what others wanted to do.

Travis Fong, 25, had asked for a half-day’s sick leave from the bank he works at to go to Admiralty.

“I will work in the afternoon and come back after work,” he said. “It’s Friday. I worry that the crowd will not be big enough.”

Fong said he joined the sit-in because the government had not answered any of the protesters’ demands. And he was not against the idea of escalation.

“I think it’s okay if people later decide to storm the government premises,” he said.

“Because it has been proved that peace can’t bring us anything.”


Category: Hong Kong

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