Hundreds gather near HK Legco a day before second reading of extradition bill, as tensions with police rise

13-Jun-2019 Intellasia | South China Morning Post | 6:00 AM Print This Post

Two days after clashes between protesters and police outside the Hong Kong government’s headquarters, hundreds have returned to the same grounds in opposition against the controversial extradition bill.

On Tuesday night, tensions were running high ahead of a Wednesday legislative session at which lawmakers would consider amendments that sparked a mass protest over the weekend in which hundreds of thousands marched.

The entrance to the Legislative Council was barricaded and the force had thrown a security blanket around the building.

At Admiralty MTR station, dozens of police officers were seen stopping passers-by and searching their bags. Many reacted angrily, saying police had abused their power.

 (South China Morning Post)

(South China Morning Post)

At one point, protesters at the station, which is near government buildings and the legislature, chanted at officers: “Apologise, apologise!”

They said police had no reason for such a heavy presence and that officers should not be randomly searching people’s bags. Civic Party lawmaker Alvin Yeung Ngok-kiu, who was at the station to confront police, said there were no grounds for six to seven officers to search one passer-by. Many of those stopped were teenagers, he said.

An officer said the force was aware of the coming protests at Legco and they were doing their job to ensure public safety.

“We are doing this to help ensure that you can have assemblies here peacefully,” he said. “Hong Kong laws state that officers have the power to search people’s bags if police think they are suspicious.”

He also said the searches were necessary because of the clashes that occurred after Sunday’s march, which 1.03 million people had attended, according to organisers. The force estimated the crowd peaked at 240,000.

Protesters were voicing their anger at the government’s proposed bill, which would allow the transfer of fugitives to jurisdictions with which Hong Kong has no extradition deal, including mainland China.

Late into Tuesday night, at Tamar Park, near the legislature, a large crowd of mostly young people had gathered. Some brought along plastic sheets to join an online call for the public to “picnic” in the park.

The assembly was not organised by any groups and so no official turnout was available. The Post estimated the crowd had grown to about 2,000 by the early hours of Wednesday.

There was no chanting of slogans, and the assembly remained largely peaceful with occasional verbal jousts between police and protesters.

Students and other youths were also delivering masks, water and raincoats, but stressed they had done so on their own initiative. Some said they would stay in Admiralty as long as possible, because they might not be able to join the protest the following day.

Louis Tam, 23, who was passing out masks, said he did not favour violence but the government should listen to the people.

“I don’t support violence, I support peaceful means,” Tam said, referring to the clashes after Sunday’s rally. “But I will try my best to help those peaceful protesters.”

Construction worker Samuel Chan, 34, was in the park after a 10-hour shift on a building site.

“I am here to see and support others. We need a large turnout tonight to pressure the government into listening to us,” he said. “The government needs to understand that 1.03 million took to the streets and that’s not a small number.”

He planned to stay until morning and head straight to work.

Mainland graduate student Michael Zhang felt compelled to lend his support to Hongkongers.

“Hong Kong is a semi-democratic regime with high liberty,” Zhang said.

“That liberty is taken for granted, but now the government is taking that away and that’s hard to swallow, as it’s creating a chilling effect to people.”

After midnight, the Legco Secretariat announced an amber alert had been issued meaning all public services at the complex were suspended about 30 riot police entered the building as part of the force’s security measures. Some carried large boxes with the labels “corrosive” and “explosive”.

Meanwhile, outside government headquarters, about 1,000 people, many of them church-goers, gathered to sing religious songs and pray.

The event was headed by Reverend Yuen Tin-yau, who led attendees in making a declaration urging officials to shelve the bill.

“We urge top-ranking officials, especially when many of them are our brothers and sisters under God, to genuinely reflect why Hong Kong is so torn,” the crowd chanted.

A church-goer who did not want to be named said people were not sure if they could gain access to the area tomorrow to protest. “People cherish every chance to gather and voice their opinions.”

Icarus Wong from the Civil Rights Observer, an INGO, questioned if police were violating protocol.

“The Police general Orders have stated they can only stop and search people if officers have reasonable suspicion that the individual is about to commit a crime,” Wong said. “Police must explain their grounds for suspicion.”

Wong added that otherwise, officers could be in violation of the freedom of assembly.

Chris Yeung Kin-hing, chair of the Hong Kong Journalists Association said he had on Monday expressed concern about police searching the bag of a journalist in an earlier incident.

He called the move “deeply regrettable”.

“Police should exercise their power with restraint and common sense,” Yeung said. “Abuse of power would give rise to worries that officers are trying to scare reporters, or cause hindrance to the work of journalists.”

Legco is in a de facto lockdown with a protest area outside the building shut down.

Part of the Tamar Park lawn, which saw some violent confrontations between police and protesters after Sunday’s mass march, was also closed for maintenance.

Wednesday’s showdown comes as students, bus drivers, social workers and teachers vowed to stage protests, with businesses allowing employees time off to join the events.

Despite mounting pressure, Chief Executive Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor has stood her ground, maintaining earlier on Tuesday that the government would go ahead with the proposal to pass the bill as soon as possible.



Category: Hong Kong

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