The Civil Human Rights Front (CHRF), the group organizing protests against a proposed extradition law in Hong Kong, announced that nearly 2 million people attended protests on Sunday, the largest recorded assembly in the history of Hong Kong, according to the Hong Kong Free Press (HKFP).
The figure is even more impressive given that the protest occurred after Hong Kong chief executive Carrie Lam issued a formal government apology, through a statement from the government written in the third person, and assured those concerned in Hong Kong that the legislature would table the extradition bill.
“The chief executive apologises to the public, and promises that [she] will accept criticism in the most sincere and humble way,” the government statement read.
Sunday’s protesters rejected the apology and demanded Lam’s resignation and an irreversible end to the extradition bill.
The CHRF called Lam’s apology a “total insult” and vowed to continue protesting until the legislature dismisses the bill entirely. Tabling the bill makes it possible for the legislature to pick it up and pass it again at any time, a concern many protesters expressed.
“Facing such public rage, Carrie Lam simply makes apology through a press release, for ‘the inadequate work of the government’ but not for pushing to pass the bill or police’s crackdown on protesters,” the group said in their response. “She even stressed that she would continue to serve the citizens. This is a total insult to and fooling the people who took to the street! Hong Konger will not accept this!”
The protesters spent Sunday marching a two-mile route from Victoria Park to the offices of Hong Kong’s government, blocking the city’s major roads and surrounding the political offices. The peaceful crowd split only to allow an ambulance to pass by, creating stunning images from the heart of the city.
The 2 million people who congregated wore black in honor of the only fatality in the protests so far: a 35-year-old man who died falling off of a scaffolding where he had climbed to put up a banner reading “Make Love. No Shoot! No extradition to China.” Protesters also held flowers and, once the sun fell, candles in his honor.
Police identified the man only as “Leung” and ruled his death a suicide.
The CHRF’s official figure for the protests was “almost two million plus one,” including Leung.
Hong Kong is part of China under a policy called “one country, two systems,” which, in theory, allows Hong Kong to remain free of Communist Party rule but China to use its People’s Liberation Army (PLA) to protect from foreign invasion. Protesters, a million of which gathered last week when Lam vowed nothing would stop the extradition bill, expressed concern that such a law would bring communist rule to Hong Kong and crush the city’s longstanding liberal democracy.
The extradition bill, if passed, would require Hong Kong to extradite individuals indicted on charges of breaking Chinese Communist law. China severely restricts freedom of speech and religion and considers government criticism and private worship crimes. Student protesters, for example, have expressed worries that they could be arrested and extradited if they criticized the Communist Party in a college classroom. The Hong Kong government has not directly guaranteed that this would not occur.
Sunday’s protests were a larger repeat of those occurring last weekend, which attracted over 1 million people, organizers said. At the time, the Hong Kong government insisted it would not cede to the protesters and table the bill. The people returned to the streets on Wednesday, following Carrie Lam’s remarks that the bill would go forward. Many condemned her statement that she could not give in to the protests because she was Hong Kong’s “mother,” and spoiling her “child” would do the people a disservice.
Wednesday’s protests ended violently, as Hong Kong police began shooting rubber bullets, pepper spray, and tear gas at protesters and using batons to beat them off the streets. Some opposition politicians condemned the violence and the Junior Police Officers’ Association, according to a letter obtained by the South China Morning Post, is growing concerned about individual police officers facing rejection from locals in their daily lives.
“We are silently facing rioters’ pointing fingers, humiliation, attacks and their endless quest for revenge,” chairman Lam Chi-wai reportedly wrote in the letter.
“We lamented lies flying around that the police dispersed bare-handed students.”
Lam blamed the injuries from the protests on protesters, and not the violent acts of the police, adding to the outrage.
“As a responsible government, we have to maintain law and order on the one hand, and evaluate the situation for the greatest interest of Hong Kong, including restoring calmness in society as soon as possible and avoiding any more injuries to law enforcement officers and citizens,” she said last week.
As tabling the bill did not prove sufficient to stop the protests, the government appeared to throw another olive branch the protesters’ way on Monday with the release of anti-China protest leader Joshua Wong, a major figure in the 2014 Umbrella Movement protests. Wong’s first public statement was a tweet calling for Lam to resign.
Hello world and hello freedom. I have just been released from prison. GO HONG KONG!! Withdraw the extradition bill. Carrie Lam step down. Drop all political prosecutions!
— Joshua Wong 黃之鋒 (@joshuawongcf) June 17, 2019
“Why did Carrie Lam need to wait to suspend the bill until 1 million people came to the streets? It’s because she’s not elected by the people of Hong Kong,” Wong said upon his release. “It’s time for her to step down.”