Hong Kong (AFP) – Hundreds gathered outside the government headquarters in Hong Kong Thursday to mark the third anniversary of mass pro-democracy rallies known as the Umbrella Movement, as fears grow over Beijing’s tightening grip on the city.
Tens of thousands blocked major thoroughfares in the city for 79 days starting September 28, 2014 to call for fully free leadership elections in the city, in a movement spearheaded by student leaders who have since been jailed for their involvement.
Hundreds of people raised yellow umbrellas at 5:58pm (0958 GMT) Thursday as smoke was generated from a machine, to mark the time when police fired teargas at protesters, and audio recordings from three years ago were played on speakers.
“I want universal suffrage, civil disobedience!” crowds shouted.
“There’s more younger people coming out, it’s a good thing,” Anthony Kwok, 52, who attended the event told AFP.
“We must be unified in our next step forward,” Kwok, a part-time bartender said.
“In the past years the government propaganda machine has been in overdrive, I don’t want my son to only hear one side of the argument,” Carmen Yu, 47, who attended Thursday’s rally with her child, told AFP.
Crowds also applauded the jailed student leaders.
The face of the movement Joshua Wong, former lawmaker Nathan Law and fellow protest leader Alex Chow were sent to prison in August for their leading role in the initial protest that sparked the Umbrella Movement.
Their jailing has been slammed by international rights groups and politicians and has prompted accusations that the independence of Hong Kong’s courts has been compromised under pressure from Beijing.
“Being locked up is an inevitable part of our long, exhausting path to democracy,” Joshua Wong wrote from prison for The Guardian newspaper.
“In the past, when we spoke of political detainees under the Chinese Communist party, we were referring to dissidents in mainland China. Yet as Hong Kong ushers in a heightened authoritarian era, to advocate human rights is to risk becoming a political detainee. This is the new normal,” Wong added.
Amnesty International said Hong Kong authorities must end prosecutions which were aimed at having a “chilling effect” on the freedom of speech in the city.
The government has vehemently denied there was political interference in the decision by the Court of Appeal to overturn previous non-custodial terms for Wong, Law and Chow.
The court jailed them for six to eight months after a sentencing review brought by the department of justice.