BY ALEJANDRA O’CONNELL-DOMENECH | More than 100 Hong Kong ex-pats and allies gathered across the West Side Highway from the Consulate General of the People’s Republic of China in Midtown to protest in solidarity with Hong Kongers on Saturday afternoon.
Saturday marked the tenth weekend of protests in Hong Kong. On June 9, nearly 1 million people took to the streets there to protest a bill allowing suspects of crimes to be extradited to mainland China.
The protest was on Pier 81, at Twelfth Ave. and W. 42nd St. Activists from organizing group NY4HK, Students for a Free Tibet and Keep Taiwan Free, along with ex-patriots, spoke to media in support of the demonstrators overseas. Solidarity protesters waved signs reading, “Support democracy in Hong Kong” and “Hong Kong and New York stand as one.”
“Our hearts share in the determination of the Hong Kongers to protect the values and freedoms that they hold dear,” Gloria Hu, a member of Keep Taiwan Free, told a sea of protesters. Many of them wore medical masks and large sunglasses and carried yellow umbrellas, like protesters in the semiautonomous territory.
Protesters’ demands in Hong Kong have changed over the summer. But the organizers of the Pier 81 action specifically outlined five main demands.
First, they are calling for a complete withdrawal of the extradition bill.
Three days after the massive protest in Hong Kong against the extradition bill, riot police used batons, pepper spray, rubber bullets and more than 150 canisters of tear gas to clear a crowd of protesters in downtown Hong Kong. A small group of protesters had tried to storm past barricades outside of the Legislative Council and threw objects at the police, according to The New York Times.
As a result, Carrie Lam, Hong Kong’s chief executive, suspended the bill, though not fully doing away with it. This angered protesters, who subsequently called for her resignation and a formal withdrawal of the legislation.
The New York protesters’ second demand is an end to labeling the protests as riots. According to an NY4HK member, who gave his name as Ken, the Chinese state media has repeatedly called the mostly peaceful protests “riots,” which is problematic since rioting carries a prison sentence of up to 10 years in Hong Kong.
In their third demand, they want an independent investigation into excessive use of force by the Hong Kong police and possible collaboration with the triads, organized crime groups. In July, a group of more than 100 men armed with metal rods began beating protesters and bystanders at a train station. Police, arriving late to the scene of the attack, initially made no arrests, according to The New York Times. Police later arrested a few individuals who had ties to the organized crime group. Lam responded by promising a police-led investigation into the incident.
The New York protesters’ fourth demand is for the release of their Hong Kong counterparts detained by police during the weeks of civil disobedience.
The fifth demand is for the chief executive and Legislative Council members to be elected by popular vote, rather than by an election committee.
The Hong Kong protests have transformed into a larger movement about protecting democracy and freedoms within an autonomous Hong Kong. And protesters in New York took the cause one step further, reminding the world that a threat to democracy somewhere is a threat to democracy everywhere.
As Dorjee Tseten, Students for a Free Tibet’s executive director, put it, “We must tell the international community…to protect democracy and freedom of Hong Kong people is to protect our democracy here.”
Another solidarity protest is scheduled for Sat., Aug. 17, at Confucius Plaza in Manhattan’s Chinatown. Pro-democracy Hong Kong legislators Alvin Yeung and Dennis Kwok are expected to speak.