Hong Kong’s protests over the past week succeeded in getting its government to change course on a reviled extradition bill, which would have allowed suspects to be dispatched to the mainland to face trial. Yesterday the city’s chief executive Carrie Lam announced she would indefinitely suspend the plan to amend current laws. By any measure, that’s a tremendous accomplishment for a populace that doesn’t have the right to participate in electing its leader.
Yet today people in Hong Kong are out protesting in numbers as large—if not larger—than last week. Long lines of protesters wearing black snaked up to ferry piers on another very warm day, and people at some stations had to wait for about nine trains to go by before they could squeeze into one to head to the protest area. Shops such as bubble tea stores supported the protesters with signs, water, and offers to use their bathrooms.
Despite Lam’s concession, many of those out protesting today are, if anything, angrier than those who were out a week ago, after clashes between the police and protesters this week left scores injured, while some demonstrators face prosecution on serious charges. A few hours after today’s protests began, Lam issued an apology (paywall) for the government’s handling of the situation.
Here’s what the protesters are asking for.
The complete withdrawal of the extradition bill
Although it’s possible the “suspension” without a deadline to move forward with the bill may be a face-saving way of withdrawing the legislation, protesters don’t see it that way.
Without a withdrawal, people fear the threat to Hong Kong’s judicial independence and status as a global financial hub posed by the the bill, will remain, and that the process could be restarted. The new law, if passed, would apply to foreigners too.
Removal of the “riot” tag from the June 12 demonstration
A great part of today’s anger stems from the events of Wednesday, when riot police and some demonstrators out of a crowd of tens of thousands clashed. The police chief and chief executive Lam blame the protesters for things getting out of hand, alleging they threw bricks and others at people who were just doing their job of securing the government complex. Some 80 people were injured, including 20 cops. The government officially labeled the protest action a “riot,” a rarely used designation under a colonial-era public order ordinance, and have arrested about a dozen people. Participation in a riot carries the possibility of a 10-year sentence.
Many actually feel it was the police who were out of hand. People circulated video of police using force on people who didn’t appear to pose a visible threat, or appeared to already be restrained. People are particularly exercised about an image of a young man lying on the ground with his eye bleeding, and many carried it to today’s protest, while others had signs directing profanity-laced messages at police.
“Not a single car was burned, not a single storefront was smashed. It shouldn’t be called a riot,” said Noel Ho, 49, a housewife who was out today with her 11-year-old son.
People want the “riot” label to be retracted, an apology from police, and for those arrested not to be prosecuted (paywall). Today’s police presence was quite different than last week’s.
The resignation of Carrie Lam
At a press conference yesterday, Lam many times dodged the issue of whether she should resign over her missteps over this law. While the government may blame protesters for the scenes of chaos this week, protesters blame Lam.
And in fact, Lam could have done many things differently, from bringing a one-off legislation to deal with the Hong Kong man who murdered his girlfriend in Taiwan (paywall) and could not be tried for it, which was ostensibly the reason to try to amend Hong Kong’s extradition laws in the first place. She could have also carried out adequate public consultation instead of downplaying concerns, and most importantly, she could have made her concession at the right moment—after a million people marched peacefully last Sunday.
As a result, placards asking for her to go, sometimes couched less than politely, were common.
This story was updated with details of Hong Kong’s chief executive Carrie Lam’s apology.