HONG KONG (AFP) - Thousands of people took to the streets of Hong Kong Sunday (Oct 1) to mark China's national day with a pro-democracy rally and voice growing fears that the city's liberties are under threat from Beijing.
The protest which was dubbed an "anti-authoritarian rally" also comes after recent arrests of prominent pro-democracy activists, including a former lawmaker, have renewed anti-China sentiment.
A number of other activists, including founding members of mass pro-democracy rallies in 2014, which blocked thoroughfares for 79 days, are also facing charges and possible jail terms.
"Authoritarian rule has already become Hong Kong's reality in Hong Kong," Benny Tai, one of the founders of the movement told protesters.
"We are having today's rally ... because we hope more Hong Kong people will see the true nature of the government," Tai, a law professor, said.
Participants in Sunday's rally singled out the city's leader Carrie Lam and justice secretary Rimsky Yuen, along with Chinese President Xi Jinping with their pictures placed on placards saying "authoritarian clown".
Others carried a black banner mimicking the Chinese national flag with five yellow stars drawn on it, with around 5,000 taking part in the rally, according to estimates by an AFP reporter at the scene.
University student Vince Ho, 21, said the authorities' hardline approach was likely to spur others into action.
"I think it would even encourage more people to come out to redress the injustice," she said.
Tens of thousands joined the Umbrella Movement which started in September 2014 to call for fully free leadership elections in the city, but failed to convince the government to make concessions over political reform.
The face of the Umbrella 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 movement.
It was a blow to the pro-democracy campaign and seen as more evidence that Beijing was tightening its grip on semi-autonomous Hong Kong.
Their jailing has been criticised 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.
City leader Lam on Sunday morning called for unity in her first national day speech since she became chief executive in July.
"I have been deeply impressed by the strength bestowed upon us by our country," Lam said.
"As long as we capitalise on our strengths, stay focused, seize the opportunities before us and stand united, I am sure that Hong Kong can reach even greater heights," she said.