Hong Kong protesters form human chains ahead of weekend protests; airport, MTR win court orders to keep protesters away

Protesters linking hands to form a human chain along Victoria Harbour in Hong Kong, on Aug 23, 2019. There have been calls for a non-cooperation campaign to jam up the transportation network to the airport on Aug 24.
Protesters linking hands to form a human chain along Victoria Harbour in Hong Kong, on Aug 23, 2019. There have been calls for a non-cooperation campaign to jam up the transportation network to the airport on Aug 24.PHOTO: AFP
In this photo taken on Aug 12, 2019, protesters surround banners at the arrival hall of the Hong Kong International Airport in Hong Kong.
In this photo taken on Aug 12, 2019, protesters surround banners at the arrival hall of the Hong Kong International Airport in Hong Kong.PHOTO: AP

HONG KONG - Anti-government protesters lined city streets and harbour front on Friday (Aug 23) night, inspired by a historic human chain pro-democracy protest against Soviet control 30 years ago.

Thousands of people linked hands across different districts, as others held up Hong Kong flags, or banners thanking foreign countries for supporting freedom in Hong Kong.

The Baltic Way, or Baltic Chain, refers to the protest on Aug 23, 1989, when around two million people joined hands to form a human chain of over 650km across three Baltic states — Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania — calling for independence from the Soviet Union.

The protest in Hong Kong comes as rail operator MTR Corp wins an injunction to keep protesters off railway property till next Friday.

The injunction is similar to one obtained by the Airport Authority on Aug 14. That temporary court order, which gives the Airport Authority the right to clear protesters, except for those in designated areas at the Hong Kong International Airport, was extended on Friday (Aug 23).

High Court Judge Wilson Chan, who granted the extension, noted that calls have been made to disrupt traffic to the airport on Saturday (Aug 24). Given the turmoil and immeasurable impact on the airport and Hong Kong's global reputation, he said he has no qualms about extending the order until further notice.

Police and protesters clashed at Terminal 1 on the night of Aug 13, following incidents of two men being accosted. The two men were attacked after protesters accused them of being undercover mainland agents. Of the two, one was found to be a reporter from the state-run media Global Times.

The pair were eventually escorted out of the airport by paramedics and taken away in ambulances.

Hong Kong's international airport, one of the world's busiest, was forced to close temporarily last week, with hundreds of flights cancelled or rescheduled when protesters and police clashed.


Two men charged with rioting in relation to Yuen Long MTR attacks 

Separately, a Fanling court on Friday afternoon heard the case of the two men charged with rioting for their alleged participation in the July 21 Yuen Long attacks. 

The duo will be allowed to go on bail of HK$30,000 (S$5,305) each, with their passports impounded and to accept a curfew. They are also not to appear within a 50-metre radius of Yuen Long Station, where their alleged acts took place.   

The two men, Wong Ying-kit, 48, and Wong Chi-wing, 54, were charged on Thursday and are the first among the 28 people arrested following the July 21 attacks, to be formally charged with any offence. Most were arrested for illegal assembly.

Their case has been adjourned till Oct 25. 

The prosecution said at least 24 individuals sustained injuries from the attacks. 

The unrest in Hong Kong has entered its 11th week, with protests escalating in June over anger against a now-suspended extradition Bill proposed by Hong Kong leader Carrie Lam.

But the anger has morphed into a wider movement for universal suffrage and an inquiry into what anti-government protesters say is the police's abuse of power, among other things.

The uncertainty and violence over more than two months have taken a toll on the city's economy, with analysts expecting tourism, retail and even the ever-skyrocketing property prices to fall.

A week ago, Financial Secretary Paul Chan warned of a waning economy, saying gross domestic product will grow between 0 and 1 per cent this year, down from a previous forecast of 2 to 3 per cent.

The city saw some respite on the 11th straight weekend of protests on Aug 17 and 18, which were largely peaceful, as protesters young and old sent Mrs Lam and her administration a clear message that they have no trust or confidence in her government.

Mrs Lam invited 20 to 30 prominent figures to a meeting on Saturday (Aug 24) to discuss her proposal to set up a platform for dialogue but this has been dismissed by the protesters who said their demands are clear.

5,000 accountants in silent march against 'white terror' 

Earlier on Friday, some 5,000 accountants marched to the government headquarters in Admiralty from Chater Garden in Central.

Initiated by lawmaker Kenneth Leung, the silent march was a first by the sector on social issues. Mr Leung urged the sector to uphold the rule of law and to protect freedoms in Hong Kong. 

Pointing to cases of what some have described as "white terror" - a term in Hong Kong used to illustrate acts that create a climate of fear - Mr Leung said employers should show tolerance of employees' after-work behaviour as long as it is legal. 

Last week's exit of former chief of Hong Kong's flagship carrier Cathay Pacific, Mr Rupert Hogg, had been cited by pan-democracy lawmakers, some protesters and political watchers as an example of white terror.

The latest to add to this fear, critics said, was the sacking of Ms Rebecca Sy, who is the chief of the Hong Kong Dragon Airlines Flight Attendants’ Association. 

In a press briefing on Friday, she said she was fired by Cathay Dragon after confirming the authenticity of several social media messages she had posted, but that management refused to specify the reason for her sacking. 

At the briefing, Ms Carol Ng, chairman of the Hong Kong Confederation of Trade Unions, said a wave of white terror has gripped the aviation sector, with at least 14 people in the industry to have either quit or be dismissed for their links to recent anti-extradition protests.

More protests this weekend

Besides calls for a non-cooperation campaign to jam up the transportation network to the airport on Saturday, there will be a march in Kwun Tong in the afternoon and another gathering in Chater Garden in the evening.

On Sunday, an assembly of police officers' families is planned for 2pm, while an initial march from Kwai Fong South Bus Terminus at 3pm was on Friday rejected by the police. 

Permission has only been given for an assembly at Tsuen Wan Park, the planned end point of the initial march from Kwai Fong.

Chinese border officials detain journalists, search their mobile phones

The Foreign Correspondents’ Club of China (FCCC) said it has received in recent days and weeks multiple reports of Chinese border officials detaining journalists and searching their digital devices when travelling between the mainland and Hong Kong. 

Journalists travelling through Beijing and Shenzhen have been subjected to such searches, which have in some cases involved detention of several hours, the FCCC said, adding that phones, cameras and laptops belonging to journalists who work for at least five organisations headquartered in North America, Europe and Australia were searched.

In at least one instance, a correspondent was barred from using a phone to notify others of the detention.

"The FCCC strongly condemns any use of border powers by Chinese authorities to target properly-accredited journalists for search and detention. In some cases, officials have cited non-existent visa problems as grounds for detention," said the FCCC on Friday. 

"Unnecessary and arbitrary searches constitute intimidation and harassment and hamper correspondents’ ability to report freely and openly in mainland China and Hong Kong," it added.