From national security to extradition: A history of massive Hong Kong protests

Demonstrators durin­g a prote­st against a divisive government proposal that could allow extraditions to mainland China, in Hong Kong, on June 16, 2019.
Demonstrators durin­g a prote­st against a divisive government proposal that could allow extraditions to mainland China, in Hong Kong, on June 16, 2019.PHOTO: NYTIMES

HONG KONG (AFP) - Protesters ransacked Hong Kong's parliament on Monday (July 1), marking the latest in a string of pro-democracy fight-backs that have rocked the semi-autonomous city since its handover to China.

The former British colony was handed back to China on July 1, 1997 but benefits from a "One Country, Two Systems" policy that allows it to retain certain key liberties, such as freedom of speech and an independent judiciary, until 2047.

After unprecedented street protests in 2014, demands for change were reignited in February this year over a bill that would have allowed extraditions to China.

Here is an overview of recent demonstrations that have hit Hong Kong.

2003: NATIONAL SECURITY LAW

Some half a million people marched against a controversial attempt by the government to introduce a national security law that critics feared would curtail free speech.

The Bill, which came after a deadly outbreak of severe acute respiratory syndrome (Sars), was the first mass demonstration movement the city's pro-Beijing leaders had faced since the handover.

 

It was eventually shelved, and set in process the resignation of then chief executive Tung Chee Hwa.

2012: EDUCATION PROTESTS

Tens of thousands of predominantly young demonstrators, many of them school children, surrounded the city government's complex for 10 days.

The target of their ire was a government order for schools to teach "Moral and National Education" classes that praised China's communist and nationalist history while criticising republicanism and democracy movements.

The government abandoned the curriculum and some of the protest leaders, such as then 15-year-old Joshua Wong, went on to become leading democracy advocates.

2014: UMBRELLA MOVEMENT

For two months in late 2014, tens of thousands of protesters paralysed parts of the city with mass student-led demonstrations and sit-ins to demand democratic reforms including the right to elect the city's leader.

 
 

There were clashes and scenes of violence, which had been rare until then in the semi-autonomous territory, as police used pepper spray and tear gas to break up the demonstrations.

It became known as the Umbrella Movement after some demonstrators used umbrellas to protect themselves.

Police dismantled the main pro-democracy site in December, hauling off a hard core of protesters who vowed that their struggle would continue.

But the movement failed to win any concessions and many of its leaders were imprisoned.

2019: EXTRADITION ANGER

In February, Hong Kong's government announced plans for a Bill that would allow, for the first time, extraditions to mainland China.

The move was prompted by a murder but the opposition and lawyers feared it would tighten Beijing's grip on civil society and allow it to pursue its political enemies in Hong Kong.

 

Tens of thousands of people hit Hong Kong's streets in protest on April 28 in one of the biggest demonstrations since the Umbrella Movement.

It came just days after four prominent democratic leaders were jailed for their role in organising the 2014 protests.

Hong Kong's government made concessions on May 30, saying the extradition law would only apply to cases involving a potential jail term of at least seven years.

June 9: Mass protests

On June 9, more than one million people, according to organisers, took to the streets in the biggest demonstration since the return to Chinese rule.

The police, who made 19 arrests, put the turnout at 240,000.

June 12: More protests

On June 12, a second reading of the bill was delayed after huge crowds rallied, blocking major roads and attempting to storm parliament.

Police used tear gas, pepper spray, rubber bullets and bean bag rounds in the worst clashes since the 1997 handover, leaving nearly 80 people injured.

June 15: Bill suspended

On June 15, Hong Kong leader Carrie Lam announced the suspension of the bill.

 

But there was a fresh demonstration the following day calling for its full withdrawal.

Organisers said two million people took part. Police put the figure at 338,000.

July 1: Parliament ransacked

Thousands of people took to the streets again for the annual July 1 march to mark Hong Kong's return to China, calling for greater democratic freedoms.

 
 

Late in the evening hundreds of young, masked protesters broke into parliament after clashes with police and ransacked the building.

Once inside they daubed its walls with anti-government graffiti, tore down portraits of the city's leaders, hoisted a British colonial-era flag in the main chamber and sprayed the city crest with black paint.

Police fired tear gas and baton-charged protesters, retaking control of the building hours later.