Hong Kong braces for escalation as clock ticks towards protesters' deadline

The Civil Human Rights Front holds a press conference outside Hong Kong Police Headquarters at 1 Arsenal Street on June 20, 2019.
The Civil Human Rights Front holds a press conference outside Hong Kong Police Headquarters at 1 Arsenal Street on June 20, 2019.ST PHOTO: LIM YAOHUI
The Civil Human Rights Front holds a press conference outside Hong Kong Police Headquarters at 1 Arsenal Street on June 20, 2019.
The Civil Human Rights Front holds a press conference outside Hong Kong Police Headquarters at 1 Arsenal Street on June 20, 2019.ST PHOTO: LIM YAOHUI
Protesters in tents at Tamar Park near the Legislative Council Complex in Admiralty on June 20, 2019.
Protesters in tents at Tamar Park near the Legislative Council Complex in Admiralty on June 20, 2019.ST PHOTO: LIM YAOHUI

HONG KONG - Hong Kong on Thursday (June 20) braced itself for an escalation and civil disobedience as the clock ticks towards a 5pm deadline for embattled leader Carrie Lam to respond to protesters who threatened more action unless she met their demands over a divisive extradition Bill that had been suspended.

A message circulating on social media demanded Mrs Lam - who has twice apologised for her mishandling of the issue - completely scrap the Bill, withdraw characterisation of the protests against it as a "riot", release those arrested following violence on the streets on June 12 and to drop all charges against them.

Student groups said on Wednesday that they would escalate matters if Mrs Lam did not meet their demands, but did not elaborate how.

They also called on fellow Hong Kongers to surround the government headquarters in Admiralty on Friday, and engage in acts of civil disobedience like disruption of train services.

The proposed extradition Bill, which would create a legal mechanism for fugitives to be handed over to several jurisdictions including mainland China, sparked waves of public anger that led to millions taking to the streets in protest.

Things reached a flashpoint on June 12, when thousands surrounded the city's legislature to prevent lawmakers from discussing the Bill, but this quickly escalated into violence, with police firing tear gas and rubber bullets to disperse protesters.

More than 80 people were injured, including law enforcement officers, and 32 others arrested. Eight of those arrested were released unconditionally on Tuesday.

 
 
 
 

But anger persists, with many accusing law enforcement officers of being heavy-handed against unarmed protesters, but police insist they were responding to protesters who were throwing bricks and sharpened metal poles.

The Civil Human Rights Front on Thursday said it would make an official complaint against “the excessive use of force” by the police against protesters during the June 12 protests . 

Speaking outside the Wan Chai police station, spokesman Lee Cheuk-yan said the entire set-up of the police in the area of the government offices in Tamar, Admiralty, is a “life threatening matrix”. The Front will officially complain about the police chief’s set-up in Tamar on June 12 and that the police fired tear gas “indiscriminately”.

He made the point that the police caused panic among the protesters by firing rubber bullets and tear gas, causing them to “run into very narrow doors”. 

“This is very, very dangerous but the police do not care about the lives of the protesters who are peacefully assembling there under a lawful permit.” 

He added the group was demanding an independent commission to investigate the alleged cases of abuse of authority as “we don’t trust the police investigating themselves”.

A rally against the Bill as well as to demand for Mrs Lam's resignation has been planned for July 1, the anniversary of Hong Kong's handover to China and traditionally a day for the city's residents to take to the streets.

Chief Executive Lam on Tuesday reiterated that the divisive Bill had been suspended and she promised not to retable it. She also apologised to Hong Kongers for a second time after massive protests but defied calls to step down.

Organisers said two million turned out last weekend although police put the figure at 340,000 at most.

Many people in the city say China's legal system is opaque and there is concern that political dissidents and activists could be targeted under the Bill.

The Hong Kong government has said the aim is to prevent the city from becoming a haven for international fugitives, and that the law has safeguards.

There is also fear of Beijing's growing influence in the territory, which enjoys many freedoms not allowed in mainland China, including a free press and the right to protest.