HONG KONG - Thousands of civil servants filled Chater Garden in the heart of the business district on Friday (Aug 2) night to protest the government’s handling of a contentious extradition bill in a rare show of dissent.
The park was filled to the brim with many standing on grass patches and among shrubs, with more spilling out onto surrounding roads. Hundreds more were perched on the roofs of a surrounding shelter while others had to watch from a nearby flyover. As an evening shower set in, the park was turned into a sea of umbrellas.
Most said they had come after work and many wore masks for fear of getting identified. “It’s very sad to see the government this way because we are supposed to serve the city. Coming out tonight is the least I can do to support the moment,” said Ms Ella Yu, in her 20s. She declined to say which department she worked in.
They were scheduled to gather for two hours. The city's official in charge of civil servants have warned them to remain neutral.
"I absolutely do not agree with colleagues who initiate or take part in political assemblies or strikes in the names of civil servants," said secretary for the civil service Joshua Law in a letter on Thursday.
"Doing so would shake the public's confidence that civil servants can remain politically neutral and carry out their duties in an impartial manner," he added.
At the end of the rally, those gathered both within and outside the park shouted several protest slogans including “Heung gong yan ga yau” or “Come on Hong Kongers” in Cantonese and “Strike, strike!”, referring to a general strike proposed for Monday.
Hong Kong has for weeks been rocked by a series of protests and acts of civil disobedience after the government attempted to rush a contentious extradition bill through the legislature. If passed, it would have allowed for the transfer of fugitives to several jurisdictions including mainland China.
Millions marched on the streets for two weekends in June against the bill forcing Chief Executive Carrie Lam to declare that the proposed legislation was "dead" and indefinitely shelved.
But that has done little to placate opponents, who are demanding that Mrs Lam formally withdraw the Bill. Anger has also shifted to the police, whom many have accused of using excessive force to disperse protesters.
The protests have also shifted towards calling for democratic reforms.
Rallies over recent weekends have started peacefully but degenerated into violence as groups of protesters stay behind in a stand off with the police.
Earlier on Friday, hundreds of medical professionals gathered at Edinburgh Place at the waterfront to show their support for protesters, said one of the organisers Lau Hoi-man.
Meanwhile, local media reported that eight people had been arrested after a raid on an industrial building, prompting about 100 anti-government protesters to gather outside nearby police stations.
Those arrested include Andy Chan, the convenor of the now-banned Hong Kong National Party, RTHK said.