Hong Kong city, which is usually thought of as a lively place with cheerful people, has not been very lively in the past one year. It was in June 2019 that the city’s worst political crisis in decades began, and what began as just a spark grew into a nationwide fire in no time. One year ago, on a Tuesday morning, thousands of demonstrators gathered for a march, which was just the beginning of the public’s display of aggression with China, especially Beijing.
Things only got worse in the months that followed, with people breaking into stores, vandalizing the local legislature, staging sit-ins in public universities etc. It was only because of the coronavirus pandemic that people quieted down a little, and the protests stopped. But Beijing continued to try and impose its national security laws, which again led to some people returning back to the streets.
The protests began as a consequence of a proposed law that allowed the extradition of people to China, and although the initial rallies in 2019 were peaceful, there were still occasional instances of clashes and fights between local cops and the demonstrators after midnight. After three days of decent protests by people, the police resorted to tear gas, against the protestors whose gatherings had resulted in a major highway blockage outside the local legislature. Obviously, the public did not take this well, and the following June marches drew nearly double the crowd as earlier ones.
July 1, 2019 marked the 22nd anniversary of the country’s return to China, and it was on that day that the public came out in groups of thousands, with an aim to condemn the police brutality and criticize Beijing’s growing control over their home territory. Somehow, a group of people crashed inside the local legislature using strong steel rods and battering rams. But this was not just any crash; this was symbolic of the kind of confrontation that clearly reflected the people’s mindset of targeting the authorities and people in power, including local cops and the Chinese government’s liaison office in the city.
Encounter with the police
It was only a matter of time that clashes between the demonstrators and the local cops became a routine thing. However, the protestors were clever enough to actually communicate with each other and coordinate their actions on the fly using encrypted messages, in order to evade the cops and the rules placed against large public gatherings. It was not only the cops who were attacked, but also businesses who were considered to be supportive of the police actions, along with the people who were thought of as the “opponents” on the streets. Some people actually started carrying makeshift weapons during the marches. Popular slogans such as “If we burn, you burn with us” began gaining popularity and could be heard all over the city.
The Mob Attack
The protestors deliberately destroyed Beijing’s liaison’s office in Hong Kong on July 21. What followed was something nobody had expected. They were attacked by a local mob at a train station, wherein dozens of people got injured, including media journalists and even a legislator. Unfortunately, the police did not take any action against the mob, and this led to an even bigger spread of anger in the city, especially towards the Hong Kong police force. People did not trust their government anymore and were suspicious that the officers were not willing to protect those who stand against the government.
As the month of August started, the city’s sleek airport became the desired spot for protests. It began with days of sit-ins at the airport, by the people who wanted to convey their anger and messages to the thousands of people who move in and out of the city everyday. As the gatherings grew, there were cancellations, blockage and ruined traveller experience. It was after an unfortunate attack on two people from mainland China at the airport, that the authorities requested for a court injunction banning everyone access to the terminals except the staff, employees, and those with tickets.
October 1, 2019 marked the 70th anniversary of the People ‘s Republic of China, and while Beijing celebrated the day with military parades all over the city, things turned violent in Hong Kong as protestors held widespread demonstrations. An 18-year old boy hit an officer with a pipe in his hand, and in retaliation, the officer fired shots of bullets at him. Although the teenager did not die, he was in the hospital undergoing treatment for days. The Hong Kong government finally decided to ban the sale and use of face masks at protests, a decision that was earlier postponed amid court rulings.
Unrest in Universities
By the beginning of November 2019, most of the universities in Hong Kong were taken by storm, after an unfortunate death of a student demonstrator, who fell from the parking garage during an operation by the local police. The Chinese University of Hong Kong was completely taken over by the public for 5 days. Other protestors at the Hong Kong Polytechnic University hurled edible food items and beverages at the police. Some people also carried bows and arrows with an aim to fight the cops. After days of police operations, hundreds of such people were arrested.
Local elections for district councils were scheduled in late November, and the protestors were extremely pumped about the results, as most of the pro-democracy representatives turned out victorious. Although the elections were for one of the lowest elected offices in the city, it was much more than an election for the public. This was a representation of their anger with the Chinese government and what the Hong Kong city aspired to be. Following the results, the protests died down for several weeks and the situation became calm and stable, until New Year’s day, when the demonstrators returned to the streets in a protest that again resulted in violent clashes with the police.
The protests paused after the coronavirus hit the city of Wuhan earlier this year. As residents stayed home and social distancing rules got imposed throughout the city, the streets that were almost every time filled with protestors did not see even a single person for a long time. But the demonstrators continued their fight against the government, by pressurizing them through a union of hospital employees who went on a strike, in order to restrict the incoming tourists from mainland China to lessen the spread of the coronavirus.
As spring began, rallies re-emerged, although on a very small scale as compared to those which resulted in highway blockages. In May 2020, people took to the streets to demonstrate their anger over Beijing’s proposal to impose national security laws, along with a bill in front of the local legislature that would ban the disrespect of China’s national anthem. A new police commissioner was assigned to the city last year, and the police began taking more aggressive actions to shut down protests since then. More than 150 arrests have occurred since then.
A large-scale remembrance of the Chinese military’s brutal crackdown on protests around Tiananmen Square in Beijing in 1989, has been long hosted by Hong Kong. In 2019, because of the growing concern in the city over the proposed extradition laws, around 2 lakh people attended the vigil, as per the organizers. The event was banned this year, for the first time in 30 years, because of the prevailing pandemic, but still, thousands of people defied the ban on public gatherings and collected in different districts across the city.
End of a year
June 9, 2020 marked the one-year completion of this fight between the public and the government in the city of Hong Kong. People can still be seen carrying out marches and protesting, holding up torches or flashlights in their phones, and chanting slogans like “Fight for freedom! Fight for Hong Kong!” There does not seem to be much change, sadly.