HONG KONG — Hundreds of people marched in Hong Kong’s streets today (Tuesday) to mark a year since the start of anti-government protests, as the leader of the semi-autonomous city called for peace and stability.
“Everyone has to learn their lesson, including the Hong Kong government,” Carrie Lam told reporters. “Hong Kong cannot bear that kind of chaos, and the people of Hong Kong want a stable and peaceful environment to be able to live and work here happily.”
Lam did not elaborate on what lessons should be learned.
Hundreds of protesters marched in Hong Kong’s central district on Tuesday evening and shouted slogans including “Hong Kong independence, the only way out” and “Fight to the end.”
They marched despite police warnings that force could be used to disperse participants and that they faced up to five years in prison. Riot police later charged at a group of protesters, deploying pepper spray and tackling some to the ground.
Tuesday is the one-year anniversary of a huge march through central Hong Kong that grew into a pro-democracy movement that saw protesters break into the legislative building and take to the streets every weekend for months.
“The mass protest on 9 June last year has been etched in the collective memory of Hongkongers,” the Civil Human Rights Front, which organized the event, wrote in a Facebook post on Tuesday. “It also marks the beginning of our togetherness in defending our beloved city.”
Protesters also gathered in shopping malls to mark the anniversary at lunchtime, holding up signs and banners reading “Liberate Hong Kong” and singing protest songs. Police closed some streets and walkways ahead of possible protests.
The June 9, 2019, march was in opposition to a proposed extradition bill that would have allowed people in the former British colony, which has its own legal system, to be sent to mainland China to face trial. Organizers pegged the turnout at more than a million people, while police estimated the crowd at 240,000.
In the ensuing months of protests, violent clashes broke out at times between protesters and the police, leading to accusations of police brutality and sparking protester demands for an independent inquiry into police behavior.
There was a lull in protests during the coronavirus outbreak early this year, but as infections have ebbed, protesters have returned to the streets to demonstrate against an imminent national security law for Hong Kong as well as a recently approved law that makes it illegal to insult the Chinese national anthem.
Critics and protesters say the national security law is a blow to the “one country, two systems” framework following the handover of Hong Kong from Britain to China in 1997, which promised the city freedoms not found on the mainland.
China blames the protests in part on foreign intervention and is hastening to enact the national security law aimed at curbing secessionist and subversive activities in Hong Kong.
Hong Kong’s problems are a result of the opposition and foreign allies “attempting to turn Hong Kong into an independent or semi-independent political entity and a pawn to contain China’s development,” Zhang Xiaoming, deputy director of the Chinese Cabinet’s Hong Kong and Macao Affairs Office, said in a speech posted on the office’s website on Monday.
“The more the bottom line of national security is consolidated, the greater the space will be for Hong Kong to leverage its advantages under ‘one country, two systems,'” Zhang said.
China will “unswervingly” protect its sovereignty and block any outside interference in Hong Kong’s affairs, he said.
By ZEN SOO, Hong Kong
Timeline: A Year of Protests
One year ago, a sea of humanity — a million people by some estimates — streamed through central Hong Kong on a steamy afternoon. It was the start of what would grow into the longest-lasting and most violent anti-government movement the city has seen since its return to China in 1997. A year later, as new protests simmer, China is poised to enact a national security law to crack down on further disturbance. After 12 months of exhilaration for some, exasperation for others and exhaustion for all, Hong Kong’s future still hangs in the balance.
JUNE 9, 2019: Hundreds of thousands of people demonstrate against proposed amendments to Hong Kong laws that would allow suspects to be extradited to China to face trial. Many feel the legislation would undermine the “one country, two systems” principle under which Hong Kong was returned to China by exposing residents to a murky legal system with fewer protections. An even larger march against the proposal took place the following week.
JUNE 12: Protesters take over the streets around Hong Kong’s legislature, known as Legco, and prevent lawmakers from entering to debate the extradition bill. Some throw rocks and metal barricades at police. Officers use tear gas to disperse the crowds in what will become a common practice in the months ahead.
JULY 1: Protesters smash their way into the legislature building on a public holiday, spray-paint slogans on the walls, tear down the portraits of legislative leaders and deface the Hong Kong city emblem in the main chamber. The legislature remains closed for repairs for a few months.
AUG. 17: A large contingent of Chinese militarized police with armored vehicles mass to hold drills in Shenzhen, the mainland city bordering Hong Kong. The presence of the People’s Armed Police, whose functions include crowd and riot control, sparks speculation that they would intervene in Hong Kong’s protests.
AUG. 25: Hong Kong police deploy a water cannon for the first time as clashes with protesters escalate. The water is often laced with pepper spray to cause a stinging sensation and dyed with coloring to mark the clothing of those who join protests.
SEPT. 4: With no end in sight for the protests, Hong Kong leader Carrie Lam says the government will formally withdraw the extradition legislation. By then, though, the movement’s demands have expanded to include an independent investigation into alleged police brutality against protesters, the unconditional release of those detained and greater democracy in city elections.
NOV. 2019: Protesters occupy and barricade several university campuses for several days and battle police outside in some of the most violent clashes in the months of protests.
NOV. 24: The pro-democracy opposition wins a sweeping victory in district council elections across the city of 7.5 million people. The results buoy the protesters, but pro-Beijing parties remain in control of the legislature, where only half the members are elected by popular vote.
SPRING 2020: The protests ease somewhat in the weeks following the election and are further slowed by the coronavirus outbreak. The arrest of 15 prominent pro-democracy activists in mid-April sparks small protests in shopping malls that are broken up by police, who cite virus-related limits on the size of public gatherings.
MAY 28: China’s National People’s Congress ratifies a decision to develop national security laws for Hong Kong. Chinese and Hong Kong leaders say the protests created an urgent need for such laws. Pro-democracy activists and many legal experts fear a further erosion of “one-country, two systems.” The laws are expected to be enacted by the end of the summer.