Only a few dozen demonstrators were camping out at Hong Kong International Airport early on Sunday after a long day of guerilla-style protests on city streets ended with the arrest of 16 people.
On the third and final day of a mass sit-in at the airport’s arrival hall, more than 30 demonstrators were seen at about 8am greeting incoming travellers, as part of an attempt to win overseas support for their movement.
The city is entering its tenth week of anti-government protests, which were sparked by the now-abandoned extradition bill.
Protesters said more demonstrators were expected to arrive at the airport at around 1pm. A flash mob – an organised flurry of protest – was also set to take place at the arrival hall at 2pm.
Extra travel document checks were still in force for passengers on Sunday and barriers installed ahead of the protest remained in place.
The peaceful sit-in continued while clashes broke out in other parts of the city on Saturday, with tear gas fired in Tai Wai and Tsim Sha Tsui after protesters took part in an unapproved march in Tai Po.
Following the march, officers and demonstrators engaged in a series of cat-and-mouse confrontations in at least seven districts across the city.
Police said they had arrested 16 people. At least seven people were injured.
Hong Kong police had also banned two protests scheduled for Sunday in Sham Shui Po and east Hong Kong Island.
However, an afternoon rally contained in Victoria Park in Causeway Bay was given official approval, although it appeared unlikely protesters would follow these restrictions.
Police had repeatedly warned that taking part in unauthorised protests was illegal.
Sunday marks the fifth day in less than three weeks that protests have taken place in Hong Kong airport, with a citywide strike last Monday leading to the cancellation of more than 200 flights.
The airport demonstrations have seen young protesters reiterate the five key demands of the movement, including the formal withdrawal of the extradition bill, accountability for police’s use of force, and genuine universal suffrage.
Airport authorities had set up additional barriers around the arrival hall, and introduced an extra layer of security with travellers having to present boarding passes for entry into the check-in areas at Terminal 1.
Airlines had also warned passengers to arrive at the airport earlier to mitigate potential delays in reaching departure gates.
Meanwhile, airport bosses were digesting the latest measures imposed by the Civil Aviation Administration of China (CAAC) on Friday, which among other things, barred aircrew of the city’s flag-carrying airline who had joined or supported illegal protests from operating flights to mainland China, or flying through Chinese airspace.
Cathay Pacific Airways later sacked two employees for leaking information about the travel arrangements for a Hong Kong police soccer team and a pilot charged with rioting was removed from flying duties.
Judy Chan, 23, one of the protesters at the airport fresh from a shift as aircraft maintenance staff, said the punishment for leaking private information was correct since it was not appropriate to reveal customer data, but added the Chinese authorities were seeking to limit freedoms with their sanctions.
“We are just fighting for our freedom, but their behaviour is just trying to stop the protests, and tell us not to fight for our freedom,” she said.
Chan said she joined the airport sit-in at 8am on Sunday in order to help raise international awareness for the cause, including among tourists from mainland China.
“I think it is effective because it can express what we want internationally,” Chan said.
“But the Hong Kong government will not listen – they only listen to the Chinese government. I can’t see the future, but I know the only way is to fight for it.”
The black-clad protesters handed out leaflets and laid out posters written in different languages in the airport’s arrival hall.
Dozens of travellers making their way out of the transit hub stopped to look at the anti-extradition bill and anti-government material lining the airport arrival hall, including Lennon Walls, which are boards covered with messages supporting the campaign.
American tourist Eric Davis, 26, and his friend Javier Almanza, 28, said they had been nervous the airport protests would be bigger and more chaotic, but arrived from Miami to find they were peaceful and not disruptive.
Despite the US government’s upgraded travel advice to Hong Kong, they said they were not worried about safety during their three-day stay in the city.
“We 100% support Hong Kong,” Davis said, holding up the fliers he had taken from protesters. “We were never concerned with the US safety warning.”
A 33-year-old tourist from mainland China, surnamed Hao, said he had almost cancelled his trip to Hong Kong due to media reports about protests in the city, but arrived to find concerns were largely overblown.
“I actually am quite supportive of the demands, as long as the protesters are employing peaceful means, and it is not affecting Hong Kong’s international reputation and people’s lives,” he said. “If its peaceful, it is fine.”
University student David Ko, 20, who was among nearly 20 protesters who had stayed in the airport overnight to continue the sit-in, said the airport protests would be particularly effective given its international reach, the unlikely intervention there from police, and the importance of the airport to Hong Kong’s economy.
“It’s important to help let people in other countries know what is going on in Hong Kong, to hopefully spread the word to other countries,” he said. “Since I was here, the reception has been mostly positive.”
Ko, who had been involved with the protests since June, said like many others, he was tired from weeks of unrest, but did not fear potential repercussions from partaking in the protests.
“It is tiring,” he said. “But this is our home … it’s OK to go to jail, if it’s for something you believe in.”