Hong Kong protests: demonstrators gather in Central to express gratitude to US for signing democracy act into law

Alvin Lum

Thousands of protesters gathered in Central on Thanksgiving Day to express their gratitude to Washington for signing the Hong Kong Human Rights and Democracy Act into law, with the organiser compiling a list of 40 people on whom it hoped the US would impose sanctions.

Among others, the list has the names of Chief Executive Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor, former chief executive Tung Chee-hwa, secretary for justice Teresa Cheng Yeuk-wah, former police chiefs Andy Tsang Wai-hung and Stephen Lo Wai-Chung, and Chinese liaison office head Wang Zhimin.

The rally at Edinburgh Place was organised several hours after US President Donald Trump signed the legislation, which could sanction people for acts perceived to be undermining Hong Kong’s autonomy, and direct officers not to deny visas to people subjected to “politically motivated” arrests or detentions.

Thousands of protesters gathered in Central on Thanksgiving Day to express their gratitude to Washington for signing the Hong Kong Human Rights and Democracy Act into law. Photo: K.Y. Cheng

The organiser, the Hong Kong Higher Institutions International Affairs Delegation, estimated about 100,000 people attended the rally on Thursday night. However, police put the figure at 9,600 at its peak.

The democracy act also allows Washington to suspend Hong Kong’s special trading status based on an annual assessment of whether the city retains a sufficient degree of autonomy under “one country, two systems” principle.

Trump signs Hong Kong Human Rights and Democracy Act into law

The organiser also urged the US to impose sanctions on Hong Kong officials who infringe human rights and companies that export crowd control weapons to the city.

The passage of the act as well as the district council elections are not the end game. America, please continue to fight with us,” Kex Leung Yiu-ting, a representative of the organiser, said.

He was referring to the pro-democracy camp’s landslide victory in the elections on Sunday when it won 17 of Hong Kong’s 18 district councils.

Members of the rally organiser, which is a lobbyist group consisting of representatives of university student unions, earlier joined Demosisto and other activist groups to meet politicians in Washington, London and the European Commission headquarters in Brussels to discuss the situation in Hong Kong.

The protesters hoped other countries, especially Britain and Canada, would also pass legislation to safeguard Hong Kong’s autonomy. Photo: K.Y. Cheng

Sunny Cheung Kwan-yang, a member of the delegation, said the group had already compiled a list of people on whom they thought sanctions should be imposed. They plan to send the list to the US government soon.

He also hoped Britain and Canada will follow suit.

“We hope similar legislation will be passed in Britain and Canada as well,” he said.

Beijing angered after Trump signs Hong Kong acts

Those who attended the rally waved American flags and portraits of Trump and US congressmen who supported the legislation.

Beijing has described the passing of the bill as foreign interference, but the rally-goers did not agree.

“We have to save our home ourselves. But when foreign forces support us, we have to thank them,” student Paul Choi said.

Clerk Rita Chan, in her 20s, said: “Whether the sanctions will actually be imposed may still depend on multiple factors, but the US has already shown its support. We hope more countries will join the fight for Hong Kong’s human rights and democracy.

“Hong Kong is an international financial centre. This is beyond an internal issue [of China],” she said.

Brief confrontations took place between police and the protesters during the rally. Photo: K. Y. Cheng

But the peaceful rally ended in brief confrontations between the departing crowd and police at Chater Road after a man alleged to be possessing a laser pointer was taken away by officers.

The protesters hurled verbal abuse at the officers, who responded by pointing pepper spray at them. One of the protesters was also allegedly pushed to the ground by police as chaos ensued.

Meanwhile, Police Commissioner Chris Tang Ping-keung said while he did not expect the new US law to affect anti-crime cooperation between Hong Kong and Washington, exchanges between the two forces could still be impacted. But he said he would still welcome their US counterparts to visit Hong Kong.

About 3,000 protesters gathered at the clock tower in Tsim Sha Tsui on Thursday to show support for the radicals who were placed under police siege at PolyU. Photo: Xiaomei Chen

Support for radicals under police siege at PolyU

In Tsim Sha Tsui, about 3,000 protesters gathered at the clock tower at 7.30pm to show support for the radicals who were placed under police siege at the Polytechnic University in Hung Hom since November 17.

More than 1,000 radical protesters and their supporters occupied the university campus a fortnight ago, during which they barricaded roads in the surroundings and also set fire to facilities at the nearby Cross-Harbour Tunnel and a police vehicle.

Police increase size of search team after flammable substances found in PolyU

They battled with police fiercely on November 17, when the force decided to lock down the university.

While some escaped, more than 800 people were arrested in the following days and about 300 minors had their personal information recorded by police.

Roy Chan Hoi-hing, the preacher of Good Neighbour North District Church, who organised the gathering in Tsim Sha Tsui, said: “As a pastor, how can I turn a blind eye when I see desperate young protesters are fearing for their lives?”

Some people at the gathering said they believed a few protesters could still be there on the campus, though the university authorities failed to find any after a two-day search.

A first-aider shared her experience at PolyU in Tsim Sha Tsui on Thursday. Photo: Xiaomei Chen

The crowd chanted protest slogans and shone laser lights at the Hong Kong Cultural Centre located nearby.

Meanwhile, the government on Thursday rejected claims that surgeon Darren Mann had made in an article on November 21 in medical journal The Lancet. In the article, Mann accused the Hong Kong government of violating international humanitarian norms, as emergency medical service providers who were helping the injured at PolyU on November 17 were arrested while leaving the campus.

“It has been a common tactic of rioters to disguise themselves as first-aid workers or media representatives to escape detection and arrest,” a government spokesman said in a statement on Thursday evening, rejecting Mann’s claims.

The spokesman said police on November 17 had detained people claiming to be first-aiders or media representatives, and only arrested those who failed to prove their identities.

He added that the well-being and safety of the injured, including police officers, had been “a top priority” of the government since the stand-off started.

Additional reporting by Elizabeth Cheung

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