Thousands of people joined a rally in Hong Kong’s business district on Sunday to demand universal suffrage in the legislative election in September, urging the international community to impose sanctions on the authorities if their calls fall on deaf ears.
The demonstration took place at Edinburgh Place in Central a day after Taiwan President Tsai Ing-wen won re-election for a second term in a victory that was seen as a referendum on the self-ruled island’s approach to Beijing.
Tsai’s victory was widely celebrated by Hong Kong activists, who called it a morale boost for their months-long protest movement, which was sparked by a now-withdrawn extradition bill, and expressed hope her administration would support demonstrators who had fled there.
“In the coming year, Hongkongers must continue to make our voices heard by the international community, to tell them that our fight against authoritarianism is not over yet,” said Ventus Lau Wing-hong, spokesman of the organiser, the Hong Kong Civil Assembly Team.
“If Hong Kong has a Legislative Council that represents the voices of the people, that defends the interests of Hong Kong, the extradition bill would have been vetoed long ago. We would not have needed seven months of bloodshed.”
The protest movement began in June last year when the government tried to pass a bill that would have allowed criminal suspects to be extradited from Hong Kong to mainland China or other jurisdictions the city does not have such an agreement with. The campaign morphed into a wider anti-government movement, with protesters calling for five demands, including a judge-led independent inquiry into police actions.
The organiser claimed 36,000 people took part in Sunday’s rally, while police put the figure at 3,000 at the event’s peak.
Lau urged foreign governments to impose sanctions on Hong Kong officials if there was still no universal suffrage in the Legislative Council election later this year. This could be done by, for example, freezing their overseas assets or imposing economic sanctions on the city, he added.
The protesters say the “unjust” functional constituencies, which return 35 lawmakers in the 70-seat legislature and have long been criticised for their “small circle” nature, should be scrapped.
Lau said the sanctions should also apply to government officials and police officers who violated human rights in the city.
Some waved flags calling for Hong Kong independence, as well as the US and British flags, at a rally that was held just about 200 metres from the People’s Liberation Army garrison.
Among the speakers were US-based Hongkongers who flew back to the city to talk about the steps they had taken to raise awareness in the United States. The measures included organising rallies and setting up street booths in the US to spread their messages.
In November, US President Donald Trump signed into law legislation that could bring diplomatic action and economic sanctions against Hong Kong, brushing off multiple warnings by China against such a move.
A 19-year-old rally participant, Yeung, said if more foreign countries would impose sanctions, this would be a morale booster for Hong Kong protesters.
The university student said he had no faith in the government but protesters must keep the social movement going until all five of their demands were met.
“The election result in Taiwan is very encouraging to us. A lot of people here have been talking about it but we must not forget that our fight is here in Hong Kong,” he said.
Another protester, 23-year-old Lau, supported international sanctions on Hong Kong if the government refused to introduce universal suffrage in September’s election, saying this was the way to keep the protest movement going.
The university student said Tsai’s election victory was encouraging, adding the people of Hong Kong and Taiwan faced a common enemy, the Chinese government.
The rally was organised to ramp up support for another protest, called “universal siege on communists”, that would take place next Sunday.
After the event, police officers intercepted some people, many of them dressed in black, in Central and Admiralty and searched their bags. Two people were seen being taken to police vehicles.
Meanwhile, two “yellow” restaurants in Wan Chai and Yuen Long supportive of the protest movement were vandalised by masked men late on Saturday night, with one employee being sent to hospital after the attack.
Man Wah Restaurant in Wan Chai was attacked by seven men wielding hammers, who smashed the shop’s glass doors, computer screens, refrigerators and table tops, security camera footage showed. They later escaped in a private vehicle.
Police suspected the attack was over a money dispute between one of the attackers and the employee, who was sent to Ruttonjee Hospital in Wan Chai.
In Yuen Long, three masked men with hammers attacked Water Gate Chicken Rice, smashing up the restaurant’s glass door, two computer screens, a fingerprint scanner, tables and chairs. The three suspects ran away on foot.
The restaurant also released CCTV footage of the attack, which showed the three men entering the premises as diners rushed to leave, while one family with a small child hid in the corner.
No arrests have been made in either case.
Previously, the Hung Hom location of Lung Mun cafe, also supportive of the protests, was targeted in October, with vandals smashing windows, computers, surveillance cameras and furniture.
Additional reporting by Zoe Low
This article Hong Kong protests: thousands join rally in Central to demand universal suffrage in upcoming election first appeared on South China Morning Post