More than 2,000 demonstrators took to Hong Kong’s steaming, rain-drenched streets on Sunday to commemorate the 30th anniversary of Beijing’s bloody crackdown on democracy protesters in Tiananmen Square on June 4, 1989.
The turnout for the annual march reached a four-year high, with some Hongkongers said to be taking part to protest against the government’s controversial extradition bill, which would transfer criminal fugitives to mainland China.
Police said the number of protesters was 2,100 at its peak, while organisers put the number at more than 2,200. More than 3,000 people marched in the 25th anniversary of the Tiananmen crackdown in 2014, according to organisers, and more than 8,000 took part in the 20th anniversary in 2009.
“I believe people took part in the march today not only to mourn the June 4 crackdown and to call for justice for the victims – people came out for the chance to express their concerns over the extradition bill and to urge other Hongkongers to speak up,” said Albert Ho Chun-yan, chairman of the Hong Kong Alliance in Support of Patriotic Democratic Movements of China.
The alliance has organised the Hong Kong march on the Sunday before June 4 every year since 1990. The group also organises the city’s yearly June 4 candlelight vigil for the Tiananmen victims in Victoria Park.
“I joined today because I can’t stand how Beijing has been bullying Hongkongers,” said Pui-yin, a 22-year-old student of social work at the Caritas Institute of Higher Education, who declined to give her surname.
She said the annual pre-vigil march was important because “all we want is a democratic country”.
“I hope people will not forget. I want my presence to show Beijing that Hongkongers are not letting go of what happened.”
The march started at Southorn Playground in Wan Chai and ended at Beijing’s liaison office in Sai Wan. Before the marchers began their trek, a panel of six local leaders – in the fields of law, journalism and social activism – gave a two-hour discussion on the potential impact of the extradition bill on Hong Kong.
I worry that If the bill is passed, we may not be able to take to the streets again next year
Joanne Leung, a Hong Kong homemaker
If the contentious bill is passed into law, Hong Kong would be able to hand over fugitives on a case-by-case basis to jurisdictions with which it has no extradition agreement, with the mainland’s legal system being the focus of paranoia over the proposal.
Ricky Chan, a 62-year-old retired construction worker, said he took part in the pre-vigil march because he believes the extradition bill could affect every citizen in Hong Kong.
“I have no trust in the mainland Chinese judicial system because it’s not transparent, it’s different from ours and it doesn’t care about human rights,” Chan said.
“If [the extradition bill] is passed, our freedom of speech and thoughts will be under threat.”
Sean Tierney, an American who has lived in Hong Kong for 15 years, criticised Hong Kong’s leader Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor and her administration as “puppets” of the mainland.
“The government is completely separated from its people, and virtually uninterested in people’s opinions because that’s not who they answer to. They are going to do what they are told because as puppets that’s their task,” said Tierney, a part-time film studies lecturer at local universities.
“Basically what [the extradition bill] is going to do is to allow China to vacuum up a massive number of political prisoners, which is exactly what it wants. I think it’s important to stand up against it just so you can register your unhappiness with it – even though it’s still going to go through.”
The fierce debate over the bill has escalated to the global stage in recent days. Representatives of the European Union submitted a formal protest note on Friday. Lam quickly hit back at the officials, saying they failed to pinpoint any actual concerns.
Richard Tsoi Yiu-cheong, one of the panellists and vice-chairman of the alliance, sought to draw a link between the Tiananmen Square crackdown, for which death toll estimates range from the hundreds to the thousands, and the extradition proposal.
He said the organisers and participants of Operation Yellow Bird in 1989, which rescued more than 800 dissidents from mainland China after the June 4 crackdown, might be sent back to the mainland under the fugitive bill.
“What we did – trafficking people out of the mainland and into Hong Kong – constituted a crime on both sides, and China’s judicial authorities can remove the statutory limit If they want us,” Tsoi said.
As the march began at 3pm, organisers chanted demands to the Beijing government: “People will not forget. Release the democracy activists. Vindicate the June 4 protest. End the one-party rule. Build a democratic China.”
Joanne Leung, a Hong Kong homemaker, attended the march with her husband and their six-year-old daughter. She said it was important for her daughter to learn about history, the current debate over extradition and any potential threats to freedom.
“She might ask, ‘What people are talking about in the news? I could only briefly explain to her that 30 years ago many innocent students were killed, and now the Hong Kong government is trying to send Hong Kong people to the mainland, where life in prisons is very different,” Leung said.
“I worry that if the bill is passed, we may not be able to take to the streets again next year.”
More from South China Morning Post:
- Why Tiananmen Square protests still cast shadow over Hong Kong politics after 30 years
- The high price of denial: the cost to China of sweeping the Tiananmen crackdown under the carpet