HKFP – Packed under a mass of Stars and Stripes, thousands rallied at Chater Garden on Monday evening calling again for Washington to pass a bill that would punish those deemed responsible for suppressing freedoms in Hong Kong.
The event, which was held under the slogan “Fight with Hong Kong, justice to our victims,” came a day before the United States Congress is set to resume from its summer break, after which the Hong Kong Human Rights and Democracy Act could be voted on as soon as this week.
The bill is a new version of a previously submitted draft law which, if passed, will impose penalties upon Hong Kong and mainland Chinese officials who infringe upon “basic freedoms” in the city, including freezing their US-based assets and being denied entry into the US. It would also require Washington to consider whether the city should continue to enjoy economic and trade privileges under the 1992 US-Hong Kong Policy Act.
Organiser Ventus Lau received a Letter of No Objection from the police.
US Republican legislators Ted Cruz and Josh Hawley visited Hong Kong over the weekend, although the former has reportedly already left as he is on an Asia-wide tour.
— Hong Kong Free Press (@HongKongFP) October 14, 2019
Several police officers in riot gear were stationed in Central MTR station as attendees made their way to the rally location.
Shortly before its start at 7pm, crowds spilt into the public park and out onto parallel roads – Chater Road, Des Voeux Road Central and beyond. Some clambered on top of the park’s pedestrian coverings, holding their phone light’s aloft and chanting protest slogans, including the newly adopted “Hongkongers, resist,” which builds on the original phrase “Hongkongers, keep it up.”
Many held up printed signs of popular US patriotic symbol Uncle Sam with the phrase: “Fight for freedom, stand with Hong Kong.”
At around 7:20pm, singer Tommy Yuen led the crowd in singing the popular protest song Glory to Hong Kong which some have dubbed the unofficial anthem of the protest movement.
The event also saw speeches from Secretary-General of pro-democracy party Demosistō Joshua Wong, pro-democracy lawmaker Au Nok-hin, pro-independence leader Andy Chan, and Sunny Cheung – a student leader who led a group to lobby the US Congress last month, among others.
Organisers announced that an estimated 130,000 people attended the rally – a figure which surpassed their expected turnout of 128,000.
Ms Wong, a 40-year-old finance worker, told HKFP that she was hoping for greater international support in order to push back against mainland Chinese hegemony.
“We are asking for help from the US to pass this bill because as Hong Kong people, we can’t do much on our own, actually, even though we’re united,” she said.
Wong added that she was unafraid of any repercussions for wearing a black surgical mask despite the emergency enactment of an anti-mask law two weeks ago by Chief Executive Carrie Lam.
“We’re doing things legally, I’m not afraid of anything,” she said. “If this assembly is authorised by the police, why should be scared? We’re wearing the mask to show the government that we’re not scared even though they set up this anti-mask law.”
Mr Tang, a 45-year-old project manager for the construction industry, also told HKFP that he has been active in the protest movement since it began in June and has attended around 20 rallies.
“I think it’s quite normal for the local citizens to come out this way. We are fighting for our freedoms,” he said. “We’ve had a long time to prepare for this and we keep fighting for a very long, long time.”
Tang added that he looked to the US for leadership on matters related to international liberty: “When we think about support from governments worldwide, we know that the US is always the leader when it comes to standing up against so-called [Communist Party] totalitarianism,” he said. “We also need help from the UK and Europe.”
Apple Daily reported that, at around 9:11pm, officers used pepper spray in Hong Kong MTR station as one man was arrested for allegedly attacking a police vehicle. Two other people were also arrested at the station, according to local media.
At around 9:23pm, the government released a statement expressing regret over calls for the US to enact the Act and criticised any foreign interference into Hong Kong’s “internal affairs.”
“Human rights and freedoms in Hong Kong are fully protected by the Basic Law, the Hong Kong Bill of Rights Ordinance and other legislation. The HKSAR government attaches great importance to them and is determined to safeguard them,” a spokesperson said.
Prior to the rally, US Senator for Missouri Josh Hawley delivered a message outside the Legislative Council Complex in Admiralty, saying that he supported the passing of the Act and Hong Kong protesters.
“Sometimes the fate of one city defines the challenge of a whole generation,” he said. “That’s why free people everywhere are looking to you and your fight and your struggle and your battle for your basic liberties. The free people of the world are standing with you so that we can all say we’re Hongkongers now.”
Hawley’s trip also came as Senator Ted Cruz paid a visit to the city on Saturday, where Lam scrapped a meeting with the Republican politician after he refused to keep their conversation confidential, though the Hong Kong leader said the cancellation was due to other commitments.
"Free people everywhere are standing with you… sometimes the fate of one city defines the challenge of a whole generation," said US Senator Josh Hawley during a visit to #HongKong. https://t.co/kmLJLFCnSX pic.twitter.com/uhPkReRrDc
— Hong Kong Free Press (@HongKongFP) October 14, 2019
Neither of the US senators attended the rally on Monday but sent representatives.
The mass plea came as Hong Kong entered its 19th week of unrest which has seen sometimes violent displays of dissent, sparked by a now-soon-to-be-withdrawn extradition agreement with China. The protests have since morphed into wider calls for universal suffrage, accountability over alleged police misconduct, amnesty for arrested demonstraters, among other community grievances.
Monday’s gathering came after another weekend of ugly clashes with tear gas fired in Sha Tin, Tuen Mun and Tsuen Wan after protesters gathered en masse at major malls across the city. In Kwun Tong on Sunday, pepper spray was fired at protesters and two people were arrested after a police officer had his neck “slashed” with a sharp object.