In Hong Kong, masses of people have been taking to the streets in protest of a planned extradition bill. The bill would allow Hong Kong to hand over criminals, or those who are classified as criminals under Chinese law, to mainland China for further processing.
What started as a peaceful demonstration escalated on Wednesday at about 3:30 p.m. local time, as hundreds of protesters tried to storm the legislative council complex in Hong Kong.
According to media, this is what prompted the harsh retaliation from police, which can be observed in the picture above. However, the person in the video, who is later dragged to the ground and beaten by a number of police, does not seem to be doing much more than observing from the side of the road.
Fears are rising that this bill could lead to the arbitrary detention of people who fall out of favor with the Chinese Communist Party and its agenda. People in Hong Kong are seemingly rising up against what many consider the mainland’s increasing influence over Hong Kong.
Mark, a 20-year old student from Lingnan University, said he joined the protests against the bill because he doesn’t trust China. “The rule of law is central to Hong Kong,” he said beneath cloudy, humid skies. “China is very sneaky. They promised us direct suffrage [to elect the chief ], but then took it back,” he told Al Jazeera.
Scenes from the escalating Hong Kong protests
While all other protesters have their faces covered to hide their identity in fear of official retaliation, one person in the video stands by the side of the road and just observing what’s happening. The young man has no mask, no banner, or anything else with him. Just moments later, a group of police rush toward him, drag him to the ground, and start beating him.
China’s track record in dealing with dissidents
In the past, blind Chinese lawyer Chen Guangcheng was detained in China for defending people in human rights cases. Many in Hong Kong fear that with the passage of the new extradition bill, things will become as arbitrary as they are in China, where lawyers are detained for legally advising and defending people in matters of human rights.
The main charge such people face in China is subversion and a jail sentence. In January 2019, Wang Quanzhang, another Chinese human rights lawyer, was sentenced to four years in jail.
What’s at stake now for Hong Kong
Many people in what used to be a British colony, which was given back to China in 1997, fear that the controversial bill may undermine the independence of Hong Kong’s legal system and put its citizens, as well as foreign nationals, at risk. Under the new bill, even foreign nationals, if classified as suspects by the mainland, can be sent for trial to mainland China.
Critics like Jimmy Sham, convenor of the Civil Human Rights Front and the main organizer of the recent demonstration, believe that passing the bill will inflict great harm on Hong Kong’s international status as an independent hub for investment, development, and innovation.
“When the fugitive extradition bill is passed, Hong Kong will become a ‘useless Hong Kong,'” he told the press, adding: “We will be deep in a place where foreign investors are afraid to invest and tourists are afraid to go. Once the ‘Pearl of the Orient,’ [it] will become nothing.”
However, not only millennials and teenagers took to the streets to oppose the controversial bill; senior citizens also came in support, like “Chu”, a 60-year old engineer. “We need] justice, especially for the younger generation,” he said. “We don’t just support the students, we support Hong Kong,” he told the press.
Even though some doubt that the protests will have any lasting effect on Lam’s decision, the majority seem undeterred and unified by a common cause. This cause is not just to protect Hong Kong’s independence and the city’s democratic freedoms, but also the freedom of those who they hope will be united under freedom of speech and universal values in the future.