More than 500 protesters demanding democratic elections free of China’s influence were arrested in Hong Kong during a peaceful sit-in in the city’s business district.
The sit-in followed a pro-democracy rally of a half a million Hong Kongers on July 1, the anniversary of the handover of former British colony Hong Kong to China in 1997. China has promised Hong Kong a direct vote for the next chief executive in 2017, but insists that a committee approve the candidates. Fearing that China could manipulate the committee to only choose pro-Beijing candidates, protesters demanded that citizens be allowed to nominate the candidates.
July 1 has become a day of protest for universal suffrage, democracy and autonomy from China. The scale of this march was similar to the July 1 rally back in 2003 when the Hong Kong government attempted to pass a set of national security laws that would criminalize seditious speech. The 2003 rally eventually forced the government to withdraw the legislation.
After the rally, student activists continued their protests outside Chief Executive CY Leung’s office and on Chater Road, in what were considered rehearsals for the group Occupy Central with Love and Peace, which plans to peacefully take over the city’s Central District if the Hong Kong government fails to come up with a political reform proposal free of any pre-selection of chief executive candidates.
Police began arresting protesters on Chater Road at 03:00 on 2 July and continued until midday. Those arrested were accused of participating in an illegal assembly and obstructing police officers from performing their duty.
Chow Wing Hong, the chief secretary of the Hong Kong Federation of Students, wrote on his Facebook page (reposted on citizen media platform inmediahk.net) after he was arrested:
“The police took action. I was forced into a vehicle that looks like a tourist bus, with sealed windows.
“Many Hong Kong citizens are still sitting on Chater Road.
“I hope more Hong Kong people can understand an act of civil disobedience is not disastrous and every citizen can participate in it. […]
“[Current Hong Kong Chief Executive] CY Leung, people are capable of expressing their anger. When the youth rise to resist, the ruling bloc will eventual step down.
“You can detain the people, but we won’t be destroyed. The new generation of university students will take up their challenge. This act of civil disobedience is a struggle for the right of citizens to nominate their leaders and resist the White Paper that takes away our right to self-govern. This is the responsibility that this very generation of university students have to bear.
“My fellow Hong Kongers, students should not be the only ones to take up the task. Every Hong Konger should step out with courage in the upcoming act of civil disobedience. You are the hope for the future of Hong Kong.”
Not only young people participated in the rehearsal occupation. Inmediahk.net’s citizen reporter interviewed 80-year-old Mr. Wong on Chater Road at 02:00:
“80-year-old Mr. Wong is one of the protesters at the sit-in overnight at Chater Road. He said he was touched by the courageous students. Even if there were guns and cannons, he would be fearless. He is waiting for the police to remove him.”
While university students occupied Chater Road, secondary school students were sitting outside the chief executive’s office. They hung a banner that read “Stay firm on citizen nomination” outside the government building.
Joshua Wong (pictured on the right in the above photo), a 17-year-old secondary school student and a core member of student activist group Scholarism, led the movement two years ago against the introduction of national education courses they considered as an attempt to brainwash students in favor of China. He explained on his Facebook page before the rally why he decided to lead the Occupy Central rehearsal:
“Maybe you would say that I am too proactive and too radical. We frequently quote from ‘V for Vendetta’: “People shouldn’t be afraid of their government. Governments should be afraid of their people.”
“For me, this is not just a slogan, but a belief.
“We we cannot make [Chief Executive] CY Leung be afraid of the people’s voice using conventional methods. We need to search for a new path and break through the existing framework
“July 1 is a good opportunity to send a warning signal to the ruler. We are forced to stage an act of civil disobedience. I cannot think of other ways to shake the government. […]
“To bear the consequences of arrest and prosecution. This is a heavy burden for me, a 17 year old. But the students are now standing at the front lines of the democratic movement.
“We have to shoulder the responsibility of the path of civil disobedience.”
The rally was a warning to Beijing authorities that the Hong Kong people will not stay quiet if their demands for democracy go unmet. Will they listen?