Editor | Cassandra Lau
Today, 1 July 2019, marks the 22nd anniversary of Hong Kong’s handover to China. 1 July is celebrated annually as a day of pro-democracy by the Hong Kong people who take to the streets in peaceful protest. However, with on-going tensions concerning the controversial extradition bill, this year’s protest has been turbulent to say the least.
Geared up in hard construction helmets and gas masks, protesters and the press have witnessed the most violent protest since the handover of Hong Kong to China. A protester, referring to himself as Henry, explains:
One million of us marched peacefully, two million of us marched peacefully and yet the government didn’t listen to us.
The Civil Human Rights Front (CHRF), organisers of the main protest march downtown, and pan-democratic lawmakers notes that Carrie Lam, Chief Executive of Hong Kong, has clearly rejected their pleas for peaceful discussion. Earlier in the day, the CHRF reissued its call for Lam to step down with an official statement:
With regard to the actions by the crowd in admiralty, pan-democratic legislators and Civil Human Rights Front make the following joint statement.
Carrie Lam states today at the July 1 reception, that she would respond to people’s demands, become more open and tolerant. She has not shown any sincerity to respond or to communicate so far. She has rejected to face the society, ignored the demands of the people and pushed youngsters towards desperation.
Pan-democratic legislators have requested to meet with Lam today to seek solution in this political crisis. But the request of dialogue has been rejected by Lam. We cannot be angrier at her rejection to the request, which proves her “willingness to listen” to be the ugliest political lie. Lam’s arrogance revealed by her public responses since June 9 have only poured fuel to the flame, and lead to the crisis today. Lam is the culprit.
We hereby request that Lam faces the public view directly, respond to the demands of the people raised since June 9, solves the crisis that she started. She should also stop any crackdown on the public demands and avoid any injury.
We reiterate the five demands of Civil Human Rights Front, Pan-democratic legislators and Hongkongers raised since June:
1. Complete withdrawal of the extradition bill;
2. Investigate responsibility to shoot;
3. Retract the characterisation of protest as riot;
4. Release arrested protesters;
5. Carrie Lam, step down!
Amongst the tens of thousands of protesters, several hundred anti-government protesters have stormed into the Legislative Council (LegCo) building. After shattering the building’s glass panels, hundreds of young activists entered, occupied and vandilised the premise with spray-paint. Based on live footage provided by Nick Beake from BBC, “extensive damage was done to the building, with portraits of political leaders torn from the walls and furniture smashed.”
General view of the main chamber of the Legislative Council Building after protesters broke in. Source: Ritchie B Tongo/ EPA
Protesters erected the vandalised portraits in the centre of the chamber, defaced the emblem of Hong Kong, and at one point raised the British colonial flag. Beake emphasises how incredibly symbollic this act of vandalism has been, noting how the debris of half-used bottles of water, food and umbrellas carelessly placed around the tables and floor of the chamber really shows how the protesters have converted this place of power theirs.
Whilst protesters entered the LegCo building, the Hong Kong Police surprisingly laid quietly aside, allowing protesters to enter the building. Consequently, there have been questions as to whether it was a deliberate move made by the police to rally support from the wider public.
Later at midnight, hundreds of police charged towards the building after warning protesters to clear it. Police fired tear gas into the remaining crowd of protesters outside the building as they advanced. Police warned that protesters must clear the building or face “appropriate force”. Though most of the demonstrators had left the building by then, more than fifty remaining protesters were injured in this conflict.