Articles Tagués ‘Police Brutality’

Hong Kong Pro-Democracy Protesters Remain Defiant of China After Weeks in the Streets

From the BBC

Police confront protesters in Mong Kok, Hong Kong, 17 October
The protest movement now focuses on the Mong Kok district

Thousands of protesters are still holding out on the streets of Hong Kong in defiance of tear gas and government warnings. The BBC explains who is behind the movement, and why.


Why are people in Hong Kong so angry?

Hong Kong has not seen a protest on this scale for years, with tens of thousands turning out at one point. The numbers have since fallen but some 9,000 “re-occupied” Mong Kok on 17 October.

Those out on the streets have been angered by the Chinese government’s ruling on who may stand as a candidate in elections for Hong Kong’s leader, due in 2017.

At the heart of this is a civil disobedience movement launched by democracy activists, Occupy Central. When China made its ruling, Occupy Central promised demonstrations.

Then students in Hong Kong began a separate class boycott in late September and when they broke into the main government compound on 26 September, Occupy kicked off its campaign early.

The police use of tear gas on supporters on 29 September further fuelled protesters’ anger. The initial sit-in at the Central district spawned more protests at Causeway Bay and Mong Kok, and a fourth site opened up at Canton Road days later.

Protesters have since called for the resignation of Chief Executive CY Leung for his handling of the situation, but the Chinese government has publicly pledged its support of his administration through the Chinese Communist Party newspaper People’s Daily.


What lit the fuse?

It was always unclear exactly how much support Occupy Central could count on. They say that when the demonstrations began a spontaneous outpouring helped boost crowds.

Tens of thousands of ordinary Hong Kong residents took to the streets, mostly young, but pensioners and young families were also seen among those protesting.

Occupy Central say there is no single group in charge of the protests and that people refused to disperse even when they asked them to after the police let off tear gas canisters.


How violent could it get?

A pro-democracy demonstrator runs as police fired tear gas towards protesters near the Hong Kong government headquarters on 28 September 2014
These protests have seen tear gas deployed to disperse protesters

Hong Kong rallies are generally peaceful and well organised. But as Hong Kong’s politics has become more polarised so protests have become more confrontational.

Most witnesses report a peaceful and co-operative atmosphere, but police have used tear gas and batons on occasion.

Occupy Central insists it is a non-violent movement, but the rapid growth of the student-led campaign could also change the dynamic.


Might the protests change China’s mind?

Trams sit stranded as thousands of people block the streets in a huge protest march against a controversial anti-subversion law known as Article 23 in Hong Kong, 1 July 2003
A controversial national security law proposed by the government was dropped after large protests in 2003

Before these protests began, activists admitted the movement was unlikely to sway China.

Public protests play an important role in Hong Kong. Locals have free speech and the right to protest, even though they cannot directly elect their government.

And they have used this right to effect in the past. A controversial national security law known as Article 23 was proposed in 2002, but dropped after large protests the following year. More recently, the government was forced into a U-turn on “patriotic education” classes.

The size and passion of these protests have taken observers by surprise, but the demands strike at the very heart of the nature of Beijing’s authority.

Demanding full democracy would radically change how Hong Kong is governed and China is unlikely to cave in on this – it would be seen as a dangerous precedent.


Does everyone agree with the protesters?

General night-time view of the Hong Kong cityscape across Victoria Harbour from Kowloon Peninsula, 17/07/2011
Some are concerned that sit-ins could harm Hong Kong’s status as a financial centre

No. There is a large spectrum of opinion in Hong Kong which analysts say appears increasingly polarised.

The campaigners and protesters want political reform and democratic elections that meet international standards.

But Hong Kong is also a business-minded city, and many will be reluctant to take part in civil disobedience, or anger Beijing, fearing it could hurt the economy.

On 3 October, anti-Occupy protesters began heckling the pro-democracy demonstrators at the Mong Kok site, which later escalated into scuffles and violence.


Who are the key players?

Benny Tai with fellow democracy activists Benny Tai (centre) is one of the founders of Occupy Central

Occupy Central led the way in campaigning for more direct democracy.

Its leaders – law professor Benny Tai, sociologist Chan Kin-man and church minister Yiu-ming – are seen as moderate pro-democracy figures.

It is supported by many political parties in Hong Kong’s pan-democratic camp.

Student leaders like Alex Chow and Lester Shum have come to the fore. Joshua Wong, who was at the helm of the campaign against “patriotic education”, is also a force in these latest protests.

Pro-China youth group marches in Hong Kong in August
Occupy Central’s plans have also prompted counter-demonstrations – such as this pro-China march in August.

All three were arrested as the student demonstrations erupted but have since been released.

Pro-Beijing and pro-business parties tend to be against the campaign, and several anti-Occupy Central groups have also been set up. They claim to own the silent majority.


What are China’s biggest fears?

File photo: China's President Xi Jinping, 28 June 2014
Xi Jinping has kept a firm grip on power since becoming president in 2013

China does not want any movement that could be perceived as a challenge to its authority. Nor does it want a pro-democracy campaign spreading from Hong Kong to the mainland.

The fury in state media is palpable. It has accused “external forces” of meddling in Hong Kong’s affairs and encouraging “separatist sentiments”.

There has also been speculation over whether China would get involved in a crackdown. That would almost certainly be seen as an absolute last resort, given the likely international and business repercussions.


So what happens now?

Pro-democracy lawmakers hold up a banner and signs during a protest as Li Fei (seen on screen), deputy general secretary of the National People's Congress (NPC) standing committee, speaks during a briefing session in Hong Kong, 1 September 2014
Pro-democracy lawmakers have opposed political proposals that adhere to Beijing’s restrictions

Mr Leung says the government is ready for talks and a meeting is due to be held on 21 October.

It remains to be seen if the dialogue will bear fruit. On 3 October pro-democracy leaders threatened to call off talks if the government did not adequately protect them from attacks by anti-Occupy groups.

To enable direct elections in 2017, the Hong Kong government will have to present a political reform plan to Hong Kong’s law-making body, the Legislative Council, for a vote. Pro-democracy lawmakers, who hold enough seats for a veto, have said that they will vote down any proposal based on China’s ruling.

If the proposal is voted down, Hong Kong will be unable to implement universal suffrage, and its elections are expected to proceed as before, with a committee of 1,200 mostly pro-Beijing figures selecting the leader.

Before any of this, however, it needs to find a way out of the current impasse on the streets.