Hong Kong's protests started in June against plans to allow extradition to mainland China. Critics feared this could undermine judicial independence and endanger dissidents. Until 1997, Hong Kong was ruled by Britain as a colony but then returned to China. Under the "one country, two systems" arrangement, it has some autonomy, and its people more rights. The bill was withdrawn in September but demonstrations continue and now demand full democracy and an inquiry into police actions. Clashes between police and activists have become increasingly violent, with police firing live bullets and protesters attacking officers and throwing petrol bombs. -BBC
HISTORY OF HONG KONG
The roots of the Hong Kong protests stems from Hong Kong’s unique historical background, which includes a hand off between two very different governments. In the 1840's, during the Opium Wars in China, Britain acquired Hong Kong and ruled over it for the next century and a half. However, during 1898, shortly after acquiring Hong Kong, Britain signed what was essentially a 99-year lease that would expire in 1997. As 1997 approached, the British began negotiations with the Chinese about what the expiration of the lease would signify for Hong Kong. The negotiations eventually ended with Britain agreeing to return Hong Kong back to China on July 1, 1997, under one condition: China would rule Hong Kong under a “one country, two systems” rule for the next 50 years, giving Hong Kong a great deal of autonomy and allowing Hong Kong to retain the same freedoms they had enjoyed under British rule.
However, with the 50 years coming up soon in the year 2047, China has slowly begun gaining more control over Hong Kong, including indirectly electing Hong Kong’s Chief Executive (who is currently Carrie Lam). Pro-democracy activists and protests have always been present in Hong Kong, such as the Umbrella Movement in 2014 which eventually faded out, but the recent Hong Kong protests has reached a far greater scale than any other pro-democracy movement ever recorded in Hong Kong’s history.
This time, unlike the Umbrella Movement, the protests began over a proposed amendment to Hong Kong’s already controversial extradition law in February 2019. The amendment, known as the, “Fugitive Offenders and Mutual Legal Assistance in Criminal Matters Legislation (amendment) Bill 2019,” was created because of a case in 2018, when a Hong Kong man who murdered his girlfriend in Taiwan fled back to Hong Kong, and, under Hong Kong’s current extradition law, could not be held to face trial in Taiwan where he committed his crime. Government officials claimed that the proposed amendment to the extradition law would ensure that criminals could be tried in other jurisdictions that Hong Kong does not have a formal extradition agreement with.
However, the new amendment sparked massive controversy, fear, and outrage in Hong Kong citizens, who believed that it would provide China with a legal loophole to freely detain and arrest Hong Kong pro-democracy activists and others who have actively spoken out against the Chinese government on unrelated charges and sentence them to heavy fines, jail time, or even capital punishment.
After several protests against the amendment, including a fight on the floor of Hong Kong’s legislative building, the Hong Kong government agreed to add several concessions that would protect human rights and ensure all people a fair hearing to the proposed amendment. However these concessions were not enough to satisfy the people of Hong Kong, who, on June 9, peacefully protested in the streets against the amendments. Despite the protest, Hong Kong’s Chief Executive, Carrie Lam, pressed on with the amendment to the extradition bill. On June 12, in retaliation, the protesters violently swarmed Hong Kong’s legislative building, delaying a debate that would have effectively passed the amendment.
June 12 is a memorable date in the history of the Hong Kong protests because it was the first time (but not the last) that the police labeled the protesters as rioters, used police force against them, and arrested several protesters. The events of June 12 created a ridge between the Hong Kong police and the protesters and was a massive turning point of the protests.
Following the events of June 12, Chief Executive Carrie Lam released a statement that said that the controversial extradition bill that had started the protests in the first place was dead, a statement that, ironically, only fueled the protesters. The protesters claimed that Lam was trying to silence the people and create a false sense of security, as the bill had only been suspended and not withdrawn.
Since June, protests have been occurring daily throughout Hong Kong for about two months. The protests usually follow a similar pattern: they begin peacefully, and then divulge into complete and utter violence between the protesters and the police. The police have used tear gas and water cannons, among other deterrents, against the protesters, and, in return, the protesters have fired Molotov cocktails and bricks. At one of the protests, a young woman, who was acting as a volunteer medic, was hit in the eye by a beanbag fired by the police and suffered a severe eye injury. Many protesters have adopted her as a symbol of police brutality by wearing gauzy-red inked stained eye patches and adopting the chant: “An eye for an eye!”
The protesters have stormed many buildings, their main target being Hong Kong government buildings, and have inhibited everyday normal life for Hong Kong citizens.
Most notably, on August 12 and 13, the protesters gained international attention after they took over one of the busiest airports in Hong Kong (and in the world) and caused it to cancel all of its departing flights and completely shut down for two days. The protesters managed to do this by occupying terminals and blocking people from reaching their flights, all while explaining and trying to gain support for their cause from travelers and airport personnel.
Protests are occurring on a daily basis in many different parts of the city, and the scale in both size and violence is slowly, but surely, increasing.
Since then, the cause behind the movement in Hong Kong has shifted from simply blocking a proposed extradition law to a call for the Hong Kong government to fulfill five specific demands that the protesters hold.
The first demand is that the extradition bill be legitimately destroyed and not simply 'put on hold.'
The second demand is that the government not call the protesters ‘rioters’ because rioting is an offense that could warrant their arrests.
The third demand is that the police release all of the protesters who have been arrested and drop the charges held against them.
The fourth demand is that the government develop a serious inquiry into the Hong Kong police department and investigate their tactics.
The fifth demand is universal suffrage for Hong Kong, which would allow Hong Kong citizens to democratically choose the leaders they want, instead of having China interfere in their election process.
Support over the protesters and their cause is divided within Hong Kong. Some citizens believe that the protests are disruptive and harmful to the economy and may hurt Hong Kong’s financial status and stocks. Others sympathize with the cause but believe that the protesters are far too violent in their demonstrations and will ultimately accomplish nothing. However, there also many Hong Kong citizens who actively participate in protests and demonstrations.
Jen Kirby | Vox | August 26, 2019
Siobhán O'Grady | Claire Parker | The Washington Post | August 13, 2019
Julia Hollingsworth | CNN | August 17, 2019
Ramy Inocencio | CBS News | August 15, 2019
Book: "City of Protest: A Recent History of Dissent in Hong Kong," by Antony Dapiran
Several Hong Kong protesters, wearing gauze patches stained by red ink as a symbol against police brutality. Credit to ABS-CBN News.
UPDATES : THE HONG KONG PROTESTS
Hong Kong Security Law
Effective June 30, 2020, China passed a new security law for Hong Kong, aimed to increase the country's control of the Hong Kong protestors. Many of the actions protestors have taken are now criminalized under the new security law. More information about the security law, some of its provisions, and its impact can be found in the link below.
The Hong Kong Safe Harbor Act
In the U.S., a group of both Democratic and Republican senators has reintroduced a bill, the Hong Kong Safe Harbor Act, to Congress, in response to China's national security law that was introduced in June of 2020. The senators claim that this bill would allow Hong Kongers who participated in protests and fear that they may be punished as a result of their actions to seek asylum in the U.S. This bill was reintroduced because the previous bill expired when the new Senate was seated in January 2021. These measures follow similar immigration measures issued by the UK, Australia, and Canada towards Hong Kong residents.
Hong Kong Protest Movement Nominated for Nobel Peace Prize
In February 2021, several U.S. lawmakers from both the Democratic and Republican parties joined together in a letter to the Nobel committee where they nominated the pro-democracy movement in Hong Kong for the Nobel Peace Prize.
March 2021: The Biden Administration's Actions
In March 2021, the U.S. sanctioned additional Chinese and Hong Kong officials in response to China's recent changes to Hong Kong's election system. These changes give China more control over appointing lawmakers in Hong Kong.
Later that month, U.S Secretary of State Antony Blinken released a notice stating that Hong Kong is not autonomous due to China's actions, and asking for China to cease these actions.
April 2021: Hong Kong Democracy Leaders Convicted
Seven prominent veteran pro-democracy leaders were found guilty of being part of, as well as organizing, a 2019 protest in Hong Kong, due to the protest being an "unauthorized assembly."
May 2021: U.S. Objects to Sentencing of Hong Kong Activists Attending Tiananmen Vigil
The U.S. called for the release of Hong Kong activists jailed for participating in a vigil for Tiananmen Square last year.
May 2021: Hong Kong Democracy Leaders Sentenced
Following the conviction of prominent veteran pro-democracy leaders due to their involvement with a 2019 protest in Hong Kong, they have received prison sentences of up to three years.
June 2021 Update: Following the arrest of Jimmy Lai, owner of the pro-democracy newspaper Apple Daily, the national security law has now been used to freeze the newspaper's assets, meaning that Apple Daily may be forced to shut down.
After 26 years, Apple Daily shuts down.
Following the shutdown of Apple Daily, activists in Hong Kong have worked to preserve the newspaper's work by uploading articles onto blockchain platforms.
June 2021: Hong Kong Imposes Ban on Tiananmen Square Anniversary Protests/Events
Hong Kong authorities have banned protests, assemblies, and the city's traditional candlelight vigil over the anniversary of Tiananmen Square for a second year. Authorities have denied applications by protestors to host such events, citing concerns about Covid-19, and warned that those who do participate in such events could be punished with hefty fines, prison sentences, and other punishments.
Hong Kong authorities have arrested and detained several individuals suspected of attempting to organize/publicize public events on the anniversary of Tiananmen Square. Hong Kong police were deployed to the streets to stop any such events. The US, Taiwan, and several former British foreign secretaries have spoken in recognition of the anniversary of Tiananmen Square.