A key organizer of recent million-strong peaceful protests has been attacked in Hong Kong by unidentified thugs wielding hammers, as the city's chief executive Carrie Lam left the legislature amid heckling from pro-democracy lawmakers during her annual policy address.
"Civil Human Rights Front convenor, Jimmy Sham, was attacked in Mong Kok Arran Lane by 4-5 people with hammers this evening at around 7:30 p.m.," the group said via its Twitter account on Wednesday.
"Jimmy Sham ... is now stable and taking rest in hospital," it said in a later tweet, as photos of Sham lying on the ground near a parked white car, covered in blood, began to circulate on social media.
Tanya Chan, convenor of the pro-democracy camp in the Legislative Council (LegCo) said she was very angry at the attack on Sham, especially after nobody had been arrested for an earlier attack on him in August.
"I am shocked and angry at the attack on Jimmy, especially as, as far as I am aware, not one person has been apprehended for the attack a couple of months ago," Chan said, in reference to an attack by two masked men armed with a baseball bat and knives.
"Carrie Lam, are you watching? What has Hong Kong become?" she said.
Long-time social activist and former lawmaker Leung Kwok-hung called on the people of Hong Kong to continue to insist on the five demands of the protest movement.
"There is no use being afraid," Leung told reporters outside Kwong Wah Hospital, where Sham is being treated. "Five demands, not one less."
The Civil Human Rights Front—which has organized two protest marches of more than a million people against plans to allow extradition to mainland China in recent months—called on people to join a mass march on Sunday in protest at the attack.
The group's spokesman Figo Chan said the attackers waved knives at people who tried to intervene, before escaping in a car.
"He was lying there on the ground to wait for treatment; he told me he couldn't move because his arms and legs were injured," Chan said. "There was a lot of blood."
"We strongly condemn this attack, which was intended to spread political terror," he said. "We are not going to give up our fight for democracy and human rights in Hong Kong."
Carrie Lam entered the LegCo chamber on Wednesday to give her policy address, in an apparent bid to soothe the situation with promises of more affordable housing.
But she soon cut off her speech after repeated shouts of "Five demands! Not one less!" from pro-democracy LegCo members.
The protesters' five key demands are: the formal withdrawal of planned amendments to extradition laws; an amnesty for arrested protesters; an end to the description of protesters as rioters; an independent inquiry into police abuse of power; and fully democratic elections.
In recent days, protesters have also begun calling for the current Hong Kong police force to be disbanded, particularly after widespread reports of the sexual abuse and torture of detainees at the hands of police.
Joshua Wong, a former student leader during the 2014 pro-democracy movement, earlier hit out at a warning from Chinese President Xi Jinping that anyone trying to "split China" would meet a sticky end, saying that the ruling Chinese Communist Party is deliberately misunderstanding the protest movement.
"I think President Xi definitely misinterprets the actual situation in HK and dodges our calls for democracy," he wrote via his Twitter account.
"Hongkongers are now fighting for true and fair universal suffrage, which is the unresolved promise in Basic Law 22 years after the transfer of sovereignty," Wong said, citing a recent survey by the Chinese University of Hong Kong as saying that more than 80 percent of Hong Kong's seven million population supports fully democratic elections in the city.
"Xi’s remark will not scare us off, but only makes us more resolute and tenacious. We won’t back down until the day when democracy comes," Wong said.
US lawmakers act in support
The renewed public anger in Hong Kong comes a day after the U.S. House of Representatives passed the Hong Kong Human Rights and Democracy Act, which will require Washington to review Hong Kong’s human rights situation annually and to take sanctions against officials linked to rights abuses in the city, if approved by the Senate.
Joshua Wong and fellow activist Denise Ho have pushed for the bill’s passage, saying it will protect democracy in Hong Kong, and more than 100,000 protesters joined a rally on Monday night in which they sang the U.S. national anthem, waved American flags, and urged Congress to approve the act.
Lam's administration hit back at the bill's passage in a statement on Wednesday, saying human rights were safe in their hands, and that democracy could only come after peaceful dialogue.
"The Hong Kong ... government attaches great importance to human rights and freedoms and is determined to safeguard them," the statement said. "Foreign legislatures should not interfere in any form in the internal affairs of the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region."
It said constitutional change could only take place on the basis of a decree from the China's National People's Congress (NPC) standing committee on Aug. 31, 2014, which insisted that election candidates in a one-person, one-vote scenario must be pre-approved by Beijing-backed officials.
The ruling sparked the 79-day 2014 Occupy Central movement which rejected the proposal as "fake universal suffrage."
Hong Kong citizens must decide
U.S.-based legal scholar Lee Yuen said that any decisions on the future of Hong Kong should be made by its citizens.
"It's not going to benefit the Hong Kong and Beijing governments, let alone the pro-democracy faction, if they prevent people from standing as candidates," Lee said.
Six pro-democracy lawmakers have already been stripped of their seats after Beijing ruled their oaths of allegiance invalid, while pro-democracy candidates have been barred from standing in LegCo by-elections on the basis of their political views.
A number of would-be district election candidates, including Joshua Wong, are currently being questioned about their political views, amid concerns that their candidacies will be rejected before the elections even take place.
The attack on Sham comes amid an ongoing debate among protesters about the use of violence in the form of rock-throwing, Molotov cocktails, and frontline attacks on riot police trying to disperse crowds, as well as acts of vandalism on China-linked businesses and public facilities that don't directly target people.
Veteran democracy activist Richard Choi of the Hong Kong Alliance in Support of Patriotic Democratic Movements in China said it is crucial that the protest movement stick to peaceful, non-violent direct action when standing up to the totalitarian might of Beijing.
"It is very hard to stand up to the totalitarian power that is the Chinese Communist Party," Choi said. "But once we let go of peaceful, rational protest and start using force, we are likely to be violently suppressed by the Chinese government."
"What's more, we will lose the support and understanding of citizens both in Hong Kong and mainland China," he said. "We may even lose international support for the people of Hong Kong."
Peaceful vs. violent protest
A protester surnamed Wong told RFA that he doesn't oppose the force used by the movement's "frontline" fighters, however.
"Personally, as a frontline fighter, I don't oppose peaceful protest, which is part of an international strategy for fighting totalitarianism," he said.
But there is currently a huge gap between the tendency of the police to inflict harm on people, and that of the protesters, he said.
"The Hong Kong Police Force imports its equipment from overseas, and there is nothing they won't do when it comes to harming Hong Kong people," Wong said. "We have seen this in recent reports of police brutality."
Hong Kong current affairs commentator Sang Pu said other countries would likely prefer to see a peaceful protest movement in Hong Kong.
"None of them can tolerate being criticized by China for inciting the protesters to violent resistance," Sang said.
But he said U.S. senators Ted Cruz and Josh Hawley hadn't mentioned protester violence when throwing their support behind the protest movement during a trip to Hong Kong earlier this week.
"Instead, they made a point of bringing up the shooting with live ammunition of an 18-year-old school kid in Tsuen Wan on Oct. 1, calling him another June 4, 1989 Tank Man," he said.
The latest opinion survey carried out by the Chinese University of Hong Kong on behalf of the Chinese-language Ming Pao newspaper found that just 30 percent of respondents say they trust the police, their own government and Beijing, with waning public support for a purely peaceful movement.
Seventy-two percent of those polled said the use of force by police was "excessive," while 75 percent said the government hadn't done enough to resolve the situation. Of that 75 percent, 70 percent said an independent inquiry would be a bare minimum to resolve the impasse.
Reported by Tam Siu-yin and Lau Siu-fung for RFA's Cantonese Service, and by Shi Shan and Han Jie for the Mandarin Service. Translated and edited by Luisetta Mudie.