Two Years After Million-Strong Protest, Hongkongers 'Saddened' by Loss of Freedom

The authorities have launched an ever-widening crackdown on political dissent in response to the 2019 protest movement.
Two Years After Million-Strong Protest, Hongkongers 'Saddened' by Loss of Freedom Clashes after a rally against a controversial extradition law proposal in Hong Kong, the largest street protest in at least 15 years, June 9, 2019.

Hongkongers on Wednesday marked the second anniversary of a million-strong march that launched a mass protest movement in 2019 that started with widespread opposition to plans to allow extradition to mainland China, and broadened into calls for full democracy and official accountability.

More than a million people marched from Victoria Park to government headquarters in Admiralty that day, in a bid to put an end to a legal amendment that would have allowed the rendition of alleged criminal suspects to mainland China.

A Hong Kong resident who gave only a surname, Ho, told RFA that it has been saddening to watch the events of the past two years.

"Hong Kong no longer exists," Ho said. "We have lost the freedoms that we should have had."

"The next generation will be treated far more like people in mainland China."

While chief executive Carrie Lam eventually withdrew the disputed amendment, her response came after the movement had added several more demands -- including for fully democratic elections -- to its list.

Since then, more than 1,000 people have been prosecuted and many more arrested, mostly for charges linked to "rioting" and "illegal assembly" under the Public Order Ordinance.

The ruling Chinese Communist Party (CCP) in Beijing has since imposed a draconian national security law on Hong Kong, launching an ever-widening crackdown on public dissent and political opposition that has seen dozens of former opposition lawmakers and democracy activists detained for "subversion" for taking part in a democratic primary in 2020.

The mass public protests -- which Beijing claims were incited by hostile foreign powers fomenting a "color revolution" in Hong Kong -- and the increasingly violent responses by protesters to widespread and excessive police violence, were cited as the main reason for the new regime.

Overseas asylum, emigration

Hong Kong's electoral system has also been tweaked to ensure that only candidates who passed a multi-tiered vetting process that includes the newly established national security police will appear on the ballot paper.

Dozens of frontline protesters, pro-democracy politicians and rights activists have fled overseas, while school enrolment figures indicate that thousands of families are leaving the city, possibly encouraged by fast-track visa and citizenship programs offered by the U.K., Australia and Canada since the national security law took effect on July 1, 2020.

Ho said she expects the authorities to make Hong Kong unrecognizable to those who grew up there.

"I think they will be teaching the children the total opposite of the truth," Ho said. "They won't find it easy to tell the difference between right and wrong ... it will have a huge impact on the next generation."

While public protest and opposition has largely been silenced, many say they won't forget what actually took place in Hong Kong.

"Change doesn't come all at once, but requires time and effort," a resident surnamed Cheung told RFA. "The government has yet to give us the answers we are demanding."

Exiled lawmaker Nathan Law called on Hongkongers everywhere to hold June 9 in their memories, defying Beijing's attempts to erase the events of 2019 from collective memory.

"If there are Hongkongers overseas, in Taiwan, in the U.K., we still need to remember this day, because these are the memories that [Beijing] wants to obliterate," Law said.

"We need to use our overseas profile ... to make sure that the international community can see that we are still working hard to restore Hong Kong to its former glory," he said.

"It will also remind them to be wary of the CCP's use of authoritarian power."

Taiwan support

In Taiwan, ruling Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) lawmaker Lin Chang-tsuo called on the island's government to take practical steps to help Hong Kong.

"We must ... aid the Hong Kong democracy movement and support those who are being persecuted in more ambitious and flexible ways," Wang said. "We also need to look at tightening checks on the flow of Chinese money and human resources through Hong Kong with a view to political infiltration of other countries."

Fellow DPP lawmaker Wang Ting-yu said there are parallels between Beijing's suppression of the Hong Kong democracy movement, and the bloody crackdown by the People's Liberation Army (PLA) that ended weeks of a student-led protest movement on Tianamen Square and elsewhere in China.

"The human rights abuses we saw during the anti-extradition movement were the same as those we saw [after] June 4, 1989," Wang said. "There is a different [leader] in charge, but the methods are the same."

"The whole world needs to confront dictatorship and stand up to human rights abuses, something that Taiwan has also experienced."

A group of NGOs in Taiwan called on the government on Wednesday to amend laws to provide more help to people from Hong Kong who wish to seek asylum in Taiwan.

The appeal was made as the groups marked the second anniversary of the June 9 protest online.

Taiwan opened a special office on July 2020 that provided one-stop services to Hong Kongers who wanted to study, do business, invest, or seek asylum in the country, but stopped short of revising laws to offer clearer pathways for people from Hong Kong hoping to settle in Taiwan.

Taiwan Association for Human Rights legal department director Wang Si told the Central News Agency (CNA) that Taiwan needs to publish guidelines for Hongkongers hoping to seek asylum in Taiwan.

Reported by Matt Chan, Cheng Yut Yiu, Lau Siu Fung and Chung Kuang-cheng for RFA's Cantonese and Mandarin Services. Translated and edited by Luisetta Mudie.


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