Thousands Rally in Hong Kong After Police Freeze Crowd-Funded Millions

hongkong-protest.jpg A group of protesters gather inside the Revenue Tower in Hong Kong, Dec. 23, 2019.

Thousands of Hongkongers rallied in a mass downtown protest at the freezing of funds by the authorities that were raised to provide legal assistance to arrested protesters.

Chanting "Free Hong Kong! Revolution in our time!" the protesters held up cellphone flashlights in the rally in the downtown Central business district on Monday evening in support of Spark Alliance, a group that had crowd-funded millions of Hong Kong dollars to support thousands of people arrested since protests escalated in early June.

The same slogans were projected on major buildings including City Hall and the General Post Office, while protesters also signed a petition calling on the U.S. government to freeze assets linked to the Chinese government in response.

Hong Kong police said last Thursday that they had frozen H.K.$70 million (U.S. $10 million) raised by Spark Alliance, a non-profit online platform formed in 2016 that collects donations to help pro democracy protesters, and arrested its four members for money laundering.

The alliance is one of two crowd-sourced funding initiatives that have collected millions of dollars in funding to aid and assist people arrested and being prosecuted for their part in the protest movement that has gripped Hong Kong since early June.

While police said that some of the money had been transferred to a shell company, and later used to buy insurance, protesters have insisted on seeing evidence of these claims, saying they are an official attempt to smear the protest movement.

A petition calling on the administration of President Donald Trump to freeze an equivalent amount of Chinese-owned assets in the U.S. had garnered more than 12,000 signatures by Monday evening.

"Such accusations are believed to be false since they are pure donations by Hong Kongers," the petition read. "The attempt is just to suppress Hong Kongers' human rights."

Solidarity with Uyghurs

Meanwhile, police defended the pulling of a firearm on Sunday by an officer at a rally in support of China's Muslim Uyghur ethnic group, at least 1.5 million of whom have been subjected to mass incarceration in "re-education" camps along with other minorities and Han Chinese deemed in need of political "re-education."

Roughly  1,000 people waving Uyghur flags and posters while stressing solidarity against their common foe the Chinese Communist Party at a gathering near Hong Kong's Harbourfront, before police later swooped in using pepper spray to disperse protesters, who responded by throwing glass bottles and rocks.

Chief superintendent Kwok Ka-chuen said the officer drew his gun to protect himself and his colleagues. "Some rioters pushed our officers onto the ground, snatched at his belt ... it was a very dangerous and chaotic situation," he said. "At this juncture our officer pulled out his service revolver to protect his safety and save his colleagues," Kwok told a news conference on Monday.

"Once the situation came under control, he put his revolver back," said Kwok.

Riot police charged into Central's Edinburgh Place after a Chinese national flag was ripped down from a flag pole by City Hall, government broadcaster RTHK reported.

"As they tried to arrest some people, a melee ensued with people pelting them with things like water bottles," the station said. "An officer pulled out and pointed his revolver at the crowd at one point, but did not fire."

Police also announced they would be blocking key roads in Central and Causeway Bay districts ahead of planned protests on Christmas Eve.

Protesters continue to call on the administration of chief executive Carrie Lam to meet all five demands of the protest movement, which include full democracy and an independent inquiry into police violence against protesters.

Four outstanding demands

While Lam has formally withdrawn widely hated plans to change Hong Kong's extradition laws, she and her officials have repeatedly ruled out meeting the other four demands.

Protesters have continued to take to the streets in their hundreds of thousands, after a landslide victory of pro-democracy parties in last month's District Council elections.

But a Chinese foreign ministry representative in Hong Kong, Xie Feng, said the protests are the result of actions by a "minority" of angry and disaffected youth in Hong Kong.

"The political crisis in the past six months has pushed Hong Kong into its most dangerous situation since the handover," Xie said in comments reported by the South China Morning Post.

"Some young people have lost themselves by taking part in street violence and illegal activities, vandalizing, setting fires and assaulting police or citizens, as well as desecrating the national flag and waving foreign ones or begging for outside intervention," Xie said.

He called on Hong Kong's young people to take advantage of the opportunities offered by the city's return to Chinese rule in 1997.

Reported by RFA's Cantonese Service. Translated and edited by Luisetta Mudie.


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