A Tsap (whose name has been changed), is a 27-year-old frontline protester who was uninterested in politics and had never taken part in a public protest until June 12, when protesters blockaded the city's Legislative Council (LegCo) to prevent the passage of a widely hated amendment to the city's extradition laws that would enable the rendition of alleged criminal suspects to face trial in mainland Chinese courts. He spoke to RFA about his political awakening, and his view of Hong Kong's three-month-old anti-extradition movement.
RFA: How did you go from watching a live stream to getting involved in the protest on June 12?
A Tsap: I saw the police shooting at protesters, and using brutal levels of force to attack demonstrators and students. I went to Admiralty out of curiosity after I got off work, at about 5.00 p.m. I had no mask; I was just a curious onlooker who wanted to see what was going on.
Just then, the police took some pepper spray, the kind that comes in a yellow container, and started spraying it down the stairs [towards me]. I had nothing [in the way of protection] back then, and I had no intention of attacking them or doing anything at all. I was just there out of curiosity. After I was sprayed by them with pepper spray, I was quickly taken to one side by a first aider, who washed me down with saline.
That was a kind of political awakening for me, and started to think about Hong Kong's situation. I also made a group of friends, including students, and I learned about how Hong Kong was moving from democracy towards dictatorship, and how [the authorities] were using politics to suppress its people.
RFA: Where did that awakening lead you?
A Tsap: Once you understand how politics works, you can see how Hong Kong changed since the handover; how our freedoms have gradually gotten more and more restricted, how we have become more and more oppressed, and how people's lives have gotten worse and worse.
There is less and less hope for Hong Kong now. It doesn't really matter what we try to do about it. There isn't much hope for the future, which means that there isn't much hope for us, either. That's why we have to come out and resist.
RFA: Are the so-called 'frontline heroes' violent?
A Tsap: Actually, I don't think the frontline protesters are very heroic at all. We're just protecting ourselves. Going back as far as June, when have we ever attacked the cops first? We have just been protecting ourselves all along; protecting rational thinking.
The frontline protesters don't just go randomly attacking the police.
Yes, we put up barricades and throw Molotovs, but that is just to protect our lines. If we throw bricks, it's because they attacked us first. We're not the mythical fighters of people's imaginations, charging police lines.
RFA: What does "Reclaim Hong Kong! Revolution in our time!" mean? Is it a call for independence?
A Tsap: There has never been any talk of independence for Hong Kong.
All we want is fully democratic elections. If you do get people talking about independence, they will usually put up the dragon-lion flag [adapted by independence activists from the British colonial-era flag] ... But nobody really talks about it. We just want to go back to one country, two systems, because what do we have now? We have absolutely nothing. Hong Kong people are not in control of Hong Kong at all, actually.
RFA: Why have so many of the frontline protesters been so very young?
A Tsap: I would come out and fight if democracy was being suppressed regardless of how old I was. I have also seen photos of older men coming out, even older ladies. Isn't that what we should all be doing to keep the movement going?
RFA: Some people are saying that the protesters are destroying Hong Kong's beautiful environment.
A Tsap: Hong Kong is a beautiful place, but there is something wrong with it politically, and we want that to change. We can't allow a totalitarian leadership to take charge of such a beautiful place and strip it of all its value.
Reported by Tseng Yat-yiu and Lu Xi for RFA's Mandarin and Cantonese Services. Translated and edited by Luisetta Mudie.