Tens of thousands of people poured onto the streets of Hong Kong's downtown Central business district on Thursday, waving American flags and singing the national anthem of the United States in a gesture of thanks after U.S. President Donald Trump signed legislation they had been campaigning for into law.
"Another amazing rally tonight. Tens of thousands of #HongKongers celebrated the signing of #HongKongHumanRightsandDemocracyAct," the pro-democracy party Demosisto said via Twitter, tweeting a photo of thousands of cell phone flashlights spread across major highways in Central. "That's the best #Thanksgiving gift for #HKprotesters."
Hundreds of U.S. flags were visible as participants shouted "Fight for freedom, stand with Hong Kong!"
Demosisto secretary general Joshua Wong, a former student leader during the 2014 Occupy Central movement, said protesters will now be looking for evidence of human rights abuses to submit to Washington for consideration under the new law.
"Demosisto will be actively collecting opinions from across Hong Kong society, and will make lists of officials recommended for sanctions, including officials who abuse their power, [electoral] returning officers and rotten cops," Wong said.
U.S. President Donald Trump on Wednesday signed the Hong Kong Human Rights and Democracy Act a week after the legislation cleared the House of Representatives 417-1 in a show of support for Hong Kong after months of pro-democracy protests.
Protesters also put up posters on the walls near Edinburgh Place thanking individual Congressmen for their support, including Senator Marco Rubio and Rep. Chris Smith, co-chairmen of Congressional Executive Commission on China (CECC), and Texas Senator Ted Cruz, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and prominent Republican Solomon Yue.
"Enactment of [this law] makes it abundantly clear that the Trump Administration, US Congress, & the American people stand in solidarity with the people of #HongKong," Smith said via Twitter after the bill became law. "Beating, torturing, jailing of democracy activists is wrong."
The law is the first major revision of U.S. policy toward Hong Kong since Britain handed the city to China in 1997.
The new act requires the U.S. State Department to report annually to Congress whether Hong Kong is “sufficiently autonomous from China” to justify keeping the city’s distinct trading status, and whether China has “eroded Hong Kong’s civil liberties and rule of law,” as protected by the city’s Basic Law.
It also enables the U.S. government to freeze the assets of, and refuse visas to, officials deemed responsible for human rights violations in the city.
Civic Party lawmaker Alvin Yeung said the passing of the bill into law showed Hong Kong that it doesn't stand alone.
"It also shows that the international community recognizes the bitter struggle of the people of Hong Kong during the past six months for democracy, human rights and our freedoms," Yeung said. "The Hong Kong government is now forced to keep in mind ... how its actions and judgements will affect how the international community views [our autonomy]."
A self-described protester using the Twitter handle @Moira_Ooops wrote: "Thank you America for pushing and pass[ing] the #HongKongHumanRightsandDemocracyAct. It's encouraging and useful. Thanks for Stand[ing] with us."
And Twitter user @catcried tweeted at Trump: "Happy Thanksgiving! Thank you for giving hkers a gd present❤️."
China's foreign ministry responded angrily to the signing of the bill into law, warning that Washington will now face "consequences."
"It is severe interference in Hong Kong affairs, which are China's internal affairs," the ministry said in a statement relayed to Twitter by one of its officials, Zhao Lijian. "It is in serious violation of international law & basic norms governing international relations."
"We urge US to not continue going down the wrong path, otherwise China will take countermeasures, & US must bear all consequences," it said.
Reported by Lau Siu-fung for RFA's Cantonese Service, and by Gao Feng for the Mandarin Service. Translated and edited by Luisetta Mudie.