UPDATED at 2:28 p.m. EDT on 2019-06-26
Tens of thousands of people once more thronged the streets of Hong Kong at a mass rally on Wednesday to protest government plans to allow extradition to mainland China, the latest action in a mass civil disobedience campaign against the administration of chief executive Carrie Lam.
Chanting "Withdraw the Evil Law!" and "Free Hong Kong! I want genuine democracy!", the protesters gathered in the downtown Central business district ahead of the G20 summit in Japan, in a bid to garner international support for their cause.
A student who gave only his surname Koh said he wanted to stand up for Hong Kong's remaining rights and freedoms.
"I want to speak out while we still have some rights left," Koh said. "If we don't stand up for our rights, then when they're taken away, nobody will have any sympathy for us."
"I think I would regret it later if I didn't stand up and speak out now."
The huge turnout once more caused overcrowding in the city's subway system, and many participants walked several blocks from the next station in order to attend.
The protest saw a return of calls—echoing those of the 2014 Occupy Central movement—for fully democratic elections in the city, with the crowd singing the popular "Les Miserables" hit "Do You Hear the People Sing?" in Cantonese and English, amid the light of thousands of cellphone flashlights.
Tens of thousands of protesters also called for the release of all those arrested following mass protests in recent weeks.
In scenes similar to last Friday's mass action, a large crowd formed outside the headquarters of the Hong Kong police force, amid shouts of "Release them! Release them!"
"I had come to speak out and do what little I can for the people of Hong Kong, regardless of whether it works or not," a protester surnamed Ng told RFA at the main protest in Edinburgh Place.
As an estimated 5,000 protesters gathered close to police headquarters, there were also shouts from the crowd of "Don't charge! Don't charge!", apparently to prevent any attempt to storm the building.
On live-streamed video footage of the sit-in, protesters barricaded one of the vehicle entrances with traffic barriers and umbrellas, and spray-painted nearby camera lenses, while others spray-painted protest slogans and obscenities about the police on the walls, as uniformed officers peered out at them from behind sheet-glass windows.
Earlier in the day, more than 1,000 anti-extradition protesters marched to 19 consulates in Hong Kong to call for international support.
The protesters delivered letters to the U.S., EU and U.K. consulates, as police gathered in the vicinity of the residence of chief executive Carrie Lam.
They also paid visits to the consulates of Canada, Japan, Argentina, South Korea, Germany and France. Officials at the Indian and Indonesian consulates refused to accept their letters, while the letter for the Russian consulate was left with building staff.
"We hope the consulates of the 19 countries will relay this solemn appeal from the people of Hong Kong [to their governments]," one protester told RFA.
"We are forced to turn overseas for support, because the Hong Kong government is ignoring the wishes of two ... million people," the protester said.
Call for pressure
A protest organizer who gave only his surname Lau said he hoped the protest would boost concern over the government's planned amendments to the Fugitive Offenders Ordinance, which will, if passed, allow the rendition of alleged criminal suspects to face trial in mainland China.
"We think this is a crucial juncture, because I believe that [officials] from the various countries will have a few questions for Xi Jinping when they meet with him, and put pressure on China," Lau said.
A student surnamed Wong said they had made the decision to attend of their own free will.
"I decided to come out of my own accord," Wong said. "Nobody made me do this. I did it based on my understanding of the whole affair, and not for money ... because if we didn't speak out, then other countries wouldn't know anything about this extradition law."
China's assistant foreign minister Zhang Jun said last week that Beijing won't allow the topic to be broached at the G20, and warned foreign countries not to interfere in China's internal affairs.
The amendments are widely seen as a threat to Hong Kong's way of life, which was supposed to have been protected under the "one country, two systems" framework under which the former British colony was handed back to China in 1997.
If they become law, the city could lose its status as a separate legal jurisdiction and trading entity, while journalists, visitors, rights activists, dissidents, democratic politicians, and members of the business community could be targeted for words and actions deemed illegal by the ruling Chinese Communist Party, and extradited to face trial in Chinese courts.
Pro-democracy lawmakers say the only solution to recurring mass protests in Hong Kong is for the government to allow fully democratic elections, a demand that was rejected by the Chinese Communist Party in 2014, sparking the Occupy Central, or Umbrella Movement.
Hong Kong's lawyers have also come out in support of protesters, saying that the extradition bill should be withdrawn completely, as opposed to the postponement offered by the administration of chief executive Carrie Lam.
A participant in Wednesday's "consulate crawl" surnamed Chan told RFA: "As soon as these amendments are passed, any German nationals living in Hong Kong or even tourists and high-ranking business executives visiting here, could be treated exactly like Meng Wanzhou, and arrested and taken to China based on any excuse."
Huawei chief financial officer Meng was detained by Canadian authorities at Vancouver airport on Dec. 1, pending an extradition request from investigators in the U.S., sparking a string of tit-for-tat arrests and even a death sentence meted out to Canadians in China.
Police use of tear gas, batons, pepper spray, and rubber and bean bag bullets on June 12 sparked a mass protest of around two million people on June 16, possibly the largest in the city's history.
Protesters also blockaded staff of three major government buildings on Monday, preventing staff from coming in and out over lunchtime, and prompting early office closures in some cases.
But justice secretary Theresa Cheung denied the government had been forced to halt normal operations because of the civil disobedience campaign.
"There have been four working days during the past two weeks on which the government has been unable to operate normally," Cheung told reporters. "But in an era of advanced communications, this doesn't mean that the government has stopped work, and the impact on citizens has been minimal."
"I hope the protesters will express their views in a peaceful and rational manner," she said.
Meanwhile, police withdrew officers from two government hospitals in Hong Kong in apparent retaliation over criticism of their unauthorized use of confidential patient data to figure out who had been involved in clashes on June 12 and arrest them.
Police posts at Queen Elizabeth Hospital and Yan Chai Hospital were unstaffed on Wednesday.
Hospital staff say police tried to demand confidential information from healthcare professionals on patients they said were suspects, with others using confidential information after eavesdropping on conversations between medical personnel and patients.
Doctors have warned that people could avoid seeking treatment for serious injuries for fear of being arrested in hospital, if healthcare workers are seen to be colluding with law enforcement agencies.
Police spokeswoman Lam Siu-tung said police have no access to the computer systems used by the Hospital Authority, however.
"Our colleagues have encountered some unmannerly behavior in their work in hospitals in recent days, including verbal abuse," Lam told reporters.
Government officials once more rejected calls for a public inquiry into the handling of the extradition proposals, including the actions of police on June 12, repeating their claim that the existing complaints system, which involves police investigating themselves, was adequate to handle allegations of police brutality.
Civic Party lawmaker Kwok Ka-Ki hit out the police decision to withdraw officers from hospitals.
"At what point did we start letting the police have tantrums, and to only do their duty if they feel like it?" Kwok said. "We don't ask the police to man the posts in hospitals: this is a part of their service, to render assistance to patients and their relatives."
"All this police response will do is fan the flames of antagonism with the general public," he said.
Meanwhile, campaigners on Taiwan raised more than U.S. $700,000 through a crowdfunding platform on Tuesday to fund the placing of advertisements in overseas newspapers on Thursday, calling on foreign governments to stand with Hong Kong at the G20.
Reported by Wen Yuqing, Lau Siu-fung and Chung Kuang-cheng for RFA's Cantonese Service, and by Gao Feng for the Mandarin Service. Translated and edited by Luisetta Mudie.