Hong Kong Marks National Day With Protests Over Loss of Freedom, Democracy


2018-10-01
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china-hk-national-day-protests-oct-2018.jpg Protesters march at a National Day rally in Hong Kong, Oct. 1, 2018.
AFP

Hong Kong marked the 69th anniversary of the founding of the People's Republic of China on Monday with protests over curbs on its traditional freedoms, as pro-independence protesters were denied entry to a public square by police.

More than 1,000 people marched to a protest outside government headquarters on Civic Square in protest at growing curbs on freedom of expression in the city, as well as reports of shoddy safety and construction standards on key infrastructure projects.

Police denied entry to the rally, organized by the pro-democracy Civil Human Rights Front, to protesters holding a placard which read: "Without independence, Hong Kong will turn into China," but let the group in after the placard was discarded, local media reported.

A protester who gave only his surname Lee said he had attended out of protest that the city was marking National Day at all.

"We don't recognize the Communist Party's National Day," Lee said. "They say it's a national celebration, but we say it's a national tragedy."

"We don't think that the Communist Party is a legitimate government of the people, but one that overthrew a people's government through violent revolution," he said.

A protester also surnamed Lee said she fears the growing "communization" of Hong Kong's political life.

"Everything is getting very China-like, whether that be in politics, society or people's livelihood," she said, adding that the failure of the 2014 Umbrella Movement to achieve fully democratic elections had sparked a harsh backlash and the suppression of dissenting voices from the authorities.

Further up the coast, dozens of protesters led by the League of Social Democrats (LSD) held up banners protesting curbs on the city's traditional freedoms during the official flag-raising ceremony in Golden Bauhinia Square to mark Chinese National Day.

"Speech is not a crime!" the protesters chanted, and in a response to planned sedition laws: "Smash Article 23!"

The protesters then held a minute's silence for late political prisoner and Nobel peace laureate Liu Xiaobo, before chanting "There is no National Day celebration!" and "Still no Redress For June 4," in a reference to the 1989 Tiananmen Square massacre.

Both protests hit out at government plans to impose national security legislation which could criminalize political opinions Beijing has ruled invalid in the guise of subversion and sedition laws.

'One country'

The protests came days after the city's government announced a ban on the pro-independence Hong Kong National Party (HKNP), prompting widespread criticism from pro-democracy politicians and international rights groups.

The HKNP is the first political party to be banned since Hong Kong was handed back to China in 1997.

Chief executive Carrie Lam said the "one country, two systems" framework promised by Beijing before the handover should place more emphasis on "one country" than previously.

"Now that Hong Kong has returned to China, it is all the more important for us to firmly uphold China's sovereignty, security and development interests," Lam said.

"In practice, we must establish a strong sense of 'one country,' firmly observe the principle of 'one country' and correctly handle the relationship between [Hong Kong] and the central government," she said.

LSD chairman Avery Ng said her speech appeared to confirm the worst fears of Hong Kong people, that "one country" would trump "two systems" under Chinese rule.

"This is where we are at right now in Hong Kong: we are moving away from democratic reform while freedom of speech is being suppressed," Ng told RFA. "The list of political topics that can be debated is getting shorter and shorter, to the extent that that we can't even discuss a basic infrastructure project."

"Carrie Lam is now respecting 'one country' to such an extent that I don't know what she has ever done to benefit the people of Hong Kong," he said. "She has done nothing."

Reported by Lau Siu-fung for RFA's Cantonese Service, and by Jing Yuan for the Mandarin Service. Translated and edited by Luisetta Mudie.

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