Hong Kong fans chanted "Freedom for Hong Kong" and booed the Chinese national anthem at a soccer match in South Korea on Wednesday, as public faith in the city's rule of law plummeted back home.
Nearly 200 fans followed their team to watch the final round playoff against mainland China in the East Asian Football Championship at South Korea's Busan Asiad stadium.
They waved banners that read "Liberate Hong Kong, revolution in our time!" a slogan that has reverberated throughout the six-month-long pro-democracy protests in the city, and sang the anthem of the movement "Glory to Hong Kong." One fan held up a banner saying "Hong Kong is not China."
Tensions between Hong Kong and mainland China were running high ahead of the game, as state-run Chinese media have characterized the anti-extradition movement, which later broadened to include demands for full democracy and an independent inquiry into police violence, as the work of a handful of pro-independence radicals bent on wreaking havoc at the instigation of "hostile foreign forces."
Wednesday's match at the Busan Asiad stadium in South Korea came after the Chinese team lost to both Japan and South Korea. The Chinese team is already out of the running in the competition, but beat the Hong Kong team 2-0 in a duel that reflected current political tensions for many.
In recent years, Hong Kong fans have repeatedly jeered, turned their backs, and yelled Cantonese obscenities as China's national anthem was played over the loudspeakers at the start of soccer matches in the city, prompting Beijing to fast-track legislation banning "insults" to the March of the Volunteers, the rousing revolutionary tune that represents the People's Republic of China.
A Hong Kong student surnamed Lam who is at college in South Korea said he had also carried a banner that read: "China and the Chinese Communist Party aren't the same thing."
"There were frequent police patrols in the stadium, and we were warned that we couldn't bring banners with political content into the stadium, and we mustn't boo the national anthem," Lam told RFA.
"But in the end, the Hong Kong fans brought their 'Liberate Hong Kong, revolution in our time' banner in with them, and they also belted out Glory to Hong Kong, which we have all gotten to know very well during the past six months," he said.
Fans turn their backs
Lam said the Hong Kong fans had also turned their backs while the Chinese national anthem was being played. "They booed the national anthem, and then they sang 'Glory to Hong Kong' when the game had just gotten under way."
Lam said many of the South Korean fans he had met were highly supportive of the Hong Kong protest movement.
"I think there's a tendency in competitive sports to support the underdog," he said. "South Koreans know very well what is happening in Hong Kong right now."
Hong Kong current affairs commentator Liu Ruishao said such political displays at an international sporting event were the inevitable result of China's official attempts to smear the Hong Kong protest movement in state-run media.
"They want other people not to be political, but they are constantly being political," Liu said. "This isn't the fault of Hong Kong."
Loss of confidence
Back in Hong Kong, a major public opinion research center said public confidence in the rule of law in the city is falling sharply since the mass arrests of largely peaceful protesters on charges of "rioting" in recent months.
"This year's survey showed that 52.2 percent of respondents expressed dissatisfaction with the rule of law, significantly more than the 11.7 percent who were satisfied," the Bauhina Foundation said in a report on Wednesday.
"In the eyes of the public, the importance of preventing the government from abusing its power ... is regarded as the second most important factor in the rule of law after judicial independence," the report said.
"These changes in public opinion measured by objective data have really sounded the alarm for the government," the report said.
"If the public believes that the government cannot maintain law and order and protect personal safety, or even abuses its power, it will seriously weaken the public's rule of law in Hong Kong," it warned.
More than 60 percent of young people are now of the view that it is acceptable to break the law in the pursuit of social justice, the report added.
Reported by Gao Feng and Wong Lok-to for RFA's Mandarin and Cantonese Services. Translated and edited by Luisetta Mudie.