Hong Kong's Civil Servants Come Out in Support of Anti-Extradition Protests

china-civilservants2-080219.jpg Hong Kong civil servants call on the city's government to respond to protesters' demands, Aug. 2, 2019.

Tens of thousands of people joined a rally of civil servants in downtown Hong Kong on Friday to call on the city's government to meet the five demands of anti-extradition protests that have gripped the city since June 6.

Chanting "Go Hongkongers!", the rallying cry of the anti-extradition movement, the civil servants met to send a clear message to the administration of chief executive Carrie Lam, who has become increasingly sequestered from public view in recent weeks.

Hong Kong's usually discreet and neutral civil servants are the latest group to come out strongly in favor of protesters, after lawyers, healthcare and medical professionals, financial sector workers, social workers and general trade unions.

The rally spilled over into several streets adjoining Chater Gardens in Hong Kong's Central district, with many present expressing support for a planned general strike on Monday.

The civil servants are calling on the government to meet the five main demands of protesters: to formally withdraw proposed amendments to the Fugitive Offenders Ordinance that would allow extradition to mainland China; to grant an amnesty for all arrested protesters; to withdraw official accusations of rioting; to set up an independent inquiry into police behavior during the crisis; and fully democratic elections.

Former second-in-command Anson Chan, who headed the civil service before the 1997 handover to China, called on the government to reflect on the unprecedented support for a political movement among Hong Kong civil servants.

"What the secretary for the civil service, and what the chief executive and the chief secretary should be asking themselves is why is it that, 22 years after the handover, civil servants, unprecedentedly, feel the need to stand up and make their voices heard," Chan told the rally.

Sounding an alarm bell

Teresa Chiu, who heads the production workers' union at government broadcaster RTHK, said civil servants also have a separate identity as citizens of Hong Kong, and have no wish to see worsening divisions in Hong Kong society.

She said the union would be expressing its views by participating in Monday's strike.

"I don't think that we are standing on the opposite side from the government," Chiu told RFA. "We just want to boost the confidence of those who hold the power to take positive action to rebuild mutual trust in the face of an ever-deepening rift between the government and the people."

"The strike is a way to sound an alarm bell, in the hope that the government will be courageous enough to take the first step towards standing with their citizens," she said.

Cheung Ka-bo, a worker in the government transportation division, said he was motivated to attend by the growing use of police violence to crack down on protesters.

"As part of the system, we want to uphold and protect the core values and principles of the civil service, and serve the people of Hong Kong at such a crucial juncture," Cheung told RFA. " We want to take a pragmatic approach, and heal the rifts in Hong Kong society as quickly as possible."

"No matter how long this dark night lasts, dawn will come eventually," he said.

Another rally participant, who gave only her surnamed Chan, said she wasn't there for political reasons.

"I'm here on a matter of conscience, not of politics," Chan said. "We're not even saying that we won't leave without withdrawal at this point, but why are the police being allowed to treat citizens in this way?"

Police, thug violence

London-based rights group Amnesty International has said the police are largely to blame for protester violence, because they have a tendency to use tear gas, pepper spray, rubber bullets, and batons to attack the crowd first, and that police justification that some protests hadn't received prior approval wasn't in line with international human rights standards.

Public anger began to spiral after a gang of triad-linked men in white shirts attacked train passengers at Yuen Long MTR station following the defacing of China's national emblems by protesters on July 21.

Nobody was arrested at the time, and police took around 40 minutes to move in on the attackers, who left dozens of people hospitalized, one in a critical condition.

Lam's second-in-command Matthew Cheung, who heads the civil service, said civil servants are required to be politically neutral.

"As a civil servant, it is okay to act as a citizen on your own time, but it is not acceptable to do something different from the government in the name of the civil service," Cheung said. "This will lead to public misconceptions."

Eleven more arrested

The rally came after police arrested a further 11 peole in connection with recent protests, including Andy Chan, who headed the now-banned pro-independence Hong Kong National Party (HKNP).

Chan shouted from the police van as he was taken away: "Go Hongkongers! Don't fear the white terror!"

The arrests came as hundreds of protesters continued to besiege police stations across the city, calling for the release of dozens of people—many of them high-schoolers, college students, and young professionals—detained on "rioting" charges in recent days.

Some 250 people gathered in protest outside Shatin police station on Thursday night, according to police spokesman, spraying black paint on surveillance cameras and hurling obscenities at police.

"They wrote humiliating words on the walls of the police station," the spokesman said. "They were arrested on suspicion of illegal assembly."

Threat to city's status

Tensions between the mainland and Hong Kong also sparked Chinese violence far away in the northern city of Chengde at a boys ice hockey match at the National Youth Games.

Hong Kong players were were leading their counterparts from Shenzhen 11-2 with about one minute left in the game on July 31 when they were assaulted by the mainland players, Hong Kong media reported.

The Hong Kong Ice Hockey Association said that three Shenzhen players involved in the incident were banned for one year by the organizers, while the Chinese Ice Hockey Association gave assurances that such an incident would never be repeated, Hong Kong's South China Morning Post reported.

The amendments are widely seen as a threat to Hong Kong's way of life, which was supposed to have been protected by 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 Chinese officials.

They could then be extradited to face trial in Chinese courts, which are directly controlled by the ruling Chinese Communist Party.

Students, march organizers, and pro-democracy lawmakers have all rejected government attempts at initiating discussions, saying that having their demands met would be a precondition for talks.

Carrie Lam has said the amendments are "dead," but protesters say her assertion brings with it no legal guarantee that they won't be resurrected at a later date.

Reported by Wen Yuqing and Wong Lok-to for RFA's Cantonese Service, and by Gao Feng for the Mandarin Service. Translated and edited by Luisetta Mudie.


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