Thousands Surround Police Headquarters in Downtown Hong Kong in Renditions Protest

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A protester waves a flag outside Hong Kong police headquarters, June 21, 2019.
A protester waves a flag outside Hong Kong police headquarters, June 21, 2019.

UPDATED at 1:28 p.m. EDT on 2019-06-21

Thousands of protesters besieged government buildings in Hong Kong on Friday in protest over government plans to allow extradition to mainland China, and to call for the release of those arrested during protests on June 12.

Central government headquarters in Admiralty was pre-emptively closed on Friday, as a deadline for the government to respond to demands for the total withdrawal of amendments to the Fugitive Offenders Ordinance passed in official silence on Thursday.

Crowds of mostly young people wearing black converged on immigration and tax headquarters in Wanchai, sparking temporary shutdowns of the offices, before gathering in their thousands outside police headquarters to call for the release of those arrested, and to demand an apology for police violence against unarmed protesters last week.

Some activists barricaded a vehicle gate in the barbed-wire wall of the fortress-like compound, prevented police vans from getting in or out, and taping up CCTV cameras to avoid being identified. Others blocked nearby highways with makeshift walls, cones and traffic barriers, taking over several major traffic routes.

Police in uniform lined up inside the glass atrium of their own headquarters, with officers watching warily as the crowd chanted "Release them! Release them!" and "Apologize! Apologize!" on the street outside, where someone had taped a large poster to the building that read "Struggle to the bitter end."

The theme of Friday's civil disobedience actions was water, with protesters warned to stay hydrated, and also to "Be water," by changing the location of their actions by "flowing" to the next focal point.

But by nightfall, thousands of protesters seemed dug in outside police headquarters, while the barricaded highways nearby were largely empty of both people and traffic.

"The police haven't taken much notice of us, which makes us look pretty helpless to others," a protester surnamed Auyeung told RFA. "We have been sitting here for days now, and we have still had no response."

"It was the government's lack of response that forced us to change our strategy."

Joshua Wong, a leader of the 2014 Occupy Central protests for fully democratic elections, said the protesters' basic demands haven't changed.

"We have all come here to police headquarters to demand that the police withdraw their use of the term 'riot', and stop arresting demonstrators," Wong told the crowd. "We are all here to show our dissatisfaction with [Police Commissioner] Stephen Lo, right?"

"Retract the designation of rioting! Stop arresting citizens!" he chanted along with the crowd.

"Surround Police HQ! Hold Stephen Lo accountable!" they shouted.

Police violence unlawful

London-based rights group Amnesty International condemned police violence during protests on June 12 as "unlawful," after evaluating video footage of the clashes.

"From late afternoon into the night on 12 June, the largely peaceful protesters faced an onslaught of tear gas, guns firing rubber bullets, pepper spray and baton charges from police to disperse the demonstration near government headquarters," the group said in a statement.

"These unlawful police actions posed a serious risk of severe injury, or even death, to protesters."

The group said its policing and digital verification experts had carefully examined and verified a total of 14 videos available online or broadcast by the media.

"Our team verified incidents of the dangerous use of rubber bullets, officers beating protesters who did not resist, aggressive tactics used by police to obstruct journalists on site and the misuse of tear gas and pepper spray," it said.

All of the examples were found to be violations of international law and standards on the use of force by law enforcement officers.

Protesters on Friday also called for the resignation of secretary for security John Lee, and for the authorities to withdraw their description of the June 12 demonstration as a "riot," a claim that has been repeated by state-run media in mainland China.

Police spokeswoman Yolanda Yu called on the protesters to leave as soon as possible to avoid serious disruption to public services.

"The large crowd gathered outside police headquarters is actually having a serious impact on our ability to provide emergency services to citizens," Yu told reporters. "We call on them to leave as soon as possible."

"I would like to emphasize that the police have taken no action on this occasion to clear the area, and that we respect citizens' right to the peaceful expression of their views," she said.

The government also said the protests had disrupted traffic and public services.

"Dozens of 999 emergency calls could not be dealt with immediately," it said in a statement on its website. "More than 100 bus and minibus routes were diverted or suspended."

Civil service secretary Joshua Law called on Carrie Lam's administration to resolve the situation as soon as possible.

"Civil servants work for the people too, and we want to see minimal impact on our work for ordinary people," Law said. "We will try to find ways to continue providing services in various locations and under various contingency plans."

Justice secretary Teresa Cheng echoed Lam's initial apology that failed to appease the public, issuing a statement apologizing for failings in the introduction of the extradition amendments.

'Give us a way' to move on

But Democratic Party lawmaker Roy Kwong said her apology was unacceptable to the people of Hong Kong.

"If the government wants us to move on, then they need to give us a way to do that," Kwong said. "Please tell us exactly whether anyone ... made a poor decision that led to this crackdown on citizens?"

Democracy campaigner Joseph Cheng, a former political science professor at City University, said the government could address pretty much all of the protesters' demands if it chose to do so.

"That would give Hong Kong people a proper response ... All I am saying is that there should be an investigation, not necessarily one targeting the police, and destroying morale among law enforcement agencies," Cheng said.

"An investigation would also decide the issue of wording ... the demand for the release of suspects could also be addressed, because they are all still actually under investigation, so they could be released on bail," he said.

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 Sunday, possibly the largest in the city's history.

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 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 said 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 ruling Chinese Communist Party in 2014, sparking the Occupy Central, or Umbrella movement.

Hong Kong's lawyers on Friday also came 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.

The extradition plans "fundamentally imperil of the operation of the rule of law in Hong Kong," the Hong Kong Bar Association (HKBA) said.

"HKBA considers that the Government’s failure to withdraw the Bill is wholly unsatisfactory because it gives rise to concerns that any future consultation to be conducted by the Government on the topics of the surrender of fugitives and cross-border legal assistance will still be curtailed by the parameters set by the Bill," it said.

"HKBA therefore asks the Government to withdraw the Bill and make a commitment that it will not introduce any legislation on the question of surrender of fugitives and cross-border legal assistance without full and open consultation involving the Hong Kong public and others who have an interest in the subject matter," the statement said.

Reported by Wen Yuqing and Tam Siu-yin for RFA's Cantonese Service, and by Gao Feng for the Mandarin Service. Translated and edited by Luisetta Mudie.





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