Since April 2019, hundreds of thousands of Hong Kong residents have been out on the streets protesting a deeply unpopular extradition bill that threatens to slash human rights and democracy within the region. The protests have been massive and ongoing, with some demonstrations drawing crowds of over 2 million people intent on asserting their opposition to the controversial use of power by the Chinese central government. But the protests are about more than just the bill, which has since been withdrawn. They are about the status of Hong Kong and it’s residents, and the power that China has over them.
Read on to learn more about Hong Kong’s fight for freedom and democracy in the face of oppression, and access resources to see what you can do to help.
One country, two systems
Hong Kong currently operates as a semi autonomous region of China with a distinctly different political system. A former British colony, Hong Kong was handed over to China in 1997 under the agreement that Hong Kong would retain a high level of autonomy, including freedom of the press, freedom of assembly, and the right to vote in elections, but these rights are currently in jeopardy. Hong Kong’s rights are laid out in a constitution known as the Basic Law. The special status and constitutional rights of Hongkongers under the one country, two systems approach are set to expire in 2047, at which point the fate of Hong Kong will be in the hands of the Chinese central government.
Beyond the bill
Triggered by a proposed extradition bill that would allow anyone suspected of a crime to be sent to mainland China to face trial, the protests represent the ongoing fight against China’s encroaching influence and political power over Hong Kong. Although the bill has since been withdrawn, critics say it’s too little, too late. The bill faced extreme oppostition due to concerns that people would suffer arbitrary detention, unfair trials, wrongful convictions and even torture if sent to China. This proposed bill is just one example of how China is attacking Hong Kong’s democracy ahead of the 2047 expiry of the one country, two systems agreement.
Residents of Hong Kong have long protested against the erosion of their freedoms. In 2003, over half a million demonstrators took to the streets to fight legislation that banned people from speaking out against China. In 2014, large scale protest demonstrations occupied the city for weeks to protest China’s influence over Hong Kong elections. These elections remain a contentious issue today, as Hongkongers don’t actually have the ability to vote for their leader. The leader is selected by a small committee and approved by the Chinese government. Although pro-democracy candidates often win the popular vote within the legislative council, they always make up less than half of the council due to 30 of the 70 seats being reserved for pro-China and business parties.
Five demands, not one less
The following list of demands are the five-point rally call that Hong Kongers are currently fighting for.
- Complete withdrawal of the extradition bill. The bill was formally withdrawn in October, 2019, but the ripple effect of the proposal can still be seen through the protestors whose rights have been threatened time and time again.
- Retraction of the riot characterization. Amidst ongoing clashes between protesters and law enforcement, the police commissioner declared that protestors were participants in a “riot”. Protestors are demanding that the vague and arbitrary term be retracted, as rioting carries a penalty of up to 10 years of jail time.
- Immediate release and exoneration of arrested protesters. Nearly 7,000 people have been arrested for participating in protests, including volunteer medics and journalists. Over 500 have been charged with rioting. Many of these people are being held for crimes that they have not committed, and Hongkongers are demanding amnesty now.
- Establishment of an independent commission of inquiry to investigate police brutality. There is currently no accountability for the use of excessive police force against protestors. Protesters are demanding the creation of an independent commission of inquiry to address human rights violations against protestors, and hold the police accountable for their crimes.
- Free election through universal suffrage. Protestors want the right to democratically elect their leader and members of the legislative council.
Oppressive new law
On July 1, 2020, China’s central government imposed a new National Security Law that further threatens the rights and freedoms of Hong Kong citizens. The law criminalizes “acts of secession, subversion of state power, terrorist activities, and collusion with foreign or external forces to endanger national security,” each carrying a maximum sentence of life imprisonment. This national security law overrides any existing Hong Kong laws in the event of a conflict, thus minimizing the autonomous nature of Hong Kong’s legal system.
Some of the most concerning aspects of the new law include the ability for cases to be dealt with secretly, suspension of the right to a trial by jury, and the potential expulsion of foreign residents in Hong Kong if they are even suspected of violating a law. The legislation has been criticized by lawmakers, human rights groups and politicians from around the world. Opponents are worried it will be used to target protestors, activists, journalists, and human rights advocates in Hong Kong. Many Hongkongers and foreigners in Hong Kong are going so far as to delete all traces of their participation in protests from social media in order to protect themselves from being charged with subversion of state power – a charge that carries a minimum penalty of five years imprisonment.
How to help
Here is a list of resources that you can use to support the fight for human rights, democracy and freedom in Hong Kong:
Sign this protest to demand that the Hong Kong government take necessary measures to establish a fully independent mechanism conduct investigations into inappropriate use of force or other abuse by police, as well as respect and ensure the rights to freedom of expression, association and peaceful assembly.
Sign this petition to demand that Hong Kong retain their rights to peaceful assembly and freedom of expression, and unlawful use of force by police be investigated and punished.
Donate here in support of the Hong Kong Free Press – an independent, not-for-profit journalist run organization that publishes accurate, transparent, uncensored news in Hong Kong.
Use these pre-made templates to call on your own government to adopt policies promoting Hongkongers’ rights, freedoms and safety.