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Protest in Hong Kong

Jun 26, 2019 • 17m04s

As millions protest on the streets of Hong Kong, the democratic freedoms promised in the handover to China are being tested.

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Protest in Hong Kong

22 • Jun 26, 2019

Protest in Hong Kong

LOUISA:

There's no sort of set routine for what happens. There are often groups that are congregating near the legislature or just beside the legislature. And that's pretty much gone on, day and night, for weeks.

[Theme music]

ELIZABETH:

As millions protest on the streets of Hong Kong, the democratic freedoms promised in the handover from Britain to China are being tested.

Louisa Lim on the character of the movement and the changes it’s demanding.

[Theme ends]

Archival tape - Unidentified woman:

“An extradition bill that sparked massive protests in Hong Kong has been put on hold.”

Archival tape - Unidentified man:

“A million demonstrators took to the streets, protesting a measure that would allow people, including political protestors, to be extradited to China.”

Archival tape - Unidentified woman:

“Critics worry that the bill would make it easier for Beijing to exert control over the region.”

ELIZABETH:

Let's go back a few weeks, Louisa and jump right in. Why is it that these protests initially began?

LOUISA:

Well these protests have kind of been brewing for a long time and they're about this law that the government's been trying to introduce, the extradition law. And this proposes that anyone on Hong Kong soil who is accused of a serious criminal offence in China could be extradited to China to stand trial.

ELIZABETH:

Louisa Lim is a senior lecturer in journalism at the University of Melbourne. She’s also author of People’s Republic of Amnesia.

LOUISA:

And what people are worrying about is that it effectively removes the firewall between Hong Kong's legal system, which is a common law system, with a supposedly independent judiciary, and China's legal system which is far more problematic.

And so people were really worried about that, but they were also worried that it contravenes this idea of one country, two systems which was put in place when Hong Kong returned to Chinese rule in 1997. And that meant that Hong Kong's way of life was supposed to continue unchanged for 50 years till 2047. But people worried that if the extradition law passed, then one country two systems would be effectively dead.

ELIZABETH:

So Louisa, this extradition legislation that the Hong Kong legislature wanted to pass earlier this year… They were seeking to push it through pretty quickly, is that right?

LOUISA:

Yeah that's right. I mean this first started in about mid February when the government announced that it would tackle the issue and it introduced the bill in April but it gave this deadline at the time, it said that it would try and pass it by June the 27th and legislators feared that the government wasn't following normal process. They didn't have a proper consultation and even within the legislature they were rushing the bill through. And so people started mobilising to stop the bill from passing and these protests were about that.

[Crowd sounds]

ELIZABETH:

And these were these have been largely peaceful protests at least in the very early stages?

LOUISA:

That's right. I mean the first protest was actually in late April when a hundred and thirty thousand people took to the streets and that was followed by this extraordinarily large march on 9th of June when a million people took to the streets.

Archival tape - Unidentified man:

“For the second Sunday in a row enormous crowds are marching through central Hong Kong. The crowd here is potentially bigger than we saw even last week”

LOUISA:

And that was the biggest march there's been in Hong Kong since it's return to Chinese rule in 1997. And still the government did not back down.

[Crowd sounds]

And then on the 12th of June which was when the bill was supposed to have a second reading in the legislature, there was another action where protesters surrounded the legislature and they were trying to stop legislators from actually physically getting to the buildings so they couldn't have the second reading of the bill.

[Crowd sounds]

And that turned quite nasty. The police responded with quite overwhelming force. They used 150 rounds of tear gas. They were firing rubber bullets and these bean bags and there were about 80 people injured.

And if you ask the protesters they will say that the police response was extremely brutal and it and in fact a recent report by Amnesty International has also criticised the police response.

ELIZABETH:

And who is protesting Louisa?

LOUISA:

At the massive protests really everybody is protesting. A lot of it is driven by very young protesters. So the core is people between 15 and 25, I'd say. There's really a lot of other people as well. So one interesting thing is the role of the church and religion in the protests, the anthem of these protests has been Sing Hallelujah to the Lord which you hear all over the place, all the time. One of the reasons that that has become an anthem of the protests is, you are allowed to have like religious meetings after midnight without permission from the police.

ELIZABETH:

So it's a loophole?

LOUISA:

It's a loophole. That's right.

ELIZABETH:

Huh.

[Crowd singing Sing Hallelujah to the Lord]

LOUISA:

As long as someone is singing this religious song you can classify it as a religious rally.

ELIZABETH:

That’s so interesting, that religion is allowed to exist in this way in Hong Kong and in a way that it’s not allowed in China.

LOUISA:

Well that's, I mean the example of how one country, two systems works. So Hong Kong is supposed to keep all the freedoms that it enjoyed in 1997 until 2047. And that includes the freedom of religion, the freedom of assembly, the freedom of speech, independent courts and judiciary. All of these things are supposed to be preserved under one country, two systems. And that's why the protesters was so angry and scared of this legislation, because they think it will undercut the very foundation on which Hong Kong faces its own identity.

ELIZABETH:

Carrie Lam is the chief executive of Hong Kong, it’s a role that’s essentially assigned by Beijing, she’s not directly elected by the people of Hong Kong. How does she respond to the protests?

LOUISA:

So immediately after the police responded so violently she put out a video…

Archival tape - Carrie Lam:

“After repeated deliberations over the last two days, the government has decided to suspend the legislative amendment exercise.”

LOUISA:

Where she was quite emotional and she spoke about how much she had sacrificed for Hong Kong.

Archival tape - Carrie Lam:

“As a free, open, imperialistic society, Hong Kong needs such a spirit of mutual respect and harmony in diversity.”

LOUISA:

People were just disgusted by that. They saw it as crocodile tears and they didn't think that she was sort of grappling with the actual demands of the protesters.

They thought that she should apologise and she didn't. They thought that she should withdraw the bill immediately and she didn't.

So, she didn't say that it would be withdrawn, she said that it would be suspended. And that was another reason why so many people turned out the day after. They know that suspending the bill means the process can be restarted at any point and they still want that bill withdrawn completely.

ELIZABETH:

Let's go back to the firewall between Hong Kong's common law system and China's legal system. The seeds of these protests, of course, begin there with that handover, under the one country, two systems model. What was expected of that handover and has that been delivered?

LOUISA:

Well immediately after the handover people were surprised at China's light touch and for the first decade or so it did seem as if one country, two systems was in operation. But in recent years we're really seeing that the one country, two systems idea has become unworkable, it's come under such massive strain. So we really started to see a huge erosion of many of the values that Hong Kong people hold dear, many of the institutions that they really cherish. And this has really been seen as an assault on Hong Kong's own distinct identity.

[Music]

ELIZABETH:

We’ll be right back.

[Music ends]

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ELIZABETH:

Protest is a marker of life in Hong Kong. It’s part of the city’s character and this model of one country, two systems. There’s been mention in the coverage of these current protests of the Umbrella movement which was kind of the last mass protest movement in Hong Kong in 2014. Tell me about that movement.

LOUISA:

So five years ago in 2014, Hong Kong was really gripped by this movement, the Umbrella Movement. And during that, activists occupied some of Hong Kong's most important streets for 79 days. And what they were seeking was more democratic political participation. They wanted to have more choice in the way that the chief executive was elected. And since the Umbrella Movement, six popularly elected lawmakers were disqualified by the courts, and the reasons why they were disqualified are really quite extraordinary. But it was because of the way that they said their oaths in the oath taking ceremony, you know, one person said it very slowly, someone else added a line by Gandhi.

Things like that became grounds to basically kick them out of the legislature. And then other activists who've been forbidden to stand for election. Public order offences have been used to imprison lots of people. In fact, since the Umbrella Movement there've been 48 different cases against 33 pro-democracy leaders in the courts and there've been 18 prison sentences. So we're really seeing Hong Kong's system and the independence of its judiciary being eroded very seriously and this upsets and worries and alarms Hong Kong people.

ELIZABETH:

And Louisa, what is happening on the streets right now?

LOUISA:

Oh it's very interesting. I mean every day it's different.

There all these walls that have sprung up, democracy wall and democracy path and democracy bridge, where people have pasted all over public space these posters saying things like “Keep fighting Hong Kong,” “Stop shooting our children,” “Carrie Lam resign.”

And if you're there you see just how well organised they are. I mean people going around passing out bottles of cold water, snacks, McDonald's hamburgers and chips ,so that people can keep protesting. They give out goggles for tear gas, helmets, gas masks, even Ventolin inhalers.

And then we're seeing every few days these more radical actions where protesters are surrounding buildings and forcing them to stop work.

And people have felt such a sense of urgency that there's a kind of a consensus that those who want to stay nonviolent will stay nonviolent, but others who want to use more radical tactics will do so. So that's one of the factors I think that makes it very unpredictable at the moment and makes the dynamics of this protest quite, quite difficult to control.

ELIZABETH:

So they're not going anywhere any time soon...

LOUISA:

It doesn't seem like they're going anywhere anytime soon. It looks like these protesters are really settling in.

ELIZABETH:

So that extradition legislation remains on hold right now but it hasn’t been withdrawn. Have the demands of the protest movement evolved as well?

LOUISA:

So the protesters are calling for that and they have some other demands as well now that any protesters who were arrested for rioting should be released. And that's important because the punishment for rioting can be sort of five to seven years in prison. So there are legal consequences and that's one of the reasons for the demand. And they also want independent investigation into police brutality. So we're seeing a shift, from a defensive kind of movement, to a more offensive movement with new demands and it seems very likely the protests will continue until the government moves on that front.

But clearly for the government, and for Beijing as well, withdrawing the legislation entirely would be a massive U-turn and it would also, for them, I think it would set this precedent which would be alarming, particularly to Beijing, because if people across the border in China realise that massive protests get results then we could see this kind of contagion effect and that's exactly what Beijing fears the most.

ELIZABETH:

Louisa is the risk here that this could be the end of the promise of the one country, two systems model?

LOUISA:

Well I think if you ask Hong Kong people many would say one country two systems has been crumbling for a long time. So I don't know whether the protests in themselves will accelerate that or not.

What we may see is a more determined attempt by Beijing to bring in more patriotic education and increase the kind of pro-Beijing propaganda. And that too will infuriate protesters.

You know, we're in uncharted territory here. Through these very determined protests they're really forcing Beijing to rethink the way it governs Hong Kong.

I mean Beijing is not going to like that at all.

[Music]

ELIZABETH:

Louisa, thank you so much for making time to speak with us.

LOUISA:

Thank you. Thank you Elizabeth, it’s a pleasure.

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[Music]

Elsewhere in the news:

The Nauru 19 are again open to legal sanction after the newly established Nauruan Court of Appeal overturned a permanent stay of prosecution. The Nauru 19 are the group of mostly opposition members of the Nauruan parliament, who say they’re being prosecuted for political reasons.

And on Manus Island, police have indicated they intend to lay charges against an asylum seeker who attempted suicide by setting himself alight. The Papua New Guinea police confirmed he would be charged with arson and attempted suicide, which is a crime in the country. He was held overnight by police before being evacuated for medical attention.

This is 7am.

I’m Elizabeth Kulas.

See you Thursday.

[Music ends]

As millions protest on the streets of Hong Kong, the democratic freedoms promised in the handover to China are being tested. Louisa Lim on the character of the movement and the changes for which it is asking.

Guest: Senior lecturer in journalism at the University of Melbourne and author of The People’s Republic of Amnesia Louisa Lim.

Background reading:

Protests erupt over Hong Kong extradition bill in The Saturday Paper
The Saturday Paper
The Monthly

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7am is hosted by Elizabeth Kulas. The show is produced by Emile Klein, Ruby Schwartz and Atticus Bastow. Our editor is Erik Jensen. Our theme music is by Ned Beckley and Josh Hogan of Equate Studio.

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22: Protest in Hong Kong