HONG KONG — For the second time in four days, Hong Kong was brought to a standstill by mass protests over a controversial extradition bill that threatens to chip away at the city’s diminishing semi-independence from China.
The demonstrations earned protesters a brief victory: the delay of a second reading of the bill. But tensions soon boiled over, when police fired rubber bullets and teargas to clear protesters from the streets, injuring dozens and further stoking outrage between the city’s pro-Beijing government and its residents.
Wednesday night’s events follow one of the biggest public protests in Hong Kong’s history, when more than one million people, about one-seventh of the population, swarmed the city’s streets on Sunday.
At the center of the public's fury is a proposed law that would allow China to extradite people from Hong Kong to the mainland. The bill has come to symbolize growing fear that the region, long-viewed as a separate entity from mainland China, is losing its autonomy under Beijing’s encroaching authoritarianism. They have reason to be concerned.
When the UK handed the island back to China in 1997, Hong Kong was promised freedoms of speech, press and assembly under its Basic Law — which effectively serves as the islands constitution and differentiates it from the mainland. But in recent years, Beijing has begun to impose its will on Hong Kong, slowly eroding those freedoms in a bid to bring the region more firmly under its control.
“I reminisce about the period of British rule. I was born and brought up in Hong Kong” Wong Fung Yiu, a 63 year old retiree at Sunday’s march told VICE News. “Human rights were better back in that time, compared to what we have nowadays. I have no trust in Mainland China.”
Despite the delays, Carrie Lam, the island’s pro-Beijing Chief Executive, has vowed to push the bill through the government saying further delays would only cause more “anxiety and divisiveness in society."
But protestors say she’s willfully missing the point, and ignoring the people’s will.
“It shows that she doesn’t care about those one million people that came out to show that they do not support this law.” Jamie Chi, an independent filmmaker told VICE News. “It will affect a lot of Hong Kong people because it will impose a lot of fear on us. We won’t be able to speak the truth if we’re always living in fear.”
Leung Ya contributed reporting.
This segment originally aired June 11, 2019, on VICE News Tonight on HBO.
Cover: Demonstrators raise their hands near the Legislative Council in Hong Kong, Wednesday, June 12, 2019. Hong Kong police fired tear gas and high-pressure water hoses against protesters who had massed outside government headquarters Wednesday in opposition to a proposed extradition bill that has become a lightning rod for concerns over greater Chinese control and erosion of civil liberties in the semiautonomous territory. (AP Photo/Kin Cheung)