Mon, Jul 02, 2018 - Page 1 News List

Hong Kongers protest Chinese yoke

‘PEOPLE ARE SUFFERING’:Authorities barred protesters from gathering at their traditional starting points and warned Hong Kongers against joining the procession

AFP and AP, HONG KONG

Protesters march along a street during an annual pro-democracy protest in Hong Kong yesterday.

Photo: AP

Thousands marched through central Hong Kong yesterday in protest of the 21st anniversary of the territory’s return to China as organizers said the event was coming under unprecedented pressure from authorities.

Beijing has become increasingly intolerant of signs of dissent in semi-autonomous Hong Kong since massive pro-democracy rallies in 2014 brought parts of the territory to a standstill and the subsequent emergence of activists demanding independence from China.

Hong Kong has rights unseen in China, including freedom of expression, but there are concerns those liberties are now under threat from a repressive Beijing and a loyalist local government.

Ahead of this year’s march — which takes place on the anniversary of the territory’s return to China by colonial power Britain in 1997 — police rejected a number of starting points suggested by organizers.

In the past, protesters have gathered on the main soccer pitches inside Hong Kong’s Victoria Park.

However, since last year, when Chinese President Xi Jinping (習近平) paid a visit to mark 20 years since the handover, that area has been given over to a pro-Beijing rally.

“This year is a turning point in which [authorities] have used different ways to mobilize their power to suppress the rally,” said Sammy Ip (葉志衍), from the Civil Human Rights Front that organizes the march.

Police told residents they could be arrested for unlawful assembly if they joined the protest along the route, which Ip described as a way to “intimidate citizens.”

Pro-Beijing Hong Kong newspaper Ta Kung Pao last month called in an editorial for the march to be outlawed.

Ip said the democracy movement was at a low ebb and was now being “hounded” by the government.

The march set off from a grass area at one side of the park and culminated at the government’s headquarters.

Protesters chanted: “End one-party dictatorship,” and “Reject the deterioration of Hong Kong.”

Some wore masks of Hong Kong Chief Executive Carrie Lam (林鄭月娥) with long Pinocchio-style noses attached.

“It’s about justice,” a 74-year-old who gave her name as Ms Liu told reporters. “The problems in Hong Kong have always been serious, but now they’re getting worse.”

Social worker Iris Wong, 26, said she was worried about Hong Kong’s freedoms being curtailed.

“The government isn’t working for the people and a lot of Hong Kong people are suffering,” she said.

Protesters flouted the police ban on joining midway through the march and speakers thanked them for “risking arrest.”

Since the 2014 “Umbrella movement,” leading pro-democracy activists have been prosecuted on protest-related charges.

Pro-democracy and pro-independence activists have also been barred from standing for office in Hong Kong’s partially elected system, or ejected from seats they had won through a public vote.

Other rights groups also joined the march, including lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender campaigners as well as protesters calling for better living conditions and equality in the densely packed territory.

Earlier yesterday, police stopped about 20 pro-democracy protesters from getting near a flag-raising ceremony.

The protesters carried a coffin symbolizing a death of democracy and chanted slogans against one-party rule in China, demands for universal suffrage in Hong Kong and China, and freedom for Liu Xia (劉霞), the widow of Nobel Peace Prize winner Liu Xiaobo (劉曉波).

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