2019 kicked off with anger in Hong Kong as thousands of demonstrators marched to demand full democracy, fundamental rights, and even independence from China in the face of what many see as a marked clampdown by the Communist Party on local freedoms.
As Reuters reports, over the past year, countries such as the US and Britain have expressed concerns about a number of incidents they say have undermined confidence in Hong Kong’s freedoms and autonomy under Chinese rule.
These include the jailing of activists, a ban on a pro-independence political party, the de facto expulsion of a Western journalist and barring democracy activists from contesting local elections.
The New Year’s day march included calls to restart stalled democratic reforms and to fight “political repression” from Beijing.
Echoing the mainland repression, The South China Morning Post reports that the organiser of the protest march says it has been ordered by officials to prevent demonstrators from displaying pro-independence banners outside government headquarters.
Describing the demand as unprecedented and a threat to freedoms, the Civil Human Rights Front vowed not to do so.
Jimmy Sham Tsz-kit, convenor of the front, said the order was a step backwards for human rights and had no sound legal justification.
“I cannot see why our freedoms are limited once we step in the gateway of the forecourt. Are the streets we march along not under the reign of the government?” he said.
“Looking back at the year that passed, it was a very bad year ... The rule of law in Hong Kong is falling backwards,”
Wayne Chan, of the Students Independence Union, said members of his group would still display banners with independence slogans “to spread their aspirations across the world”.
“We will not retreat under government suppression,” he said.
Some protesters carried “wanted” posters of Hong Kong’s top legal official, Theresa Cheng, criticising a decision to drop a corruption investigation into Hong Kong’s former pro-Beijing leader Leung Chun-ying, without a satisfactory explanation.
“I’m afraid the pressure will continue,” said Joseph Cheng, a veteran rights campaigner and retired professor who was raising money for a “justice” fund for activists facing hefty legal fees for several trials.
“We’re going to face a few difficult years, but we must stand firm ... Unlike in mainland China, at least we can still protest.”
“There will be continuous suppression on the Hong Kong independence movement, but the movement will grow stronger and stronger,” said Baggio Leung, an independence leader who said several of his members had been harassed by purported “triads” or gangsters, before the march.
Organisers said the march drew 5,500 people, revised down from an earlier estimate of 5,800, while police said 3,200 people were on the streets at the march’s peak.