Numerous hundred people rallied in Hong Kong on Friday after the expiry of a deadline protesters set for the government to completely scrap a controversial extradition bill, in the latest wave of protests in the Chinese-ruled city.
Demonstrators, mostly students dressed in black, congregated peacefully outside the legislature to vent their anger and frustration at Hong Kong leader Carrie Lam who promoted, and then postponed, the bill after mass protests.
The bill would allow alleged criminals to be extradited to the mainland to face trial in courts controlled by the Communist Party.
“We want to fight for our freedom,” stated high school student Chan Pak-lam, 17, one of those gathered in temperatures of about 30 degrees Celsius outside the headquarters, which was temporarily shut on Friday in anticipation of protests.
“We want the law to be withdrawn, not suspended. I will stay here until tonight, 10 p.m. maybe. If the government doesn’t respond, we will come again,” he added.
Since it returned to Chinese rule in 1997, Hong Kong has been governed under a “one country, two systems” formula that allows freedoms not enjoyed in mainland China, including a much-cherished independent judiciary.
Yet many residents are ever more fearful of Beijing’s narrowing grip over the city and what they see as an erosion of civil liberties.
Lam has stopped short of axing the bill altogether, unsettling many who fear the law could put them at the mercy of the mainland Chinese justice system which is plagued by torture, forced confessions and arbitrary detentions.
The previous week saw some of the most violent protests in recent decades, when police fired rubber bullets and tear gas to disperse the crowds. Several millions have taken to the streets this month, reflecting the broad opposition to the bill.
Worries have spread from democratic and human rights groups to secondary school students, church groups and media lobbies as well as corporate lawyers and pro-establishment business figures, some usually loath to contradict the government.