Hundreds of protesters are expected to join rallies in seven foreign cities tomorrow in support of Hong Kong’s democracy movement, organisers say. Demonstrations in Canada, the US and Britain are being planned as part of a wider global solidarity movement involving petitions, marches and “Yellow Ribbon Days” in favour of universal suffrage for Hong Kong.
The international events are taking place after a week-long pro-democracy student strike in Hong Kong and ahead of a series of sit-in protests organised by pro-democracy group Occupy Central.
Anna Cheung, a Hong Kong-born professor at Manhattanville College, is organising a sit-in protest in New York’s Times Square tomorrow in order to “bring the message to the people… even local Americans,” she says.
Cheung expects dozens of supporters from the Chinese diaspora and wider community to take part. She believes many are participating out of concern that there may be a violent crackdown on protesters in Hong Kong.
“There is a lot of Chinese businessmen who care a lot because they went through the Tiananmen massacre… they are afraid this will be a second round,” Cheung said. Actions may be “stepped up” if the authorities attempt to suppress the first Occupy Central protest, she said.
Wang Juntao, a Chinese dissident, will be amongst those addressing Saturday’s sit-in in Manhattan. Wang lives in exile in the US after being jailed in China for his involvement in the 1989 Tiananmen Square protests in Beijing.
Rallies are also planned tomorrow in Los Angeles, San Francisco and Austin, in the Canadian cities of Vancouver and Toronto and in London, England.
Activist Desmond Sham is leading a protest at the Hong Kong Economic and Trade office in London tomorrow. He expects at least 50 supporters to take part – most of them overseas Chinese.
The solidarity movement’s Hong Kong co-ordinator Angel Leong acknowledged that it was more difficult to engage non-Chinese people abroad. “Most foreigners tend to only see Hong Kong as a prosperous fast-paced Asian city… What they don’t see is the social ills and political struggle within our city, from income inequality, housing problems to press censorship,” Leong said.
Over the past week, Chinese associations, unions and student groups abroad have been organising “Yellow Ribbon Days” to coincide with the Hong Kong student class boycott.
Campaigners at 12 Australian universities in five cities distributed ribbons and organised petitions “to raise awareness of the struggle in Hong Kong with the Australian community,” according to organiser Chrisann Palm, a lecturer at Queensland University of Technology.
“We do this out of compassion for people in Hong Kong as we see they are increasingly living in fear”, said Palm, who believes a “white terror” with echoes of the cultural revolution may be unfolding in Hong Kong.
A government spokesperson for the Overseas Public Relations Sub-division of the Information Services Department would not comment specifically on the foreign solidarity protests but cited a press release issued by the Chief Executive’s Office yesterday saying that it respected the right to protest.
Daniel McAtee, a senior information officer at the Hong Kong Economic and Trade office in Washington DC said in an emailed statement that the office respected “the freedoms of expression and assembly by members of the public wherever they may be”. The statement was echoed by the Canadian and British trade offices when approached for comment.
Political tensions remain high in the city after Beijing unveiled a conservative reform plan for Hong Kong’s 2017 chief executive election last month, which democracy activists complain does not represent true universal suffrage.
Occupy Central organisers have hinted that the first sit-in protest will take place next Wednesday. However, local and mainland officials have called the plan to paralyse the central business district “illegal”.