Thousands of Hongkongers have joined a march calling for an independent commission of inquiry into recent anti-extradition law demonstrations and the police use of force.
The marchers also demanded a complete withdrawal of the now-suspended extradition bill, the retraction of the “riot” characterisation of the June 12 protests, the unconditional release of all arrested protesters, as well as universal suffrage.
Latest: Hong Kong police deploy tear gas, rubber bullets against protesters as gov’t slams ‘direct challenge to national sovereignty’
In their earlier proposal to police, organisers the Civil Human Rights Front suggested that protesters would march from Causeway Bay to the Court of Final Appeal in Central.
However, police have demanded that the march end in Wan Chai, to prevent “violent acts” and a potential storming of government headquarters.
Demonstrators filled two football pitches in Victoria Park before setting off at around 3:30pm. They chanted slogans including “free Hong Kong,” “no extradition to China,” and “democracy now.”
See also: HKFP Lens: Hongkongers hit the streets again demanding independent inquiry into police conduct
Organisers said 430,000 took part, whilst police said 138,000 attended at the protest’s peak.
Ms Lam, who requested anonymity as she is an officer in a disciplinary force, told HKFP that she was attending the march to demand a withdrawal of the extradition bill.
She said she agreed with an independent investigation into the protests, but she believed some in the police force may not agree to the demand: “So withdrawing the extradition bill is the demand that most people will agree to,” she said.
Tony Chung, convener of pro-independence group Student Localism, said they joined the march to reiterate the movement’s demands, though their group was not calling for universal suffrage “because we believe universal suffrage is only meaningful when we have a sovereign state.”
He said pro-independence groups have been targetted by police, after three people from two other groups were arrested by police on Saturday, accused of possessing explosives. “We will see what will happen to us today,” he said.
Earlier in the week, Ming Pao cited sources as saying that 2,000 officers were to be deployed on Sunday. If protesters block roads, the force will take action immediately if instructions are given to clear demonstrators, the source said.
Just after 4pm, a press release from the police urged demonstrators to leave at the rally’s approved endpoint: “The Police appeal to the public to disperse through Queen’s Road East or Wan Chai Road towards Happy Valley upon the conclusion of the event.”
However, officers retreated from the official endpoint and thousands of protesters proceeded westwards towards Admiralty.
Wary of further road occupations, the authorities also erected two-metre tall water barricades outside the government headquarters and chief executive’s office, and removed surrounding metal fences to prevent protesters from building makeshift barricades.
The march comes after a series of major protests that started in June. According to the Front, two million people participated in a march against the extradition bill on June 16 – a historic record.
Earlier this week, the Hong Kong government denied reports that it was studying the possibility of declaring a curfew.
But pro-Beijing lawmakers have been calling for a ban on protests for the coming weeks, after several clashes between frontline protesters and riot police.
The controversial extradition bill would allow the city to handle case-by-case fugitive transfers to jurisdictions with no prior arrangements, including China, sparking public concerns over human rights in Hong Kong.
On July 9, Chief Executive Carrie Lam declared the bill “dead,” but did not enact any mechanism to withdraw it, nor agree to other demands.
Former chief justice Andrew Li has voiced support for the notion of an independent inquiry.
On Saturday – thousands rallied in Admiralty’s Tamar Park in support of the government and police force.
More to follow.