Organisers say at least 1.7 million people attended a mass pro-democracy rally against the police use of force in Hong Kong on Sunday. Protesters marched peacefully from Causeway Bay to Central, as the city entered its 11th consecutive week of demonstrations.
The Civil Human Rights Front’s estimate included those marching between Causeway Bay and Fortress Hill, though it did not keep count of those marching between Causeway Bay and Central. Police said 128,000 were present in Victoria Park.
See also: Hongkongers ignore protest restrictions, threats from Beijing as thousands join peaceful rally against gov’t
On Sunday afternoon, as protesters flooded into Victoria Park, some were unable to enter and began marching west. The police had previously approved the static rally, but banned any marching – a decision that was supported by an appeal board.
The Civil Human Rights Front reiterated the five demands of the anti-extradition law movement. They called for a full withdrawal of the controversial bill and a retraction of characterisation of protests as “riots.” They urged for the unconditional release of all arrested protesters, the formation of an independent commission of inquiry into all events since June, and demanded universal suffrage.
Before the march, users of the Reddit-like LIHKG forum stated that the goal was to make Sunday a completely peaceful protest in order to garner international support. They urged a halt to frontline physical clashes during the weekend.
The Front adopted the theme “Stop the Police and Organised Crime from Plunging Hong Kong into Chaos” in response to Beijing’s call for Hong Kong to stop the “riots” and return to normal.
“From frontline activists, to the elderly in nursing homes, to public housing residents, Hong Kongers have faced police brutality in the forms of tear gas, bean bag rounds, and rubber bullets, which they used to disperse and arrest us. We’ve also endured non-discriminant attacks by the triads. Hong Kongers are deeply outraged and abhor the actions of the Hong Kong Government and the Hong Kong Police,” the Front said in a statement. More than 700 people have been arrested since June.
See also: Explainer: How frontline protesters’ toolkit has evolved over Hong Kong’s long summer of dissent
“Police brutality not only causes physical injuries, it can also create a dehumanising atmosphere of fear. When the chair of the Junior Police Officers Association and legislative councillors repeatedly call protesters ‘cockroaches,’ it brings up the painful memories of genocide to both Hong Kongers and the international community: the Nazi government of Germany called Jews ‘rats,’ while the Hutus called the Tutsis “cockroaches” during the Rwandan genocide. The international community’s image of a civilized Hong Kong is being destroyed by the Hong Kong Police, step by step.”
The Front said the government and police leadership, as well as their policies towards protesters, must change as a result.
As demonstrators defied official restrictions and marched towards Central, the police presence remained minimal along the route.
Protesters occupied all six lanes of Hennessy Road to march, though the high turnout meant crowds spilt over onto surrounding and parallel roads.
MTR trains temporarily skipped Causeway Bay, Tin Hau and Fortress Hill owing to the high influx of protesters.
Many decided to exit at Wan Chai and walk to Victoria Park to join the march from its start.
Protesters later also occupied Gloucester Road as they left Victoria Park, passing near the police headquarters and government headquarters on Harcourt Road.
Many went home via the MTR when they reached Central though a few continued to march towards west.
Riot police gathered near the China Liaison Office and searched several passers-by.
However, no demonstrators made it to Beijing’s office in Hong Kong after calls on protest Telegram channels to avoid Sai Wan and rejoin the rally instead.
A 21-year-old female student, who declined to give her name, told HKFP that she thought it is riskier to stay out past 11pm because police tend to conduct clearance operations later in the night. “I think it’ll be dangerous then, maybe they’ll be tear gas.”
Ms Chan, a 16-year-old secondary school student, told HKFP that she will stay on the street until there is either a police clearance operation or protesters decide to leave. “Although I’m scared about what’ll happen later, we still need to protect Hong Kong,” she said.
Soon after the march began, the government issued a statement expressing regret that the Civil Human Rights Front used slogans targeting the police.
As the night wore on, most protesters left the area around government headquarters and the legislature peacefully.
Protestors also shot hard objects into Central Government Complex with slingshots and aimed laser beams at police officers, posing a safety threat to everyone on site. The Police warn the protestors to stop their illegal acts and leave immediately.
— Hong Kong Police Force (@hkpoliceforce) August 18, 2019
Police warned remaining demonstrators to leave, stating that some had used slingshots to throw hard objects at officers as well as aimed laser pens at them.
Earlier, a government spokesperson cited figures stating that Hong Kong had a low crime rate, and a survey conducted by the police in 2018 showed that 84 per cent of respondents were either “very satisfied” or “quite satisfied” with their overall service performance.
The spokesperson claimed that the police have been handling illegal acts with tolerance, and only used minimum force when necessary. It said around 180 police officers had been injured by protesters.
“The Hong Kong Special Administrative Region Government fully supports the Police in strictly enforcing the law and deeply appreciates police officers’ efforts in restoring public order and peace, protecting the lives and properties of members of the public and bringing violent protesters who have violated the law to justice,” it said.
In a later press release, it said that the demonstration was largely peaceful but “participants occupied a number of thoroughfares on Hong Kong Island, seriously affecting traffic and causing much inconvenience to the community.”
Beijing has ramped up its rhetoric on Hong Kong’s protests with officials repeatedly blaming the unrest on “violent radicals” and “foreign forces.” Yang Guang, spokesman for the Hong Kong and Macao Affairs Office of the State Council, last Monday described the movement as displaying signs of “terrorism.”
Meanwhile, state media the People’s Daily and the Global Times has published a slew of videos depicting military drills and armoured vehicles driving to Shenzhen, which borders Hong Kong.
Hong Kong Free Press relies on direct reader support. Help safeguard independent journalism and press freedom as we invest more in freelancers, overtime, safety gear & insurance during this summer’s protests. 10 ways to support us.