By Holmes Chan, Tom Grundy, Jennifer Creery and Kris Cheng.
Thousands of Hongkongers have formed a human chain in the hope of raising international awareness of the pro-democracy movement and anti-extradition law fight.
The event coincided with the 30th anniversary of the Baltic Way, one of the largest anti-Soviet demonstrations which saw over a million people linking hands to form a chain spanning over 600 kilometres.
The Hong Kong event began at around 7pm on Friday evening, as participants were encouraged to pick a location based on the three major MTR railway lines. Rally points were agreed at each of the metro stations along the Island Line, Kwun Tong Line and Tsuen Wan Line, as well as at the Star Ferry pier.
The stunt was intended to link up participants along human chains that stretch for 13 kilometres, 7.02 kilometres and 12.6 kilometres respectively.
In Central, one volunteer in her 20s told HKFP that she was handing out lyrics of popular songs that protesters are expected to sing later.
John, a university student on his summer break, joined the protest at the Kowloon end of the Tsim Sha Tsui harbourfront. He said he was born and raised in Hong Kong, and wanted to express unity.
He said he heard about the event from his mother via a Facebook page: “The people of Hong Kong need to stand together, and show that they deserve their freedom, as they always will,” he said. He said he will stay until the end of the event.
Participants planned to join hands between 8pm and 9pm, before dispersing peacefully.
A group of trail runners also formed a chain across the iconic Lion Rock in Kowloon.
Organisers online estimated that 135,000 took part in the event across the city on Friday.
Earlier, a promotional video for the “Hong Kong Way” said that the public will not be silenced.
“Hongkongers, let’s make history together and let the world witness our solidarity,” it said. “Let’s hold each other’s hands and defend this city with our bodies and our will. Let’s show the world our determination to resist tyranny.”
Another leaflet promoting the event said it was “not a demonstration or protest,” and urged participants not to block traffic and be polite to pedestrians.
Participants should assess the legal risks of joining, the brochure added, as the event did not have a letter of no objection from the police. A police spokesperson previously said that they disapproved of any activity that aimed to block public transport or disrupt social order.
Protesters lined the streets holding signs thanking foreign countries in different languages, including English, French, Italian, Ukrainian, Thai, Korean, Latvian, Lithuanian, Estonian, among others.
Every few minutes, demonstrators chanted “Liberate Hong Kong, revolution of our times,” and “Hong Kong people, keep it up.” They also sang pro-democracy anthems such as “Do You Hear the People Sing,” and Beyond’s “Boundless Oceans, Vast Skies.”
Protesters sing ‘Do you hear the people sing’ at Tsim Sha Tsui harbourfront. pic.twitter.com/PiGIY94oFH
— Hong Kong Free Press (@HongKongFP) August 23, 2019
To test the chain, protesters tried to pass candies from Tsim Sha Tsui to Tsuen Wan, as well as a pack of mints from Sai Wan to Chai Wan.
Protesters are apparently playing a game where they try and pass a box of mints from Tsuen Wan to Tsim Sha Tsui. Another box is being passed from Chai Wan to Kennedy Town.#hongkong #antiELAB #china pic.twitter.com/dgzuLmYGNB
— Hong Kong Free Press (@HongKongFP) August 23, 2019
A demonstrator in his 60s, who preferred to stay anonymous because of business in mainland China, held a poster in Lithuanian in Tsim Sha Tsui. He said he attended the anti-extradition law protests whenever he had time: “I studied the whole story [of the Baltic Chain] before coming. During the last protest at Victoria Park, we have already thought about the idea, and we want to make the chain happen,” he said.
“We want to show we are peaceful and united. We have different views during the movement, but we have a common goal.”
A woman who gave her name as Ling told HKFP that she was part of a Telegram group that divided the human chain into regional teams: “We coordinated how to split up the human chain so it would be manageable,” she said.
Ms Poon, a 25-year-old social worker participating in the Kwun Tong section, told HKFP she became active in the anti-extradition law movement after June 12, when police first used tear gas and other crowd control measures against protesters: “Some people believe in using extreme methods to protest but I think if we can use peaceful means then we should,” she said in reference to Friday’s action.
Online organisers of the event said that there will be no human chain at North Point due to safety concerns, as the neighbourhood was the site of a suspected mob attack on August 5.
The human chain may also need to “adjust according to circumstances” in the neighbourhood of Sai Wan, as it was close to Beijing’s office in the city.
The idea of a human chain was first proposed by a user of the Reddit-like LIHKG forum, who told Hongkongers to take advantage of the 30th anniversary of the Baltic Way to create a “video that will go viral in the international media.”
The Baltic Way, or Baltic Chain, refers to the protest on August 23, 1989, when around two million people joined hands to form a human chain of over 650 kilometres across the three Baltic states — Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania — calling for independence from the Soviet Union.
The event was billed as a peaceful reiteration of the five core demands of the protesters, including the demand for universal suffrage.
It is unclear, as yet, as to whether a continuous chain was formed.
According to an informal online survey on participation numbers which took place earlier this week, many of the proposed locations of the human chain only saw around 55 per cent of the manpower needed.
Netizens have also circulated a leaflet on social media detailing a human chain event in Osaka, Japan, intended to show solidarity with Hong Kong protesters.
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