Over a thousand people gathered in Central on Thursday night in solidarity with protesters in Catalonia, Spain, as a simultaneous solidarity rally was held in Barcelona.

Photo: Holmes Chan/HKFP.

Protesters shouted slogans such as “Stand with Catalonia, stand with Hong Kong” and waved the Estelada – the unofficial flag of the Catalan independence movement. The event followed the trend of increasing international outreach by Hong Kong protesters, though sceptics have warned that associating with Catalan protesters may hurt the movement’s image.

Photo: Holmes Chan/HKFP.

Organiser Ernie Chow distanced the event from any calls for independence, and said the focus was opposition to police violence and unfair jail terms for Catalan protest leaders.

Photo: Benjamin Yuen/United Social Press.

“We hope that the Spanish government will deal with the protest movement in a peaceful and democratic way. We also condemn all police violence, especially against peaceful protesters. And finally, we believe that – no matter in Hong Kong or Catalonia – nobody should be arrested and jailed solely on the grounds of their political views,” Chow said.

Photo: Holmes Chan/HKFP.

Earlier this month, Spain’s top court sentenced nine Catalan politicians and activists to prison terms ranging from nine to 13 years, over their roles in the failed bid for the region’s independence in 2017.

The Catalan capital of Barcelona has been embroiled in escalating street protests, with some demonstrators adopting tactics seen in Hong Kong over the recent months. Spanish police fired tear gas and rubber bullets against protesters, which led rights groups such as Amnesty International to express concern over the police use of force.

Photo: Holmes Chan/HKFP.

In a statement, Chow said that Hong Kong protesters can sympathise with their Catalan counterparts, because both groups suffered from similar abuses at the hands of police and pro-government forces.

There was also an element of reciprocity, Chow said, since Hong Kong has counted on international support since the anti-extradition bill movement began in June.

Ernie Chow (centre). Photo: Holmes Chan/HKFP.

“Now that the human rights, freedoms and dignity of Catalonia are being stepped on… we Hongkongers should show solidarity and stand together with Catalonia,” he added. “The black bauhinia flags waving on Catalan streets are a sign that they are learning from our protests. Some even chanted, ‘Make Catalonia the new Hong Kong,’ which is something we must not ignore.”

Photo: Benjamin Yuen/United Social Press.

The Thursday rally was the subject of a heated online debate, with some activists saying the event was a “trap” that could cost Hong Kong international support – especially in the United States where support for Catalan independence was limited. The rally may jeopardise the chances of the Hong Kong Human Rights and Democracy Act being passed in the US Senate, they argued.

Photo: Benjamin Yuen/United Social Press.

However, the rally also received backing from prominent figures across the political spectrum, including Joshua Wong, Lester Shum, Tommy Cheung, Brian Leung, law academic Benny Tai and independence advocate Andy Chan.

Photo: Benjamin Yuen/United Social Press.

Yu, a student attendee, told HKFP that he wanted to stand up for “universal values” such as human rights and democracy, and believed that independence was a valid choice for Catalans.

Asked if he was afraid of being associated with separatism, Yu said that it did not bother him. “Even if you are just supporting human rights and freedom, the mainland [Chinese] government can still accuse you of promoting separatism,” he said.

Mr Yu, a student attendee. Photo: Holmes Chan/HKFP.

Yu said he followed the situation in Catalonia since the 2017 referendum, and felt that he needed to voice support “as a Hongkonger and a global citizen.”

A woman surnamed Yeung told HKFP that she saw the solidarity rally as part of the local pro-democracy movement – which she had participated in along with her husband over the past few months.

Photo: Benjamin Yuen/United Social Press.

“People around the world have expressed support for Hong Kong’s movement, so we want to do something in return,” Yeung said, adding that she was aware of the controversy surrounding Catalan independence.

“None of our movement’s five core demands is about independence. We support them seeking independence, but that’s not the same as saying we want it ourselves.”

Photo: Holmes Chan/HKFP.

Over 20 weeks in Hong Kong, protests against a bill that would have enabled extraditions to China have evolved into sometimes violent displays of dissent over Beijing’s encroachment, democracy and alleged police violence.

Barcelona rally disrupted

Also on Thursday, over 100 protesters in Barcelona held a rally in support of Hong Kong’s pro-democracy movement, which was scheduled to take place concurrently. Stand News reported that attendees held placards reading “Liberate Hong Kong, the revolution of our time” outside the Chinese embassy, and sang the anthem “Glory to Hong Kong” in Catalan.

Photo: VilaWeb.

The event was disrupted by Chinese counter-protesters, who waved the national flag and sang the Chinese national anthem. They were also seen holding a large banner which read, “Hong Kong is always a part of China” in Spanish.

According to Stand News, one of the counter-protesters snatched a pro-Hong Kong placard from a woman and ripped it up, then aimed a kick in her direction.

Photo: VilaWeb.

Another China supporter tried to obstruct a news camera, leading the police to intervene to prevent clashes. The counter-protester said that she and the others came together on their own initiative, and criticised the Catalans for not understanding Hong Kong’s history.

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Holmes Chan

Holmes Chan is a reporter at Hong Kong Free Press. He covers local news with a focus on law, politics, and social movements. He studied law and literature at the University of Hong Kong.