Some of them have lost their jobs, suffered life-changing injuries and even fled overseas. But six months into Hong Kong’s demonstrations, pro-democracy protesters say they aren’t backing down.

In this file photo taken on July 1, 2019, protesters gather outside the government headquarters in Hong Kong. – Some of them have lost their jobs, suffered life-changing injuries and even been forced into exile. But six months into Hong Kong’s demonstrations, pro-democracy protesters say they aren’t backing down. Photo: Dale De La Rey/AFP.

The unprecedented movement was born on June 9, when an estimated million people took to the streets to protest a proposed bill allowing extradition to mainland China.

A protest on June 26 in Hong Kong. Photo: Darius Chan Ho Shun/CHRF.

With Beijing taking a hard line, it has since broadened into a call to halt authoritarian China’s attempts to erode freedoms in the city.

Photo: May James.

Six months on, the Beijing-backed government has offered few concessions and protests have turned increasingly violent, exacting a heavy toll.

Photo: Todd R. Darling/HKFP.

Raymond Yeung, a liberal studies teacher at the elite Diocesan Girls’ School, joined the movement early and was there on June 12 when a massive protest descended into violence.

Photo: Tom Grundy/HKFP.

Protesters broke into the forecourt of the city’s legislative building, throwing objects including metal bars at police.

Photo: Todd R. Darling/HKFP.

Officers responded with rubber bullets, bean bag rounds and tear gas against their aggressors, but then turned their weapons on the huge, peaceful crowds outside the complex, igniting anger that has fuelled the protests for months.

Photo: May James.

Yeung was hit in the face — to this day he’s not sure if it was a rubber bullet or bean bag round — and his glasses shattered into his eyes.

Photo: Isaac Yee/HKFP.

He was left with a serious injury to his right eye that means he now has just 30 percent vision. He was also arrested for rioting, though he was later released.

In this file photo taken on September 29, 2019, Hong Kong police escort a detained protester near the central government offices after thousands took part in an unsanctioned march through Hong Kong, as part a coordinated day of global protests aimed at casting a shadow over communist China’s upcoming 70th birthday. – Some of them have lost their jobs, suffered life-changing injuries and even been forced into exile. But six months into Hong Kong’s demonstrations, pro-democracy protesters say they aren’t backing down. Photo by Mohd Rasfan/AFP.

Six months on, he has no regrets.

Photo: May James/HKFP.

“There’s not a day that passes when I don’t think about how I can contribute more to the cause,” he told AFP.

Photo: May James/HKFP.

“Money and material enjoyment are important, but no longer that important.”

File photo: May James/HKFP.

 ‘I don’t smile much now’ 

Ryan, a 19-year-old student, feels the same way and has abandoned the football matches and video games that he once enjoyed with friends.

Photo: Studio Incendo.

He is one of nearly 6,000 protesters who have been arrested since June, and was slapped with a HK$5,000 ($640) fine for criminal damage to a rubbish bin.

He barely recognises his life, or his personality, six months into the protests.

Photo: May James/HKFP.

“Before this movement, many would say I’m a cheerful and optimistic person, but now some say I’ve become more pessimistic,” he told AFP.

Photo: May James/HKFP.

“I don’t smile much now. Every time I think of fellow protesters being beaten up by the cops, being arrested and not having been released yet, I just can’t bring myself to smile.”

Photo: May James/HKFP.

His involvement in the protests has caused a rift with his father, a government supporter, and he worries the movement is foundering.

Photo: May James/HKFP.

“I feel very helpless,” he said.

Outside Prince Edward station on August 31. Photo: May James/HKFP.

“I really don’t know what will happen. It’s like wading across a river by feeling out the stones.”

 ‘Making history every day’ 

For some, participating in protests has transformed their lives completely, effectively forcing them into exile.

In this file photo taken on November 12, 2019, protesters react after police fired tear gas at the Chinese University of Hong Kong (CUHK), in Hong Kong. – Some of them have lost their jobs, suffered life-changing injuries and even been forced into exile. Photo: Philip Fong/AFP.

Simon Cheng, a former trade officer at the British consulate general in Hong Kong, now lives in London after being detained by mainland Chinese authorities for 15 days.

Photo: Kaiser/USP United Social Press.

He was accused of soliciting prostitutes, but says the allegations were politically motivated and that he was tortured during questioning about his support for Hong Kong protesters.

Photo: Kris Cheng/HKFP.

“I am in exile and probably never could (go) back to Hong Kong,” he told AFP in a message on Telegram.

Photo: Apple Daily.

But he said he had few regrets about participating in the protests.

A group of protesters apologising at the Hong Kong airport on August 14, 2019. Photo: Stand News.

“I finally can be truly myself, speaking and working for what I really want to do for my life — an activist for democracy and freedom.”

Photo: Studio Incendo.

Former flight attendant Rebecca Sy lost her job in the protests, after Beijing pressured Hong Kong airlines to punish staff who expressed support for the movement.

Photo: Studio Incendo.

In August, she tearfully told media she was fired by Cathay Dragon after management confronted her with Facebook posts discussing the political crisis.

In this file photo taken on September 1, 2019, an airline crew member makes his way through a barrier set up by protesters at Hong Kong International Airport on September 1, 2019. – Some of them have lost their jobs, suffered life-changing injuries and even been forced into exile. But six months into Hong Kong’s demonstrations, pro-democracy protesters say they aren’t backing down. Photo: Lillian Suwanrumpha/AFP.

But reflecting on the half-year of protests, she remains positive.

Photo: Studio Incendo.

“Hong Kong people have never been so connected before,” she said, describing people approaching her in the street to offer their support.

Photo: May James/HKFP.

“We have been making history every day since June, and the Chinese government might think our energy will be drained and the whole thing will be ‘settled’, but they underestimate how tough Hong Kong people are.”


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