Thousands have taken to the streets in a show of strength against the Hong Kong government, with march organisers calling on Chief Executive Carrie Lam to respond to protester demands.
Sunday’s march coincides with Human Rights Day on Tuesday, and caps off six months of citywide protests.
Update: 800,000 Hongkongers attend pro-democracy march, say organisers
It is the first Civil Human Rights Front (CHRF) march to receive police approval since July 21 – with police routinely banning marches in the past four months, and only allowing stationary rallies.
The CHRF said that it was a “last chance” for Lam to meet the five core demands, which include independent inquiry into the police’s handling of the protests, an amnesty for those arrested, and universal suffrage.
“This march is also the biggest opportunity for Hongkongers to express their determination for democracy, and against police violence, to the international community, after the District Council elections and the passage of the Hong Kong Human Rights and Democracy Act,” the group wrote.
“The Hong Kong government must realise our five demands in order to fulfil the duty of international human rights protections, and defend humanitarianism and human dignity,” the group said.
It urged the Hong Kong government to uphold its commitment to Universal Declaration of Human Rights and all UN human rights treaties applicable to Hong Kong – echoing the themes of Human Rights Day.
At around 2:30pm, police raised flags at Percival Street in Causeway Bay warning that tear gas may be used. Large crowds also occupied sections of the route on Hennessy Road before the march was scheduled to begin.
Police raise the black flag towards protesters gathering on the streets of Causeway Bay, threatening tear gas, although some of the officers do not appear to have put on their masks.
Photo: NowTV screenshot. #hongkong pic.twitter.com/3QguX60ZT6
— Hong Kong Free Press (@HongKongFP) December 8, 2019
Marchers began leaving the Central Lawn of Victoria Park in Causeway Bay at 3pm.
It is set to end at the Chater Road Pedestrian Precinct in Central.
CHRF convenor Jimmy Sham told reporters that he hoped the police will exercise restraint and let the march progress peacefully: “Today is a test to see whether the police can be united, or that the top brass cannot control their frontline officers,” he added.
The Letter of No Objection from police covers the Victoria Park lawn from noon to 6pm, and the march route from 3pm to 10pm.
In a statement, the police urged participants to “express their views in a peaceful and rational manner.”
“The police are aware of online comments inciting violence and breaches of the peace, and strongly condemn such irresponsible remarks. If you come across any chaotic, illegal or violent incident, please leave the scene immediately and stay in safe places,” it added.
A march in Tsim Sha Tsui last Sunday, which had also received police permission, was cut short only an hour after it began. Police claimed that some protesters used violence, and revoked the approval and used tear gas.
A man plays the protest anthem “Glory to Hong Kong” on a melodica as thousands stream into Victoria Park. #hongkong #hongkongprotests #antiELAB pic.twitter.com/eqkXWa8DJk
— Hong Kong Free Press (@HongKongFP) December 8, 2019
A government press release on Saturday said that Hong Kong respected the right to protest but some demonstrations had been banned owing to potential violence: “In view of the social controversies and disputes as well as other problems brought about by the legislative amendment exercise, the HKSAR Government has learned its lesson and will humbly listen to and accept criticism.”
On Sunday, thousands lined the streets of Causeway Bay and Wanchai holding up five fingers to represent the movement’s demands.
“We are Hongkongers, we love Hong Kong. [This] is our family, we have to fight for it,” Rose, a black clad protester chanting at the roadside, told HKFP.
“If we cannot win this battle, it will be very disappointing – maybe we will move to other countries. I think Carrie Lam will punish us and all of us will have to pay for it in the future,” she added when asked if protesters can win.
Police discover firearms
Separately, police on Sunday arrested eight men and three women, aged between 20 and 63, in relation to seized firearms. The force said that it found a large cache of weapons, including a semi-automatic pistol and 105 rounds of ammunition during a raid.
Senior Superintendent Steve Li claimed that the group “planned to use firearms to create chaos during the protest march, including attacking police officers, or framing police officers for hurting passersby.”
Li said that the operation was based on police intelligence, which identified a “radical group” that attacked the Mong Kok Police Station with petrol bombs on October 20.
On Saturday, hundreds gathered in support of the police in Wan Chai at a protest organised by think tank Politihk Social Strategic.
Participants waved Chinese flags and claimed democrats had used “unscrupulous means” to win seats in last month’s District Council election.
At Saturday’s pro-Beijing rally, Stand News reported that at least six journalists were surrounded and insulted, including from Chinese state-controlled media outlet Takungpao. A Baptist University student reporter was physically beaten.
Photo: Wong Wai Ping / USP. #HongKong pic.twitter.com/7au0PP8eMH
— Hong Kong Free Press (@HongKongFP) December 7, 2019
Some attacked journalists, as others carried placards saying “we hate fake news.”
Additional reporting: Tom Grundy.
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.