Hong Kong local councillors gathered outside the Thai Consulate on Wednesday to urge Bangkok to respond to its people’s protest demands. Police issued Covid-19 gathering fines to all the demonstrators in front of the consulate.
Over 30 pro-democracy district councillors rallied outside Fairmont House in Admiralty – where the Thai Consulate is located. They were demonstrating in solidarity with thousands of protesters across the Kingdom, where a series of pro-democracy street demonstrations over recent months have demanded democratic reforms.
They demanded the Thai junta dissolve parliament, amend the constitution written by the military, and stop intimidating dissidents.
They raised placards containing slogans such as “Fight for freedom. Stand with Thailand” and “May the people prevail.” They played an audio recording of a statement in Thai through a loudspeaker and read the English and Cantonese versions aloud.
Last Wednesday, protests erupted into mass demonstrations in Bangkok prompting the ruling military junta to declare a state of emergency on the next day. It effectively gave the authorities more powers, including a ban of public gatherings of more than five people.
Following days of police crackdowns that involved deploying water cannons and arrests of student leaders, many activists noted similarities between the unrest and last year’s protests over an ill-fated extradition bill in Hong Kong.
Netizens posted supportive messages under hashtags #StandWithThailand and #MilkTeaAlliance – a symbol of transnational solidarity between Thailand, Hong Kong and Taiwan against authoritarianism.
Councillors urged the Thai government to stop clamping down on peaceful assemblies, release all detainees arrested for their involvement in the protests and respond to its people’s three protest demands.
They also displayed iconic photos from the protests and a portrait of student activist Francis J. Bunkueanun Paothong, who was charged with attempted violence against the Thai Queen after he was accused of obstructing a royal motorcade carrying Queen Suthida.
Minutes after the scheduled start of the Hong Kong rally at 11am, police officers on the scene warned the group that they were violating the Covid-19 group gathering ban. Although the councillors stood in groups of four throughout the demonstrations, a police officer at the scene said anyone raising placards or chanting slogans would imply the group shared a “common purpose” by gathering.
Immediately after they read aloud a statement and chanted slogans, officers created a cordon line to seal off parts of the area outside the business tower. Councillors scattering around the platform were pulled by officers into the cordoned area as the force said they would issue penalty tickets to everyone except journalists.
Kwai Tsing District Council Vice-chair Dennis Cheung protested that the group intended to leave the scene but the police did not allow enough time and room for them to depart.
Councillors scuffled and accused the police of abusing the Covid-19 social distancing measures to suppress Hongkongers’ right to assemble. Yuen Long District Councillor Henry Wong said that – if social distancing measures stated that groups should be 1.5 metres apart – then the police should not have dragged everyone to stand close together within a cordon.
Central and Western District Councillor Fergus Leung slammed the police as limiting people’s freedom to demonstrate and said the gathering ban had become a convenient excuse. “It is ridiculous, especially when district councillors at the rally are cooperative with their instructions by standing in groups of four,” he told HKFP.
“It is ironic that their law enforcement proves that all authoritarian regimes in the world are the same. Hongkongers simply wish to voice support for students and activists fighting for freedom in Thailand. This is little to do with Hong Kong police, but they nonetheless act as an authoritarian regime’s puppet to restrict our freedom of expression,” he said.
Leung said a few police national security department officers were present. He said he overheard them saying that there was insufficient evidence to charge councillors under the security law.
Tuen Mun District Councillor Sam Cheung told HKFP that the force was making up hundreds of excuses just to deter the public from protesting. He cited People Power’s Tam Tak-chi, who has been charged under a colonial-era sedition law, as facing an unreasonable prosecution.
“But protesters in both Thailand and Hong Kong have strong will to pursue freedom. We will always stand up against interventions and speak out,” Cheung said.
They showed officers their Hong Kong IDs, received penalty tickets one by one and were released after an hour inside the cordon.
Organiser and Tsuen Wan District Councillor Lam Shek-tim handed an official letter to the office building management office. Lam said the Thai Consulate had earlier stated that no representative would appear to receive the letter during the rally.
On Monday, lawmaker Ted Hui, activist Joshua Wong and several other politicians also staged a demonstration at the same location to voice support for Thai protesters.