Hong Kong police carried out identity checks of at least four people who went to Admiralty on Wednesday to mark the eighth anniversary of the Umbrella Movement, the civil disobedience campaign seen as a precursor to the 2019 unrest.

Police recorded the identity of several people outside the government headquarters in Admiralty on September 28, 2022, the eighth anniversary of the Umbrella Movement. Photo: Hillary Leung/HKFP.

A handful of people showed up outside the government headquarters on Wednesday, some marking a moment of silence at 5:58 p.m., the time when officers fired the first round of tear gas at student protesters gathered on Harcourt Road on September 28, 2014.

Two yellow umbrellas – a symbol of the movement – were opened and placed near the foot of the stairs to a footbridge. During the 2014 protests, the adjacent wall bore a colourful mosaic of post-it notes with pro-democracy messages and was known as the Lennon Wall.

Shortly after, four police officers arrived and questioned some of those present, including two people who picked up the umbrellas and packed them away.

An officer was heard asking a woman why she had an umbrella when it was not raining.

Photo: Hillary Leung/HKFP.

Officers took down the identity of at least four people, including the two with the umbrellas and two others who were also there to mark the anniversary.

One woman told HKFP that police warned her of breaching Covid-19 gathering rules but did not fine her.

The 2014 Umbrella Movement was a 79-day long pro-democracy civil disobedience campaign that saw protesters call for the right to elect their own leader. Thousands occupied roads around the legislature and in two other key districts following a student sit-in, with scenes of the protests making headlines internationally. Leading figures of the largely peaceful movement were jailed in the years following the police clearance.

Pro-democracy supporters typically gather outside the government headquarters on the anniversary of the movement’s start date. In 2017, activists used sound effects and mist to recreate the moment police responded to protesters with tear gas.

Hundreds of protesters marking the second anniversary of the pro-democracy Occupy protests in 2016. Photo: Stanley Leung/HKFP.

The use of the crowd control agent marked the first time it had been deployed in the city since 2005, when police used tear gas to disperse South Korean farmers who had come to Hong Kong to protest against the World Trade Organization.

Such gatherings, however, have been muted in the past two years under the national security law and Covid curbs. A small handful of people marked the sixth anniversary under heavy rain in 2020, while last year, a lone pro-democracy supporter – elderly activist Grandma Wong – showed up.

In response to HKFP, police said officers “noted while patrolling that a group of people gathered outside 2 Tim Mei Avenue,” where the government headquarters are located.

“Police officers reminded the people at scene to comply with the regulations under the Prevention and Control of Disease Ordinance,” police added.

‘Sorry state’ of Hong Kong

Those who turned up in Admiralty on Wednesday evening told HKFP before police arrived that they did not wish to forget what had happened in 2014.

“Some people have moved on, but not us,” a man who asked to be identified as Fai said. “Without 2014, there wouldn’t have been [the anti-extradition protests in] 2019. As real Hongkongers, we should remember.”

A Hongkonger holds a yellow umbrella near the government headquarters complex on September 28, 2022, the eighth anniversary of the Umbrella Movement. Photo: Hillary Leung/HKFP.

Fai added that the small turnout of people reflected the “sorry state” of Hong Kong today, referring to political developments that have largely silenced pro-democracy expression. “But I understand and I am not upset. I believe Hongkongers, in their hearts, will continue to support [the pro-democracy cause].

Another woman, who asked to be called Ms Wong, said she came to Admiralty to mark the anniversary almost every year. She said she came down to the protest site in 2014 to show her support to the young people who were camping there.

“The Umbrella Movement seeded something in a lot of Hongkongers. It was an awakening that caused a lot of people to care about Hong Kong, to be concerned about Hong Kong,” she told HKFP.

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Hillary Leung

Hillary has an interest in social issues and politics. Previously, she reported on Asia broadly - including on Hong Kong's 2019 protests - for TIME Magazine and covered local news at Coconuts Hong Kong.