By Evelyn Richards.
Protests in Hong Kong began on the 31st March this year. They started over concerns that the local government was set to pass a bill allowing individuals to be extradited to China. Since the British handover in 1997, Hong Kong and China have been party to a unique “one country, two systems” agreement, which offers residents of Hong Kong a greater degree of independence than they would have in China; such as their own comprehensive legal system, freedom of speech, and a higher degree of political autonomy.
The proposed changes would have allowed for the Hong Kong government to consider requests for the extradition of fugitives. Pro-democracy activists said those extradited to China could be subject to arbitrary detention, unfair trial and torture under China’s judicial system. They also see the bill as the Chinese government tightening control over Hong Kong territory – infringing on their freedom as an independent state.
The pro-democracy protesters’ demands are:
- Completely withdraw the extradition bill
- Retract the proclamation that protests on 9 June and 12 June were riots
- Withdraw criminal charges against all protestors
- Thoroughly investigate abuse of powers by the police
- Dissolve the legislative council by administrative order and immediately implement Dual Universal Suffrage.
The protests started off as peaceful, but now tensions have grown and months have passed, so the violence has begun to escalate – particularly between police and protesters. The extradition bill they were initially protesting about is no longer being passed, but the focus of the protests now concerns the other four demands not being met, and a retaliation against police brutality.
Tsang Chi-kin, an 18-year-old pro-democracy student, was shot with live ammunition while protesting. Videos show Mr. Tsang, wearing a gas mask with a pink filter, among a group of protesters who clashed with police at Tsuen Wan. One video shows Mr. Tsang swinging a bar at a police officer, who shoots him at close range with a pistol.
Police officials said the officer who shot Mr. Tsang had fired in self-defense: “The officer at the scene was being cornered, he had no other choice but to use his gun,” said Hong Kong Police Commissioner Stephen Lo Wai-chung.
Mr. Tsang was taken to a hospital and – as of early Wednesday morning – was out of surgery in stable condition, health officials said. The Hong Kong police are still deciding whether to charge Mr. Tsang or not.
Amnesty International’s East Asia advisor, Nicholas Bequelin, spoke about the escalation of violence:
“In an apparent thirst for retaliation, Hong Kong’s security forces have engaged in a disturbing pattern of reckless and unlawful tactics against people during protests,” he said, including “arbitrary arrests and retaliatory violence”.
A few days later, after a new wave of protests began against the ban on facemasks, a 14-year-old protestor was allegedly shot by a plain-clothes police officer. Reports surrounding what provoked incident are unclear.
It is largely considered that a growing number of Hongkongers have become concerned about Beijing’s growing encroachment on the territory’s freedoms and what they see as the failure of the Hong Kong government to deliver genuine democracy.
It is estimated that around 2 million people in Hong Kong have taken part in the protests, with that number growing and growing. There appears to be no foreseeable end to the protests yet.