Hong Kong Families Form Peaceful Human Chains Ahead of Airport Protest

August 23, 2019 Updated: August 23, 2019

HONG KONG—Thousands of chanting Hong Kong protesters joined hands to form human chains on Aug. 23 in a peaceful protest, with almost three months of anti-government demonstrations showing no sign of let-up across the Chinese-ruled territory.

Demonstrators, families young and old, some people masked, some using hand wipes to stay clean, linked hands across different districts as others held up banners thanking overseas nations for supporting “freedom and democracy” in Hong Kong.

Their move echoed one on Aug. 23, 1989, when an estimated 2 million people joined arms across the three Baltic states in a protest against Soviet rule that became known as the “Baltic Way” or “Baltic Chain.”

“I joined the Hong Kong Way because it’s peaceful,” said protester Peter Cheung, 27. “This is the 30th anniversary of the Baltic Way. I hope there will be a bigger chance to make an international noise.”

Protesters hold hands to form a human chain during a rally to call for political reforms in Hong Kong on Aug. 23, 2019. (Ann Wang/Reuters)

The protest, which included dozens shining lights from the top of Kowloon’s Lion Rock, visible from the main island of Hong Kong, showed the apparent defiance of Hong Kong people after warnings from Communist Party leaders in Beijing and Hong Kong leader Carrie Lam about violence.

Police presence was thin and the protest ended promptly at 9 p.m. (1300 GMT).

But protesters are also planning a “stress test” of the airport this weekend and some, wearing their traditional black garb, were making their way from the nearby suburban town of Tung Chung on Friday night.

The protests, triggered by a now-suspended bill that would have allowed extraditions to China, have plunged the former British colony into its worst crisis since its return to China in 1997 and pose a major challenge for Beijing.

Protesters hold hands to form a human chain during a rally to call for political reforms at Mongkok district in Hong Kong on Aug. 23, 2019. (Tyrone Siu/Reuters)

The unrest has widened into calls for greater freedom, fueled by worries about the erosion of rights guaranteed under a “one country, two systems” formula, adopted after the 1997 handover, such as an independent judiciary and the right to protest.

The airport, reached by a gleaming suspension bridge carrying both rail and road traffic, was forced to close last week when protesters, barricading passageways with luggage trolleys, metal barriers and other objects, clashed with police.

Hong Kong’s high court extended an order restricting protests at the airport. Some activists had apologized for last week’s airport turmoil.

The Canadian consulate said it had suspended travel to mainland China for local staff, just days after a Chinese employee of the city’s British consulate was confirmed to have been detained in China.

Simon Cheng
Simon Cheng, a staff member of Britain’s consulate in Hong Kong, who was reported missing by local media after visiting the neighboring mainland city of Shenzhen, is seen in an unknown location in this undated photo obtained from the Facebook page “Free Simon Cheng.” (Facebook/Free Simon Cheng/Reuters)

Beijing has said that Simon Cheng, the consulate employee, was detained in the border city of Shenzhen neighboring Hong Kong. It has accused Britain and other Western countries of meddling in its affairs in Hong Kong.

Canada’s latest travel advisory on Thursday warned of reports of increased screening of travelers’ digital devices at border crossings between mainland China and Hong Kong.

Demonstrators have five demands: withdraw the extradition bill, set up an independent inquiry into the protests and perceived police brutality, stop describing the protests as “rioting,” waive charges against those arrested, and resume political reform.

Beijing has sent a clear warning that forceful intervention is possible, with paramilitary forces holding drills just over the border.

By Jessie Pang and Felix Tam

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