HONG KONG—Flashing their cellphone lights, thousands of protesters held a rally in downtown Hong Kong on Dec. 12 evening, marking the six-month anniversary of intense clashes outside the city’s legislative building.
The evening rally was held at Edinburgh Place and organized by pro-democracy activist Ventus Lau. At the beginning of the rally, several prominent activists took to the stage to address the crowd, including Joshua Wong, iconic leader from the 2014 Umbrella Movement; pro-democracy lawmakers Wu Chi-wai and Roy Kwong; and Jimmy Sham, convenor of the pro-democracy activist group Civil Human Rights Front (CHRF).
There’s a big crowd gathering for the rally in Edinburgh Place, on the anniversary of June 12, when #hongkongprotesters surrounded legislative building and forced LegCo to cancel meeting on extradition bill. police fired barrage tear gas, rubber bullets in 1st major clash pic.twitter.com/CEIRFuKiL9
— Annie Wu (@annieeenyc) December 12, 2019
According to Lau, roughly 43,000 people attended the rally.
Sham took to the stage to remind the audience of what happened six months ago. He said that some protesters began to stay around government buildings as the Legislative Council (LegCo) was set to push through a controversial extradition bill, which has since been withdrawn.
Days prior, about a million marched on the streets on June 9 to protest the bill. But the city government said the legislative process would move forward regardless. June 12 was the date set for the bill’s second reading.
At the time, many Hongkongers feared that the bill would erode the city’s judicial independence, as locals and international travelers could be subject to extradition to China, and put on trial in Chinese courts that are notorious for abusing human rights.
By June 11 evening, Sham said many protesters had surrounded LegCo and the Hong Kong government headquarters, in preparation for taking part in a CHRF rally the next day, which the activist group had obtained police approval to organize.
However, police fired tear gas to disperse protesters on June 12, forcing many of them to flee. According to Sham, one person was shot in the eye that day by a police projectile.
Mandy, who was at LegCo that day, came to the rally on Thursday. “Children, students, families, and also adults, we were all running. A lot of us got hurt,” she recalled.
“The police need to be held responsible for their actions,” Sham said. Throughout the rally, protesters could be heard shouting the slogan: “Hongkongers, take revenge.”
The Hong Kong government canceled the second reading due to the protests. However, Hong Kong police labeled the clashes on June 12 as a “riot,” and charged 9 people for offences related to that day’s events.
According to Hong Kong media, police fired over 150 rounds of tear gas, and about 20 rounds of bean bags and rubber bullets on June 12. Protesters threw bricks and other items at the police officers. This marked the first time such crowd control equipment was deployed in the protest movement. Police have since fired 16,000 rounds of tear gas, 10,000 rubber bullets, 2,000 bean bag rounds, and 1,850 sponge grenades.
Sham pointed out that CHRF is facing considerable danger for organizing protests, “not because our enemy is [Hong Kong leader] Carrie Lam, but the Chinese Communist Party (CCP).”
Sham added that CHRF is planning to hold an activity on January 1.
Joshua Wong said he remembered watching the June 12 events unfold on television while he was jailed. He urged the crowd to encourage arrested protesters currently in jail by sending them Christmas cards.
Wong was sent to prison on charges related to his leading role in the 2014 protests. He was released on June 17.
Two young female protesters, who went by the nicknames Ah Fa and Ah Hoi, were writing Christmas cards to arrested protesters.
Ah Fa said she wanted to tell those arrested that “they are not alone” and that “they shouldn’t be discouraged.”
When asked about why the protesters’ five demands were crucial, Ah Hoi said: “We saw what happened, and want to address it … it’s what a democratic society should have.” Protesters have called for genuine universal suffrage, an independent inquiry into instances of police violence, and amnesty for all arrested protesters.
Rally organizer Lau told The Epoch Times: “Through this assembly, we want to remind every Hongkonger that we have not won yet…Until all our five demands are met, until all 6,000 arrested protesters are free, we will still continue the fight.”
Pro-democracy lawmaker Wu Chi-wai emphasized that Hongkongers should not disavow those protesters who use more aggressive tactics during clashes with police. “We don’t think violence can solve society’s problems … but when [Hong Kong] government uses violence, tactics that go beyond what is acceptable by the law … we cannot separate ourselves [from each other].”