HK students on why July 1 pro-democracy march suffered low turnout on 20th anniversary of Hong Kong handover to China

HK students on why July 1 pro-democracy march suffered low turnout on 20th anniversary of Hong Kong handover to China

Organisers believe protesters were dissuaded by police aggression and bad weather

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Streets were cordoned off and lined by police officers for the march
Photo: SCMP/David Wong

The July 1 anti-government march on Saturday drew a new low of only 60,000 protesters, which is half the usual number expected for the march. Organisers blamed police agrression towards protesters in recent years, and the heavy rain.

Figures for the turnout vary, as they do every year, and police claim there were around 14,500 protestors. Should that figure be accurate, it would make it the smallest turnout since 2003.

However, researchers from the University of Hong Kong public opinion programme said about 27,000 to 35,000 people took part.


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“In recent years, police have taken a more hostile attitude towards protesters and used pepper spray more often than in the past. We should actually praise those who turned up this year for their ­courage,” said Au Nok-hin of the the Civil Human Rights Front, an umbrella group of some 50 pro-democracy organisations.

He also wanted new chief executive, Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor, to know that the protesters' demands shouldn't be ignored just because of the low turnout.

The march started some two hours after President Xi Jinping left the city after concluding his three-day visit to mark the 20th anniversary of Hong Kong’s return to Chinese rule.

Things got off to a good start when the march began in Victoria Park, and Hongkongers of all ages gathered to protest against the encroachment of Beijing on Hong Kong's autonomy.

However, along the way towards Tamar government headquarters complex, about 21 /2 kilometres away, the heavy rain in the afternoon drove part of the crowd away. 


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Sixteen-year-old Leeann Tong from Sha Tin College thinks the increasingly aggressive nature of protests means people are more reluctant to be associated with them.

"The Umbrella Movement in 2014 that turned into what were essentially riots set a bad example for future protests in Hong Kong. People don’t want to be seen doing something like that anymore," she argued.

Malcolm McNicol, 20, a student at Scotland's Heriot Watt University, agrees that the threat of violence can put people off attending.

"I think there was a significantly low turnout because of how events unfolded during the last protest - people don't want to be involved in any sort of violence," he said. 

Meanwhile, Charlotte Fong, 14, of International Christian School thinks people are "unsure of how much the protest can change".

"The protest has been held yearly for quite some time, and not much change has happened, so people are questioning its effectiveness" she reasoned. 

Edited by Heidi Yeung

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