More than 100 protesters descended on the offices of Hong Kong’s justice department on Thursday morning in the latest push for the complete withdrawal of the now-suspended extradition bill and to spare arrested protesters from prosecution.
The rally, which came after a six-hour siege of police headquarters by protesters ended at about 4am, was originally planned as an escalated action in response to the government’s failure to meet a second deadline set at 5pm on Wednesday.
At about 10.30am protesters marched up Garden Road in the direction of Lower Albert Road to join a dozen others gathered outside the east wing of Justice Place, home to the offices of Secretary for Justice Teresa Cheng Yeuk-wah and her department.
Mostly wearing masks and dressed in black, the protesters effectively cut off one lane of Lower Albert Road. A number of them volunteered to direct traffic and keep it flowing in both directions.
“No extradition to China! No Evil Law! Release our comrades! We are not rioters! Retract the statements of riot! Investigate the police abuse of power! Condemn police violence! Teresa Cheng come out!” the protesters chanted.
Cheng was seen arriving at Justice Place before 10am.
The protesters demanded the government meet four requests: to completely withdraw the bill, retract all characterisation of the protests on June 12 as a riot, set up an independent inquiry into the police’s use of force, and to undertake not to prosecute arrested protesters.
The bill, which was suspended on June 15, aims to allow Hong Kong to surrender criminal suspects to jurisdictions with which it lacks a long-term extradition agreement, including mainland China.
Critics fear it could leave people in the city at risk of unfair prosecution on the mainland.
A brief round of scuffles broke out at about 12.30pm when protesters, following Demosisto party activists Ho Ka-yau and Isaac Cheng, tried to block another entrance on Lower Albert Road. The entrance had been closed since early Thursday morning and was used by department staff leaving for their lunch break.
Police brandished a yellow flag warning that anyone who charged their line would be arrested. A commander proposed discussing the protest arrangements with a representative of the demonstrators.
The protesters responded loudly: “We don’t have a leader. Have you woken up? It’s already 2019.”
Officers later agreed to move back and let the protesters block the entrance.
As the crowd effectively cut off all lanes of Lower Albert Road, staff at Justice Place were allowed to leave work soon after 1pm. Protesters did not obstruct them, but shouted as they walked past: “Teresa Cheng come out now! Ask your boss to come out!”
Two secondary school pupils, Ken Yau and Aegean Hui, aged 16 and 14 respectively, joined the rally in their uniforms before attending classes in the afternoon.
Yau, who was studying in Form Five, said he previously attended massive marches against the bill on June 9 and 16, as well as the protests on June 12, even though he had exams.
“I can’t even focus on my revision and keep thinking about the protests, or watching live broadcasts at home,” Yau said.
Although his grades had been affected, he said he would regret it if he was not part of the cause, as he was frustrated by the government’s refusal to withdraw the bill.
“We must have our voices heard, while we still have a chance,” he said.
Demosisto leaders Joshua Wong Chi-fung and Nathan Law Kwun-chung were also among protesters, saying they were answering the online call to rally.
Dozens of police officers had been stationed at and patrolling the vicinity of Justice Place since early Thursday morning. They tried to push protesters and reporters, who at one point were blocking all of Lower Albert Road, back to the pavement, but eventually compromised to allow the crowd to stand on a section of the road’s downhill lane.
A lane connecting Justice Place and St John’s Cathedral was also closed for the day.
After an almost three-hour stand-off, the department allowed staff to leave their offices and work from home instead. Some staff who left for lunch were also asked not to return to the office.
Two senior government lawyers in charge of the suspended bill, law officer Paul Tsang Keung and his deputy Linda Lam Mei-sau, were also seen leaving the office early, at 1.30pm. Both refused to comment on whether they were disappointed about the bill’s suspension.