Hong Kong’s streets were filled with protesters today as the city commemorated its return to the mainland 22 years ago. This year’s ceremony was scaled down as protesters once again took to the streets to press home their five demands: that the extradition bill be withdrawn; that Chief Executive Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor step down; that protesters arrested on June 12 be released without charge; that the June 12 protest not be labelled as a “riot”; and that there be an independent inquiry into alleged police brutality on June 12.
Hard-hatted protesters started gathering on Sunday night in preparation for the day ahead in which they would be involved in running skirmishes with the police. During the day, they ignored lawmakers’ pleas and took a battering ram to the glass walls of the Legislative Council complex in Admiralty.
Uniformed groups who usually attend the flag-raising ceremony were told to stand down, and the ceremony itself was moved inside to the Hong Kong Convention and Exhibition Centre in Wan Chai, as protesters seemed to have taken control of the flag posts, flying Hong Kong’s flag at half mast and a black and white Bauhinia in place of the national flag, which was nowhere to be seen.
Lam took the occasion to break with tradition and give a six-minute speech at the ceremony about the lessons she would learn from the political crisis as a result of a hugely unpopular bill. The bill, which would see suspected criminals being sent to face trial on the mainland, has been suspended, but not withdrawn.
Hundreds of thousands of protesters gathered at Legco and at Victoria Park to make their various demands heard. These included members of the Falun Gong, a religious group banned on the mainland where its followers have been imprisoned. A march set off from the Causeway Bay park for Chater Garden, after police asked organisers to change the endpoint from the government headquarters.
Meanwhile, at a pro-police rally on Sunday, journalists were physically and verbally attacked. Reporters and photographers from various media outlets – including South China Morning Post – said they were insulted, spat on, kicked and splashed with water and mud by demonstrators at a rally in Tamar Park to support the police force.
In a joint statement, the Hong Kong Journalists Association and the Hong Kong Press Photographers Association strongly condemned the “malicious targeting” of journalists. The groups’ said the demonstrators’ had been “jeopardising [journalists’] safety, dealing a blow to press freedom and also undermining the public’s right to know”.
At the time of going to press, the crowd number estimates had not been made public.