Carrie Lam

National Day protest in Hong Kong draws 40,000 to streets, organisers claim

Police estimate only 4,300 attended as participants call for justice secretary’s resignation in aftermath of prominent activists being sent to jail

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 01 October, 2017, 6:53pm
UPDATED : Sunday, 01 October, 2017, 10:59pm

Hongkongers took to the streets on Sunday to reject “authoritarian rule” and demand the justice minister resign for damaging the city’s rule of law.

In a show of unity and braving heavy rain at times, the protesters chanted “Rimsky Yuen Kwok-keung step down” as they set off from Victoria Park in Causeway Bay during the National Day holiday.

“If Hongkongers don’t come out and make their voices heard, the silence will send a message to the government that they can do whatever they want,” said Avery Ng Man-yuen, chairman of the League of Social Democrats, one of the event organisers.

“Chief Executive Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor needs to fire Rimsky Yuen,” he added.

Organisers claimed 40,000 people took part. They had projected a turnout of 20,000. Police put the figure at 4,300.

On August 20, police estimated 22,000 people took part in a march opposing the jailing of Hong Kong political activists Joshua Wong Chi-fung, Nathan Law Kwun-chung and Alex Chow Yong-kang by a local lower court. Organisers of that event called it “the biggest protest since the 2014 Occupy movement”, a reference to the pro-democracy street demonstrations.

The rule of law has become a laughing stock
protester David Lok Ping-pui

The three prominent activists were subsequently jailed for six to eight months for storming government headquarters during a protest that triggered the 79-day Occupy movement.

Protesters on Sunday also expressed outrage that police had not arrested pro-establishment lawmaker Junius Ho Kwan-yiu, who last month called for pro-independence activists to be “killed mercilessly”.

Ng said the inaction showed that anyone supporting the government could publicly violate the law and police would do nothing.

Among the protesters was David Lok Ping-pui, 69, who called Yuen a “puppet” of Beijing.

“I am very disappointed about the status of the rule of law in Hong Kong,” he said. “The rule of law has become a laughing stock.”

Another attendee, Lui Leong-ting, 37, claimed the Department of Justice had decided to appeal the lower court’s judgment because of its “political mission” to send the student leaders to jail.

Still another, Jason Wong, 50, wanted the student leaders to know their contributions to foster democracy in Hong Kong had led more people to become aware of its importance.

“I want them to know that the contributions they have made have not been in vain,” he said.

Most of the protesters wore black T-shirts, heeding organisers’ call to show support for the jailed activists. The “funeral black” colour scheme was meant to show that October 1 – the founding date of the People’s Republic of China – did not merit celebration and was instead a “national sorrow”.

The protesters marched from Victoria Park in Causeway Bay to the government headquarters in Tamar.

As they marched, they shouted slogans such as “Shame on political prosecution!”, “Support political prisoners!”, “Civil disobedience is no crime!”, and “We are not afraid of authoritarian government!”

Their ranks included Lam Wing-kee, a key figure in the missing booksellers saga of 2015. In addition, University of Hong Kong associate professor of law Benny Tai Yiu-ting came to rally alongside his Occupy movement co-founders, Dr Chan Kin-man and Reverend Chu Yiu-ming. The three men face charges relating to public nuisance over their roles in the 2014 protests.

Tai on Sunday accused Beijing authorities of failing to honour the Basic Law, Hong Kong’s mini-constitution, and not implementing universal suffrage despite 20 years having passed since the city’s handover from British rule.

The HKU academic also said Yuen needed to be held responsible for what he termed political prosecution and therefore resign.

“The government may then find another person like him to become the next justice secretary,” he added. “If so, we Hongkongers must hang in there and not show fear in the face of authoritarian rule.”

Agnes Chow Ting, a core member of political party Demosisto, which counts Joshua Wong among its members, urged Hongkongers not to be afraid when fighting against the government.

“The protest today is just the first step of the campaign against authoritarian rule,” she said. “In the future, we may feel frustrated, and may feel that it will be too difficult to get what we have demanded. But we must have hope, for when we are united, the power will be greater than the power of the authority.”

Unite and seize opportunities, Hong Kong leader Carrie Lam says in National Day speech

In a statement on Sunday, the government reiterated its claim that political consideration had not “come into play at all” in the legal cases the protesters cited.

“The allegations of political prosecution or persecutions are entirely unfounded,” the statement said. “Not only do these allegations ignore the evidence accepted by the court or undisputed evidence in these cases, they also disregard the decisions of the court.”

The government respected freedom of speech and rights to petition and hold public processions, the statement added. It asserted the freedoms and rights were not absolute and that people must respect the law when exercising them.