State violence and authoritarianism have only gotten worse in Hong Kong since the 2019 protests that brought more than 2 million Hongkongers to the streets. On June 12, 2021, people in more than 50 cities worldwide joined together to say “Free Hong Kong.”
Hong Kong, once a colony of the United Kingdom, became a Special Administrative Region of China when it was returned to Chinese sovereignty in 1997. Under the “one country, two systems” policy, Hong Kong was supposed to maintain political and economic independence until at least 2047, an agreement that has quickly eroded.
“Hong Kongers are up against one of the most powerful countries in the world, and we knew that from the start,” Christopher Choi, director of the Hong Kong Social Action Movements Boston, told a crowd assembled at Boston City Hall Plaza. “The only way to win that battle is through persistent persistence.”
After months of opposition in 2019, protesters succeeded in stopping the proposed extradition bill, which would have allowed Hong Kong’s government to send citizens accused of crimes to face judgment in mainland China. Four of the movement’s five demands have yet to be met, however, said Hongkonger activist Frances Hui, and the easing of COVID-19 combined with the threat of Hong Kong’s new National Security Law (NSL) has reignited the call for action.
The other four demands include:
- The Hong Kong government must retract the classification of protesters as rioters, which designates protest as criminal activity.
- There must be a complete investigation into police brutality and the use of excessive force, including tear gas, rubber bullets, and water cannons, against unarmed protesters.
- The release of all political prisoners. According to the New York Times, more than 10,000 Hongkongers were arrested for protest activity between June 2019 and March 2021 and could still be prosecuted. As of May, 2,500 people were being prosecuted and 300 had been sentenced to prison.
- Dual universal suffrage, allowing both Hong Kong’s Chief Executive (the country’s highest office) and the entirety of the Legislative Council to be directly elected by voters. Currently, the Chief Executive is elected by a 1,200 member committee elected by business representatives, members of the Chinese National People’s Congress, and the 70 members of the Legislative Council. Only 35 members of the Council are elected directly by voters—the other 35 are trade seats elected by members of those industries.
Hui, who has contributed to the Hong Kong democracy movement as an organizer and journalist, was forced to leave the country at the end of 2020 due to concerns about the NSL, which passed without public input earlier that year.
The NSL makes any act of secession, government subversion, terrorism, or collusion with foreign forces—including any show of support for Hong Kong independence, such as protesting, journalism, posting on social media, or attempting to run for office as a pro-democracy candidate—punishable by up to life in prison.
“Freedom of speech, freedom of press—those are in the past tense, and a lot of people, because of the National Security Law, are censoring themselves, and some people chose to leave Hong Kong,” Hui said. “A lot of my friends are either in jail or in exile or waiting to go to court.”
According to Hui, people outside Hong Kong can help support the movement by spreading the word, boycotting the Beijing 2022 Olympics, and taking steps to decrease their reliance on Chinese products, particularly of brands suspected of using forced labor by Uyghur Muslims being held in Xinjiang, China. Choi also implored people to speak to their representatives about the need to support international lifeboat policies to make it easier for Hongkongers to gain citizenship and asylum in other countries, which would allow activists to continue their pro-democracy work abroad when faced with arrest.
“Most people overseas think that Hong Kong is dead, but people in Hong Kong are still trying,” Choi said. “Hong Kong has not given up and the world should not give up on them either.”
Read DSA’s 2019 statement of support for the Hong Kong peoples’ protests against the extradition bill on the DSA International Committee website.