Haynes: Five demands of protesters in Hong Kong
Alexander Haynes is an aspiring journalist raised in the northwest with a background in investigation and policy. He is a graduate of an internship program at KTSW 89.9 in San Marcos, Texas and will always have a new book recommendation for anyone who asks.
Hong Kong is a special administrative region on the eastern side of the Pearl River estuary in southern China. With over 7.4 million people of diverse nationalities in a 426 square mile territory, Hong Kong is one of the most densely populated places in the world.
Hong Kong became a colony of the British Empire after the Qing Dynasty ceded Hong Kong Island at the end of the First Opium War in 1842. The colony expanded to the Kowloon Peninsula in 1860 after the Second Opium War and was further extended when Britain obtained a 99-year lease of the New Territories in 1898.
In 1997 Hong Kong was transferred to China as a special administrative region. As of today, Hong Kong maintains a separate governing and economic system from that of mainland China under the principle of “one country, two systems”.
Hong Kong’s protests started in June against proposals to allow extradition to mainland China. Critics feared this could undermine the city’s judicial independence and endanger those critical of mainland China.
Carrie Lam, the Chief Executive of Hong Kong (appointed by China) agreed to suspend the extradition bill however demonstrations developed to include demands for full democracy and an inquiry into police actions.
The extradition bill was withdrawn in September. Clashes between police and activists have become increasingly violent, with police firing tear gas and rubber bullets without warning and protesters attacking officers and throwing petrol bombs in recent days.
The Five Demands
The sudden loss of democracy can happen anywhere. This is the stark realisation millions of Hong Kong citizens came to this year.
Since the beginning of the freedom movement, the five demands has become a rallying cry in the daily lives of protesters. Each of the demands have realistic effects on the future of Hong Kong and more importantly the immediate future of many of those arrested during the protests.
The first demand, withdrawal of the extradition bill, was achieved in the past week.
Carrie Lam withdrew the bill in September, and it was formally withdrawn by motion in mid-October.
The second demand, an independent review of the police officer corps, might be the most adamant. Alleged police abuse over recent weeks is an extensive list including: failing to protect citizens from Triads on 21 July, firing 800 rounds of tear gas on 6 August, sexually assaulting females who have been arrested, the 31 August Prince Edward attack when officers stormed a tram, possibly killing an arrestee then denied medical aid to all in the MTR station, pepper spraying press on multiple occasions, a sudden increase of suicides for those who have been arrested, firing tear gas into residential zones which has resulted in the deaths of animals, under trained personnel firing tear gas which has hit families and moving vehicles on multiple occasions, potential abuse during arrests…
The list is seemingly endless from my perspective on the ground. Suffice to say, Hong Kong has lost all trust in the police force as a poll two months ago revealed forty-eight percent of civilians have zero trust in the force.
The third demand is amnesty for all arrestees.
The fourth demand is to remove the classification of “rioting” from those arrested – this would decrease the prison sentence of those convicted from ten years to only five.
The fifth demand is full, universal suffrage for the legislative council and chief executive position which are currently appointed.
In the simplest terms they are demanding a full democracy. Never forget this when observing these protests from afar. These brave individuals are marching for their freedom in the face of an increasingly aggressive authoritarian communist China that is daring the international community to act.
Hong Kong protesters on the streets are asking the international community and countries understand and advocate for their five demands alongside them. A growing sentiment, although not wholly agreed upon involves protesters in Hong Kong joining with other democracy movements around the world. This is exemplified by the Catalonia-Hong Kong solidarity rally held in late October. There is a sentiment on the street that the democracy movement will not be isolated to Hong Kong.
Fighting for these five demands has not come without risks; hence, the importance of reclassifying those who have been arrested. Several protesters have iterated they recognize failure for this movement could implicate their youthful years being spent behind bars with even less of a future than when they started. Even still, they refuse to quit because over 2,500 over their compatriots have been arrested; to give in now would be unconscionable to those who have already sacrificed themselves for the cause. Many protesters have found solidarity and unity in this inspiring quote, “We do not persist because we have hope, we persist so we can have hope.”
The protests have increasingly impacted the lives of those residing in the city over the last sixty days in profound manners across both the economy and private social circles.
One girl (who will remain anonymous) became an active protester only after she was arrested in mid-August. Although not actively protesting, she was in a group wearing black in solidarity while on her way to dinner. When police approached her group, words were exchanged, and they were promptly arrested when one of the group attempted to defend herself from a raised baton. Her arrest finalized years of a family feud, leading to her being kicked out of her house. Now in the fifth month of protests, she has become one of the police spotters, watching out for movements on the flanks of protests in order to relay messages so demonstrators can retreat to safety once the police charge.
Mainland China supporters who recognize her as a protestor will often shout in her direction the derogatory label now common to Hong Kong: “cockroaches”. That term isn’t limited to the streets; “cockroaches” has been heard multiple times in use by police commanders discussing tactical movement on the street. The girl now lives in a hostel with ten other pro-democracy demonstrators. While her advocacy for the pro-democracy movement has cost her quality of life, she has become the beneficiary of an underground network helping to feed, transport, and care for the medical needs of those who have been kicked out of their homes.
Being a part of the network comes with obvious risk, as she alleges police in unmarked taxis have been following her, as well as her fellow protesters. Police raids on apartment complexes or stores which harbor demonstrators is not uncommon.
On Monday night in Tuen Mun, police charged and shot tear gas into an apartment complex, killing Tomato, a resident cat. Later that evening a storefront which leads to a below-ground restaurant was charged even though no one was standing nearby (press was denied entry to follow the police).
While not all pro-democracy protesters have been kicked out of their houses, many have made personal sacrifices. Being the recipient of tear gas week in and out is not the precise definition of fun. Others have had to quit their jobs, one protester left an illustrious post-graduate position in the technology world because his company was pro-Beijing. The sacrifices, many sudden over the past months, circle back to the beginning of my article: advocating for the five demands.
The protestors in Hong Kong have learned one thing. The sudden loss of democracy can happen anywhere.
Before the 2014 Umbrella Movement, the Hong Kong police force was one of the most trusted and revered in the world. Even before June of this year, many still held trust in the police.
Now that Joshua Wong, a pro-democracy candidate for district council, was denied entry into the November elections, the sentiment and frustration with the local government will only grow.
The sweep of Chinese authoritarian rule has been subtly and swiftly growing on the ground here in Hong Kong. Let this serve as a stark reminder that democracy must be vigilantly watched over no matter where one resides in the world.
You can follow Alexander Haynes’ reporting from the streets of Hong Kong on Twitter, @ACLHaynes – make sure to listen to The Saul Spady show every morning from 6-9am on 770 KTTH Pacific time for these types of stories and more.