Hong Kong’s celebration of the 22nd anniversary of Britain’s handover to China on July 1 was marked with violence as some protesters stormed the legislative building while half a million joined a peaceful march organized to protest a highly controversial extradition bill.
Celebrated as an official holiday, the Establishment Day in Hong Kong has traditionally become a day of protest for pro-democracy groups. According to organizers, this year’s demonstration was meant to express the public’s growing public anger against the “Fugitive Offenders and Mutual Legal Assistance in Criminal Matters Legislation (Amendment) Bill 2019” proposed by the Hong Kong government.
HK protesters stormed inside legislature and put up a banner that says “There are no rioters, but a tyranny” @SCMPNews It’s a play of words of “rioters” and “tyranny” in Chinese pic.twitter.com/MoCSxCIGQY
— Phila Siu (Bobby) (@phila_siu) July 1, 2019
Protesters have also been calling for an independent investigation of both police and protester violence over the last few weeks, while others have demanded Chief Executive Carrie Lam to step down or take responsibility for ongoing unrest.
However, the protest on Monday bore two faces: One of which represented the hundreds of thousands who marched peacefully to join the calls for a total withdrawal of the bill, while the other consisted of a relatively small group which chose violent means to forward their point across.
According to organizers, the Monday’s march was participated by 550,000. Due to the violence that erupted in the area earlier in the morning, they decided to alter the marching route to avoid the legislative complex. However, when the march reached Admiralty district, some protesters split and ran to the Legislative Council building, while others marched on, the Los Angeles Times reports.
Video clips of demonstrators wearing masks and hard hats tore apart the outside of the building to get inside. Some of them were shown using a shopping cart as a battering ram while others used metal poles to force their way into the main entrance. They eventually broke through the entrance at around 9 p.m. (local time) allowing them to freely flood the building’s interior.
The Legislative Council building and its surrounding area were then evacuated after the establishment was put on red alert for the first time ever.
Lots of people headed for the exits, leaving a thoroughly trashed LegCo behind them. pic.twitter.com/4LZUcKkOZg
— (@jgriffiths) July 1, 2019
Half an hour after the protesters made their way into the building, Hong Kong police released a video warning that them that they would use “reasonable force” to sweep the building.
The LegCo Building was violently attacked and forced to enter illegally. The police severely condemned the violent attack. The police will conduct sweeping in a short period of time and will take reasonable force.The police also appeal unrelated protestors to leave the vicinity. pic.twitter.com/0YPsExD3FM
— Hong Kong Police Force (@hkpoliceforce) July 1, 2019
It is worth noting that while this group of protesters was breaching the legislature, authorities apparently held back. This led many to speculate that it was a deliberate tactic from the police to make the protesters less sympathetic in the public’s eyes.
On Reddit, such speculation even took on the possibility that the violent entry to the legislature was staged. Redditor Klasiq posted screenshot images from the HK police video that appear to show that the spokesperson’s watch was apparently at 5 p.m. despite the protestors entering at 9 pm.
“Today’s violent protests were all planned by the police and HK government,” he alleged in the post. “This image proves it as the video where police justified their actions against protestors was filmed before the protest became violent. Which means that the government and police had planned the protest’s violent nature by (most likely) sending officers dressed as protestors to make it so. This includes breaking into LegCo (HK central government building), spray painting the HK emblem and hanging the British colonial flag, and trashing parts of the governmental office.”
Meanwhile, Reddit user u/053537 discounted the possibility of police dressing up as protesters due to lack of substantial evidence. He further claimed that those who overrun legislature building were “a radical ‘breakaway’ group separate from the main protest.”
In his own account of how the events unfolded that day, he wrote: “Protesters began smashing into the glass walls of the parliament building at around 1:30 p.m. local time, the police filmed the video at 5 p.m. (allegedly), they retreated at around 8:30 p.m. and the protesters made their way in at 9 pm, taking the bait so that the police could release the video at 9:30 pm.”
According to the South China Morning Post, most of the protesters had left at around midnight when the police arrived. The remaining protesters outside were eventually cleared after officers fired tear gas toward them.
— Bloomberg TV (@BloombergTV) July 1, 2019
While most marchers condemned the violence as it would potentially undermine their cause, some have expressed understanding of how people’s frustration could lead to such an outcome.
“They’re so angry. They don’t have votes or any actions that count. They don’t have another way to do this,” said 68-year-old protester Au Yung Man-ong, one of those who chose to join the peaceful march was quoted as saying.
“Three young people committed suicide. I’m hoping Lam can step down and withdraw the bill. It’s a small act, easily solved. But she thinks saving her face is more important than people’s lives.”
At 4 a.m. Tuesday, Chief Executive Lam held a news conference condemning the “extreme use of violence and vandalism by protesters who stormed into the Legislative Council building.” Meanwhile, she also recognized the separate march as a reflection of Hong Kong’s “core values” of peace and order.
Featured image via YouTube/South China Morning Post