Fears over extradition bill swell crowd at pre-June 4 march

May 27, 2019 13:23
The Hong Kong Alliance in Support of Patriotic Democratic Movements in China, organizer of the annual event, said more than 2,200 people joined the march on Sunday afternoon. Photo: Reuters

Thousands joined this year's democracy march to commemorate the victims of the Tiananmen Square crackdown on June 4, 1989, amid growing opposition to the government's move to amend the city's extradition laws.

The Hong Kong Alliance in Support of Patriotic Democratic Movements in China, organizer of the annual event, said more than 2,200 people participated in the protest, ahead of the 30th anniversary of the June 4 incident, double the number seen last year, the Hong Kong Economic Journal reports.

The turnout was also the highest recorded by the pro-democracy group since 2014, when the annual march drew 3,000 participants. In 2017, only about 1,000 people joined the march.

According to data from the alliance over the past 10 years, the highest turnout was recorded in 2009, the 20th anniversary of the bloody crackdown, when 8,000 attended.

Police estimated the crowd on Sunday at 2,100 at its peak, with the number being the biggest since 2009 on police record.

Richard Tsoi Yiu-cheong, vice chairman of the alliance, said the surge in the number of participants in the march not only showed that Hongkongers are still concerned over the bloody crackdown but also reflected their fears about the Fugitive Offenders and Mutual Legal Assistance in Criminal Matters Legislation (Amendment) Bill, which they believe may be used by Beijing to crack down on dissidents in the city.

The government’s move to bypass a bills committee, which is tasked to scrutinize the proposal, and send it straight to the Legislative Council for voting, shows its determination to have it enacted, after central government officials expressed support for the legislation, despite widespread opposition, Tsoi added.

Albert Ho Chun-yan, who chairs the alliance, said the government's push for extradition law changes to allow fugitives to be handed over to the mainland, helped prompt protesters to join the march this year, RTHK reported.

Sunday’s march began at 3 p.m. from Southorn Playground in Wan Chai and ended at Beijing’s Liaison Office in Western District.

The marchers held banners and chanted slogans, while many unfurled yellow umbrellas, one of the most potent symbols of the pro-democracy Occupy movement in 2014.

A local newspaper distributed yellow umbrellas with slogans such as “support freedom, oppose evil law”.

As marchers passed by the Chinese Methodist Church in Wan Chai, members of pro-Beijing groups heckled them and destroyed a couple of yellow umbrellas to express their anger at the protesters.

Amid the heated verbal exchanges between the two groups, police intervened to keep them separated and prevent any untoward incident.

Outside the Liaison Office, the marchers observed moments of silence in memory of the victims of the Tiananmen Square crackdown.

Tsoi called on the people to join the annual candlelight vigil in Victoria Park on Tuesday next week, saying Hong Kong is one of the few remaining places where the crackdown is commemorated and more participants can help vindicate the June 4 incident as well as preserve human rights in the city.

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