Tens of thousands of Hong Kongers packed into a park yesterday night to mourn a student who died during recent clashes as police arrested a group of pro-democracy lawmakers, deepening the city’s political crisis.
The international finance hub has been upended by five months of huge and increasingly violent pro-democracy protests, but Beijing has refused to give in to most of the
Tensions have soared since the death on Friday of Alex Chow, 22, who succumbed to head injuries sustained during a fall as police skirmished with demonstrators inside a car park last weekend.
The huge rally – one of the few in recent months to obtain police approval – means Hong Kong has witnessed 24 weekends of protest in what has become the most profound challenge to Beijing’s rule since the 1997 handover.
Many at the peaceful and sombre rally wore black.
“I want an independent inquiry because that proves Hong Kong is still a place with rule of law,” a 35-year-old woman, who gave her surname Wong, said, echoing the movement’s core demand for an investigation into police tactics.
Wong, who said she moved to Hong Kong from the mainland three years ago, said she also wanted to see less confrontational tactics from hardcore protesters.
“I think non-violent ways can also win,” she said.
The rally came after police brought charges against at least seven lawmakers who now face up to a year in jail if convicted.
Three were arrested overnight, three attended appointments on Saturday evening to be booked, and one refused to appear.
The charges relate to chaotic scenes that broke out within a legislative committee in May as pro-democracy lawmakers tried to stop a controversial bill being discussed that would allow extraditions to
authoritarian mainland China.
At the time, city leader Carrie Lam was fast-tracking the bill through the legislature, a move that ignited record-breaking street protests in which
“The protests that have been going on for five months are yet to finish but the government is already launching massive arrests of pro-democracy legislators in collaboration with the police,” the lawmakers said in a joint statement.
Hong Kong’s legislature is quasi-democratic, with half the seats popularly elected and the rest chosen by largely pro-Beijing committees, ensuring the chamber remains stacked with government loyalists.
Opposition to the government comes in the form of a small band of pro-democracy lawmakers who win their seats in local elections.
Chow’s death has only intensified the tinderbox atmosphere in what has become a deeply polarised city, with violence escalating on both sides of the ideological divide.
Although the precise chain of events leading to his fall is unclear and disputed, protesters have made alleged police brutality one of their movement’s rallying cries and have seized on the death.
Police have repeatedly denied any allegations of wrongdoing in relation to Chow’s death.
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