Thousands Rally for Democracy in Hong Kong

Tens of thousands of Hong Kong residents gathered in the rain for an annual rally for democracy, on the anniversary of the territory’s return to China from British rule in 1997. From the Wall Street Journal:

Organizers said the annual rally, which marks the 1997 handover of Hong Kong from the U.K. to China, drew more than 100 organizations.

Despite a downpour from tropical storm Rumbia, thousands of protesters dressed in translucent ponchos marched from Victoria Park to the heart of the city’s business district, chanting slogans such as “Universal suffrage now” and “Down with Leung Chun-ying.”

“The wind and rainstorm on July 1 only indicate the Hong Kong people’s determination to kick out Leung Chun-ying,” Jackie Hung of the Civil Human Rights Front, which organized the protest, said at the start of the march. “Mr. Leung was chosen by a small circle. He is not qualified to rule seven million Hong Kong people.”

Organizers estimate that 430,000 people took part in the protest—which would make it the largest since 2004—while police estimated the rally’s size at 66,000 at its peak. [Source]

See photos of the rally via Hong Wrong.

In recent years, attendance at pro-democracy rallies in Hong Kong has increased as concerns grow that an agreement for Hong Kong to reach universal suffrage by 2017 may not be met. This year’s annual candlelight vigil on June 4th drew 150,000 participants. From Reuters:

Younger activists have become increasingly politicized. Surveys show they identify themselves more as Hong Kong citizens than Chinese nationals – a trend that alarms Beijing, which is eager for the city to show more “patriotism” to the motherland.

Despite China’s pledge to allow a direct poll for the city’s leader in 2017, recent signs from senior Chinese officials have raised concern Beijing may somehow try to rig the rules to screen out opposition candidates from taking part.

“I just want to do my part to tell Beijing not to crush Hong Kong,” said retired accountant Dominic Wong, 70. “This is my first protest. Hong Kong leaders have to do more to stand up to Beijing.” [Source]

In the New York Times, chair of the Democratic Party and legislator Emily Lau explains the causes of discontent that are bringing people out into the streets:

That process of democratic development is now imperiled. The sticking point is universal suffrage, or, one-person, one-vote.

In the current system, a holdover from colonial times when the British wanted to limit input from the local population, Hong Kong’s political leader, known as the chief executive, is selected by a 1,200-member committee of the business and political elite that is rigged to favor of pro-Beijing candidates. Only 40 of the 70 members of the legislative council are elected by one-person, one-vote, the rest are selected by so-called functional constituencies, professional groups that represent industries like banking, law and teaching.

Mainland leaders have said they would allow a system of universal suffrage for the 2017 chief executive election and the 2020 legislative council vote, giving hope that this otherwise modern city would finally catch up with the democratic world.

But since the pro-Beijing Leung Chun-ying became chief executive a year ago, the pro-democracy camp has had one setback after another. [Source]

Ahead of the planned protest, the Hong Kong offices of Next Media, owned by Beijing critic Jimmy Lai, were targeted in four separate attacks over two weeks. On the morning before the July 1 rally, attackers set fire to 26,000 copies of the group’s Apple Daily newspaper:

Sina Weibo also filtered a number of search terms related to the Hong Kong protests. See the list via CDT’s Sensitive Words series.