Hong Kong Protesters March in Defiance of Police, Demand Activists’ Release

Hong Kongers took to the street in protest on October 1, China’s national day, even though their application to march had been denied. Protesters risked arrest under the new National Security Law to call for the release of 12 Hong Kong activists currently held on the mainland after a failed attempt to flee the city for Taiwan. The protest comes on the one-year anniversary of a march drawing tens of thousands of Hong Kongers demanding universal suffrage and the withdrawal of an extradition bill with the mainland, among other goals, which ended in violence after Hong Kong police shot one protester in the chest with a live round. The police rejected organizers' petition for this year's march, citing concerns about coronavirus and unrest. A heavy police street presence broadcast the Hong Kong government’s desire to quash even peaceful protest. For the New York Times, Austin Ramzy, Elaine Yu, and Tiffany May reported on National Day protesters navigating draconian crackdowns amid a climate of fear:

The holiday on Thursday once again brought protesters to the streets of Hong Kong. This time, however, their numbers were far smaller, and they were smothered by thousands of police officers. The police corralled and searched dozens of people at a time, effectively quashing all but the briefest expressions of dissent.

The stark contrast from one year to the next shows how the Hong Kong authorities have used social distancing rules, an overwhelming police presence and a sweeping national security law imposed on the city by Beijing at the end of June to silence pro-democracy rallies. Public discontent remains high in Hong Kong, but displaying it is increasingly risky.

The police had banned protests on Thursday, citing coronavirus concerns, so activists looked for creative ways to skirt the restrictions. Some demonstrations looked more like performance art than the seas of people with thunderous chants that were hallmarks of last year’s protests. [Source]

(Apple Daily's standing as an icon of resistance was elevated in August, when police arrested owner Jimmy Lai and nine others, and raided the newspaper's offices.)

The Hong Kong Police Force, credibly accused of violently targeting members of the press, deployed its Police Public Relations Branch to conduct live streams around protest sites, in a reversal of Apple Daily live streams of the Hong Kong Police Force raid on the paper’s headquarters. Hong Kong’s ranking on the Press Freedom Index has fallen from #18 in 2002 to #80 in 2020. Hong Kong Free Press detailed how PPRB officers imitated journalists to spread pro-police messages while enforcing onerous restrictions on media members:

Some riot police officers were spotted with GoPro action cameras, whilst Police Public Relations Branch (PPRB) officers live-streamed their operations as protesters gathered.

Commentators holding microphones with a “PPRB Live” label were stationed in Causeway Bay, at Wan Chai’s MTR station, around the Hung Hom Cross-Harbour Tunnel and in Tsuen Wan.

A commentator at Wan Chai station explained the purpose of stop-and-search actions as a preventive measure, adding that officers had found offensive weapons in the bags of passersby ahead of protests. [Source]

In the days before the march, Luo Huining, the new head of the central government’s Liaison Office in Hong Kong, told local residents that “love for the country is not a choice but an obligation.”

CDT published a leaked media directive governing coverage of Luo's appointment at the start of the year, reportedly in response to Beijing's dissatisfaction with his predecessor's handling of last year's protests. A raft of other new officials has been installed in Hong Kong since the passage of the National Security Law. Another leaked directive issued on January 15 concerned Luo's speech at the Liaison Office's Spring Festival reception, in which he urged Hong Kongers to "cherish" their home by upholding the principle of "one country, two systems," adding a quote from Xi, that "harmony in a family makes everything successful."

David Bandurski at China Media Project examined whether China’s constitution obliges Hong Kongers to love the People’s Republic of China:

Are all Chinese – and of course Luo means to include all Hong Kong residents of Chinese ancestry – really under an obligation to love China? Surely, the question of obligations to the country is not one that can simply be addressed haphazardly. China’s Constitution, after all, deals rather clearly with citizens’ obligations. What are its stipulations exactly?

[…] No law, it seems, either in China or in the SAR, obligates Hong Kong people to love the country. But Luo, of course, is playing at politics and emotion, with very real consequences for Hong Kong. “To build Hong Kong as a home,” he says, “we must stimulate feelings for the home country.” Only then can Hong Kong “rise with the nation.” [Source]

In concert with Lou’s patriotism mandate, Regina Ip, a prominent pro-Beijing Hong Kong politician, published an essay titled, “Hong Kong Is China, Like It or Not” in the New York Times’ Opinion section. The essay was a full-throated defense of the new National Security Law, the postponement of LegCo elections, and the government’s efforts to block protest:

To some, the new national security law is especially chilling because it seems simultaneously vague and very severe. But many laws are vague, constructively so. And this one only seems severe precisely because it fills longstanding loopholes — about subversion, secession, local terrorism, collusion with external forces. One person’s “severe” is someone else’s intended effect.

I see little chance of any compromise being reached between the authorities in Beijing and the democratic camp in Hong Kong, be it about the right to elect directly the chief executive or any other major matter. From Beijing’s point of view, democratic development in Hong Kong has brought about nothing but chaos, polarization and anti-China sentiment. [Source]

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