Thousands of exiled Hongkongers and allies marked the 3rd anniversary of the 2019 Hong Kong protest movement in cities around the world at the weekend, with a large crowd gathering on Parliament Square in London to mark the first anniversary of mass public protests on June 12, 2019.
Some 4,000 protesters gathered in London gathered at Marble Arch, marching to Parliament Square to chant slogans including “Free Hong Kong! Revolution now!”, which has been banned under a draconian national security law in Hong Kong.
Exiled former pro-democracy lawmaker Nathan Law said people’s goals weren’t all the same, but that Hongkongers in exile would still work together.
“Some people want an armed revolution, the liberation of Hong Kong, and independence for Hong Kong,” Law said. “We have also heard how we might use culture to change a society.”
“We imagine different paths to reach the goal, but we all share the same values,” he said. “We are diverse, we don’t have only one voice, and we don’t have only one way to express what we want.”
“This diversity can be complementary, and coexist without any of us being subordinate to each other or telling each other what to do, but with the community responding to everyone when needed,” he said.
In Liverpool, drone footage showed a line of dozens of people along a busy shopping street, dressed in the black of the 2019 protest movement, and carrying the yellow umbrellas of the democracy movement.
At the London rally, participants were asked to remember the 10,277 people arrested and the 2,800 prosecuted under the national security law, which was imposed on the city by the ruling Chinese Communist Party (CCP) from July 1, 2020, ushering in an ongoing crackdown on peaceful political opposition and public dissent.
The rally marked the mass protest that blockaded Hong Kong’s Legislative Council (LegCo) on June 12, preventing lawmakers from getting into the chamber to pass a hugely unpopular legal amendment that would have allowed the extradition of alleged criminal suspects to mainland China.
The protest was the first of many to be quelled that year by widespread police violence that saw the firing of tear gas and rubber bullets on an unarmed and peaceful crowd, many of whom were unable to flee, as well as mass arrests and physical beatings of mostly young people.
A young man who was there at the time, and who now lives in the U.K., said he still has vivid memories of the day.
“When I got there, all I could smell was the harsh and pungent smell of tear gas,” the man, who gave only the nickname Karson, told RFA at the London rally. “The people were surrounded by [police firing] tear gas, and there was no way for us to leave.”
“I remember the police saying at the time that they wanted the crowd to disperse, but they also tear gassed protests that had [police approval], and … prevented people from leaving,” he said. “That sort of action in a crowded place caused people to trample each other.”
Karson, who is in the difficult process of applying for political asylum, said others shouldn’t be discouraged, as there are organizations set up to help asylum-seekers from Hong Kong.
A Hongkonger who arrived in the U.K. with his family over a year ago, who gave only the surname Chan, was also in Parliament Square, joining in with a mass rendition of the Les Miserables hit “Do You Hear The People Sing?”, which was often sung during the 2019 protests.
Chan said his family had agreed the night before that they should all attend to support Hong Kong, now that they live overseas.
“I want to tell our brothers and sisters in Hong Kong prisons that we have not forgotten you or given up on you,” Chan told RFA. “We are still very worried about you and care about you, and hope you are safe and well.”
Mrs Chan said she is keen not to forget the protest movement, and the subsequent crackdown imposed by Beijing.
“I felt that I needed to keep the momentum going, so that I don’t forget what happened,” she said. “This isn’t over, and I want to see it through.”
The Chans’ 11-year-old daughter Kimmy said she is in the process of explaining to her classmates what has befallen Hong Kong in recent years.
“I will tell them the story of the Hong Kong people, from the Umbrella Revolution [of 2014] to the present and try to take the fight to the international front,” Kimmy said. “Maybe, if more people know about it, Hong Kong can be restored [to the way it was], I hope.”
Speak up when being bullied
An older woman, also surnamed Chan, said she had come to the rally after living in the U.K. for decades.
“I think it’s very important to deliver on one’s promises and not just to talk big,” she said. “As you can see from my slogan, we just want to get back what we deserve: it’s that simple.”
“I think if people are bullying you, and you are unhappy about it, you have to speak up.”
Similar rallies were held across the U.K. on Sunday, including Liverpool, Manchester and Nottingham.
Manchester police took away a man in a red shirt who started playing the Chinese national anthem during the rally in the city.
Hongkongers and their supporters also rallied on the democratic island of Taiwan.
Some 700 people set off from Elephant Park in Taipei, many of them wearing black clothing and shouting 2019 protest slogans, as well as slogans calling on the authorities to defend Taiwan against CCP infiltration and aggression.
“There’s nothing that people in Hong Kong can do right now [because of the national security crackdown], so we who are overseas should do a bit more,” a protester surnamed Chan told RFA. “It’s important to keep these memories going now that we are in a place of relative safety.”
Another protester surnamed Chow said he had come along with his wife and two-year-old daughter.
“We wanted her to experience this … if there are demonstrations, we will do our best to be there,” Chow said. “You can’t tamper with history, or the truth.”
“Those who have the opportunity must exercise this precious freedom of speech … so that everything that Hongkongers have sacrificed won’t be forgotten,” he said.
Sang Pu, who heads the Taiwan Hong Kong Association, said such protests are important to keep up morale in exile, and that democratic Taiwan was supportive of them.
Translated and edited by Luisetta Mudie.