Tens of thousands of protesters remained on the streets of Hong Kong late into the evening, Wednesday, June 12, as huge crowds earlier in the day blocked legislators from debating a controversial extradition law that could extend mainland-China authoritarianism to Hong Kong.
Police in riot gear confronted protesters with tear gas and rubber bullets, also using water cannons at various times, in order to disperse crowds. Hong Kong’s chief of police had declared the protests a “riot situation” in order to justify the violent response.
However, a number of the protesters showed they were prepared for police actions, wearing helmets, goggles and face masks, and carrying umbrellas to block streams of water and pepper spray. Other groups of protesters were seen dashing into shopping malls and local businesses to escape clouds of tear gas.
New proposed legislation would create an extradition agreement with mainland China that allows anyone whom Beijing views as a “criminal” to be extradited and face prosecution in China. Many in Hong Kong view this as a thinly veiled attempt from Beijing to stifle dissent. The law could potentially target anyone in Hong Kong—from democracy supporters to business owners and journalists—whom Beijing wishes to label as “dissident.”
Grassroots demonstrators seem to have gained both courage and experience from the “Umbrella Revolution” or “Occupy” pro-democracy protests in 2014, known to many for the yellow umbrellas that protesters carried. That movement, along with this week’s protests, show how strongly those in Hong Kong oppose encroachment from Beijing upon the “one country-two systems” agreement that the mainland tenuously holds with the former British colony.
In the face of the day’s protests, Hong Kong legislators postponed debate on the controversial legislation until a future date, yet to be announced.