Pro-democracy protests in Hong Kong took a new form on Friday afternoon, Aug. 23, when an estimated 100,000 protesters came together to form a “human chain” that stretched for 28 miles across the city.

Protesters were peaceful as they stood side-by-side, linking together by holding hands while singing songs or standing in silence. The peaceful protest remained free of any reported incidents of violence or clashes with police, a welcome change for a city whose streets and subways had often descended into chaotic confrontations, with police using tear gas and other aggressive riot-control tactics.

During the “human chain” demonstration, close to 100 demonstrators also gathered at the top of Kowloon’s Lion Rock, using their smartphones as flashlights to shine a bright light that was visible throughout much of Hong Kong during the evening.

China’s communist state-controlled media have escalated their rhetoric against the protests, in recent weeks, going so far as to compare Hong Kong protesters to “terrorists” who have instigated violence against police. However, Friday’s highly visible and remarkably peaceful demonstration will certainly challenge that narrative.

The Chinese government has sent military vehicles and stationed several troops in the city of Shenzhen, near the Hong Kong border. A limited number of Chinese military personnel, stationed inside Hong Kong, have also been conducting small-scale riot-control drills, ostensibly in preparation to confront anti-communist protesters in the streets.

However, it remains unclear whether Beijing would deploy military troops in the Special Administrative Region, or whether the moves are an attempt on the part of China’s government to intimidate the protesters.

The protests began on June 9, in response to a controversial China-extradition bill that would expand the Chinese communist government’s ability to capture and extradite criminal suspects from Hong Kong. Many in Hong Kong fear that this law could be used as a political weapon and target anyone whom China’s communist party views as a political opponent, and this could include democracy supporters, journalists, and human rights advocates, among others.

Many in Hong Kong believe that pushing back the extradition bill is just one step in a long-term fight to preserve basic freedoms. Hong Kong Chief Executive Carrie Lam has repeatedly asserted that the extradition bill is effectively dead. However, her promises have fallen on deaf ears for tens of thousands of demonstrators who continue to call for her resignation, in favor of free elections.

President Trump has made only sparse comments in response to the protests, treating them as a dispute between China and the Special Administrative Region, while remaining mostly neutral. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) has been outspoken in support of the citywide protests in Hong Kong, along with a number of other lawmakers from both parties. 

30th Anniversary of Baltic Way protest across Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania

August 23, 2019 marks the 30h anniversary of the large-scale peaceful demonstration that became known as the “Baltic Way Protest,” when as many as 2 million people in the Soviet-occupied countries of Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania joined hands to form a “human chain” that stretched for close to 400 miles. The Baltic countries, which were annexed into the Soviet Union under a German and Soviet agreement 50 years earlier, were appealing to demand freedom and independence.

The Soviet Union would give way to democracy less than two years later.