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Umbrella resurgence

Anger over an extradition plan has revived pro-democracy protests—and clashes—in Hong Kong

Umbrella resurgence

Protesters clash with police during a demonstration outside the Legislative Council complex in Hong Kong on Wednesday. (ANTHONY WALLACE/AFP/Getty Images)

The umbrellas are back on the streets in Hong Kong, where at least 22 people were injured amid clashes with police on Wednesday during a large demonstration against an extradition bill. On the streets outside Hong Kong’s government complex, riot police dispersed tear gas and shot beanbag rounds at the angry crowds.

The scene—tens of thousands of demonstrators, with some hurling bricks and umbrellas at police—resembled the Umbrella Movement of 2014, when residents protested for the right to vote for Hong Kong’s chief executive. But after a 79-day occupation of the same streets in Admiralty, those protesters left empty-handed, and pro-Beijing interest groups later chose Carrie Lam as chief executive in 2017.

Now Lam has angered Hong Kongers by ignoring their opposition to the extradition bill, which would allow people in Hong Kong to be sent to mainland China to stand trial. Despite a massive rally of more than 1 million people on Sunday protesting the bill, Lam announced Monday that she would push forward with a debate scheduled for Wednesday. (Lam hopes to pass the bill before the legislature goes on recess in July.)

Vincent Yu/AP

Thousands of protesters gather in Hong Kong on Wednesday. (Vincent Yu/AP)

But beginning on Tuesday night, tens of thousands of protesters poured into the streets, blocking major roads leading to the government complex with barriers, cars, and massive crowds. Some Christian groups sang hymns outside the government buildings while others joined a 72-hour prayer-a-thon for the “safety of the city.” Police used water cannons and pepper spray to try to disperse the crowds. But by the time of the scheduled debate at 11 a.m. Wednesday, lawmakers were blocked from reaching the Legislative Council building, and council President Andrew Leung announced the debate would be postponed.

“The government decided to ignore the popular will with pathetic excuses,” 18-year-old protester Sunny Chan told Quartz. “I’ve decided to use this last opportunity to protect my freedoms.”

The atmosphere grew increasingly tense as the afternoon wore on. Around 3:30 p.m., protesters in front of the Legislative Council complex began charging forward, armed only with umbrellas. Behind them, the mass of protesters chanted, “Go, Hong Kongers!” In response, police pepper-sprayed the protesters, then released tear gas to clear the area. Cell phone videos show protesters throwing umbrellas and other objects at riot police, who responded by beating them with batons. Police also shot rubber bullets and beanbag rounds, according to the police chief Stephen Lo.

Billy H.C. Kwok/Getty Images

Protesters run as tear gas is fired during Wednesday’s protest against the proposed extradition law. (Billy H.C. Kwok/Getty Images)

Lo also declared the clashes a riot, which will result in heavier sentences if the protesters are detained.

In addition to the protests, more than 1,000 small businesses closed their doors Wednesday in opposition to the law, and Hong Kong’s largest teachers union announced a citywide strike. Others held a 24-hour hunger strike. A bus drivers union even urged members to drive below the speed limit in a sign of protest.

The extradition bill would allow case-by-case extraditions to countries with which Hong Kong does not have official treaties, most notably mainland China. Given China’s disregard for basic human rights and lack of an independent judiciary, many Hong Kong people fear that journalists, activists, human rights lawyers, and other critics of the Chinese government could be sent to the mainland on baseless charges and face jail time and torture. Foreigners visiting Hong Kong could also be extradited.

The extradition law has so infuriated Hong Kongers that it has revived mass demonstrations that had shrunk after the Umbrella Movement failed to achieve its objective. The sentencing of Umbrella Movement leaders in April and the commemoration of the 30th anniversary of June 4 have also helped motivate Hong Kong residents to return to the streets.

Pray for Early Rain Covenant Church/Facebook

Jiang Rong (Pray for Early Rain Covenant Church/Facebook)

Set free:

Chinese police have released Jiang Rong, the wife of Pastor Wang Yi of Early Rain Covenant Church, on bail pending trial. They had kept her in secretive detention for six months. Another church member, Li Xiaofeng, was also released—meaning that five Early Rain members now remain in prison: Pastor Wang, two elders, one deacon, and one church member.