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United in protest

Christians in Hong Kong stand in solidarity with pro-democracy demonstrators and condemn violence, even as some activists vandalize government headquarters

United in protest

Protesters smash glass doors and windows of the Legislative Council Complex in Hong Kong. (Anthony Kwan/Getty Images)

As protesters tried to crash through the glass façade of the Legislative Council Complex in Hong Kong on Monday, an expletive caught the attention of 44-year-old Pastor Siu Yung Wong. The young man who uttered the word—a teenage demonstrator—declared he would kill himself as a form of protest. He then began to walk away, alone.

Alarmed, Wong followed him.

Every year for more than two decades, pro-democracy protests have taken place in Hong Kong on July 1, the anniversary of the former British colony’s 1997 handover to China. During Monday’s protest, demonstrators demanded the complete withdrawal of a controversial extradition bill and the resignation of Chinese-appointed Chief Executive Carrie Lam. Hundreds of thousands of Hong Kongers marched in peaceful procession from Victoria Park. But at the Admiralty government headquarters, violence broke out as a group of demonstrators stormed the legislative building. 

The Victoria Park march and the Admiralty rally are a continuation of persistent opposition to the local government’s extradition bill, which could send Hong Kong citizens to face unfair trials in China. Though currently suspended, the bill could quickly pass if the government were to resume the legislative process, given the majority of Beijing-friendly legislators. 

The suicides of three extradition protesters in recent weeks have underscored the increasing desperation of residents. Despite a June 16 demonstration that brought 2 million Hong Kongers into the streets, Chief Executive Lam has continued to ignore repeated demands for the bill’s full withdrawal.     

As Wong caught up with the suicidal adolescent, he placed a hand on his shoulder and tried to talk to him. The young protester’s mother had seen his face on a TV news report and urged her son to return home. Otherwise, she threatened to take her own life.

Wong told the young man he understood why he was so upset by his mother’s objection to his protest against a seemingly deaf government. The teenager loosened his clenched fists. Turning around, he finally rejoined the crowd of protesters. 

From morning to midnight, Wong, an organizer of a pastoral care team, remained with the protesters at the government headquarters. Along with other pastors, he chatted with rally participants, informed them of a nearby church open overnight for sanctuary, prayed, and attempted to dissuade demonstrators from breaking into the legislative complex. 

Miguel Candela/SOPA Images/AP

Protesters deface the Hong Kong emblem after breaking into the Legislative Council building. (Miguel Candela/SOPA Images/AP)

Still, hundreds of protesters charged inside the government headquarters and proceeded to vandalize portraits of Legislative Council presidents, deface the Hong Kong emblem, and spray graffiti on walls and desks. During the commotion, Wong and a dozen or so pastors remained outside. “We don’t want to separate from them. We’re together, even though we don’t agree with them,” Wong explained.

Demonstrators eventually evacuated the complex before riot police arrived. Four initially refused to leave, but a swarm of activists returned to pull them out. Cindy Chan sees that as “a big lesson for Christians. … We can’t leave even one behind.”

Chan, whose name WORLD has changed because of security concerns, is a theology student in her early 30s. She had been coordinating efforts to provide medical care to protesters injured in the Admiralty district earlier on Monday evening. “As a Christian it’s hard to find my place but to go forward and join in the front line,” she said. “Being with the people is the most important. We pray, but no one knows what will happen. … What gives me the most peace is to be in solidarity with the people.” 

At a press conference, Chief Executive Lam condemned the storming of the legislative complex as an “extreme use of violence and vandalism.” 

“Christians don’t agree with violence,” Wong said of Monday’s events. But he added that Lam’s focus on protesters’ physical violence toward inanimate objects overlooks the government’s systemic violence toward its own people. 

On behalf of Hong Kongers under a government influenced by Beijing’s agenda—and for demonstrators who’ve shed blood from the police’s excessive use of rubber bullets and beanbag shots—Wong asks, “What else can we do to make you listen to our pleas?”