By Laurel Chor
HONG KONG, Aug 24 2019 – As protests in Hong Kong continue over the weekend, thousands of people joined hands to form a human chain that stretched across the city on Friday. It was yet another demonstration – this one entirely peaceful – in a series of protests that have rocked the former British colony for the past 12 weeks.
The “Hong Kong Way” protest was inspired by the 30th anniversary of the Baltic Way, a 600-km human chain formed across Estonia, Lithuania and Latvia, which at the time were a part of the Soviet Union. Two million people stood hand-in-hand that day to protest Soviet rule.
Yesterday on Aug. 23, organisers estimated that 135,000 people participated in the Hong Kong version, which stretched 60 kilometres across both Hong Kong Island and Kowloon. Hundreds even made their way up the iconic Lion Rock Mountain, lighting up the peak with cell phone lights.
The human chain marked a shift in tone in the protests, which were often violent. Today, on Aug. 24 protestors reportedly hurled objects and gasoline bombs at police, with police firing tear gas in response.
The Hong Kong protests were sparked by a proposed extradition bill that would allow suspects to be sent to China and possibly face an unjust trial system, making people fearful that Beijing would exploit the law for political reasons. The demonstrations have been further fuelled by anger towards the police for its excessive use of force and protesters’ key demands now include complete withdrawal of the proposed extradition bill, as well as genuine universal suffrage.
Earlier this month, two mainland Chinese men were held and beaten at the Hong Kong airport, where protests had disrupted flights for two days in a row. After the incidents, Beijing strongly condemned the protesters and compared the attacks to “terrorism”. On the other hand, organisations including Amnesty International and the United Nations have repeatedly criticised the Hong Kong Police Force for its violent methods to control the protests.
Mindful of public opinion, protesters took a decidedly more peaceful direction after those incidents. First, they apologised for the airport protests. Then, a peaceful march was organised last weekend, with an estimated 1.7 million attending, echoing two similar marches in June that had attracted one million, then two million a week later – an impressive feat in a city of only 7.4 million residents.
Organisers of the Hong Kong Way issued a statement highlighting Hong Kong protesters’ solidarity: “We are no longer divided into ‘peaceful’ or ‘frontline’ protesters – we are joined as one in our resolve to fight for our freedom.”
Protests were scheduled for the weekend and are set to continue for the rest of the month. The Hong Kong government has yet to meet with protesters and has not caved in on any of their demands, leading the city to wonder how its biggest political crisis will ever be resolved.