Flight attendants and airport staff have begun a planned 11-hour protest at Hong Kong international airport to call on the government to account for a violent attack on residents by suspected gang members last week.

The aviation staff were joined by demonstrators dressed in black, the signature colour of the Chinese territory’s protest movement, who filled the airport’s arrival hall on Friday. They sat on the ground chanting “Free Hong Kong” as shocked travellers walked through the terminal.

Protesters held up signs designed to look like customs notices and played tongue-in-cheek audio messages resembling in-flight safety instructions.

Elaine Yu

Here’s their protest video narrated like a tranquil in-flight announcement

“Kindly put on your masks and black t-shirts when attending the assembly… Hongkongers will always stand in unity to fight for our rights and freedom. Thank you for flying with us, members of Hong Kong” pic.twitter.com/0pddnNyOT5

July 26, 2019

Hong Kong has been gripped by nearly two months of demonstrations by residents calling for democratic reforms and the withdrawal of a controversial extradition bill. Clashes between protesters and police and other parties have become increasingly violent.

Why are people protesting?

Opposition to a proposed extradition law has broadened into a wider movement against Hong Kong’s leadership, its relationship with China,  and the future for the special administrative region.

Hong Kong’s chief executive, Carrie Lam, has offered a ‘solemn’ personal apology for the crisis and also hinted that she had in effect shelved the controversial legislation. However, protesters criticised her as insincere and said she had ignored their key demands. The demonstrations have continued.

What was the proposed extradition law?

The bill concerned legal changes that would make it easier to extradite people from Hong Kong to China. Supporters say the amendments are key to ensuring the city does not become a criminal refuge, but critics worry Beijing will use the law to extradite political opponents and others to China. Under the amended law, those accused of offences punishable by seven years or more in prison could be extradited.

Who is supporting the change?

The government claims the push to change the law, which would also apply to Taiwan and Macau, stems from the killing last year of a Hong Kong woman while she was in Taiwan with her boyfriend. Authorities in Taiwan suspect the woman’s boyfriend, who remains in Hong Kong, but cannot try him because no extradition agreement is in place. 

Officials have promised to safeguard against abuses, pledging that no one at risk of political or religious persecution will be sent to the mainland. Suspects who could face the death penalty would not be extradited.

Hong Kong officials have repeatedly said the bill has not come from the central government in Beijing. However, Beijing has voiced its backing for the changes.

Why are so many Hong Kongers so angry?

Many fear the proposed extradition law will be used by authorities to target political enemies. They worry the new legislation spells the end of the ‘one country, two systems’ policy, eroding the civil rights enjoyed by Hong Kong residents since the handover of sovereignty from the UK to China in 1997.

Many attending the protests say they cannot not trust China because it has often used non-political crimes to target government critics. They also fear Hong Kong officials will not be able to reject Beijing’s requests. Legal professionals have also expressed concern over the rights of those sent across the border to be tried. The conviction rate in Chinese courts is as high as 99%. Arbitrary detentions, torture and denial of legal representation of one’s choosing are also common.

How have authorities responded?

Police have clashed directly with demonstrators, and have been accused of standing by during attacks on protesters and commuters by groups of men in white in Yuen Long on 21 July.  

After the current crisis, analysts believe the Hong Kong government will probably start a new round of retaliatory measures against its critics, while the Chinese government will tighten its grip on the city.

Lily Kuo in Beijing and Verna Yu in Hong Kong

Friday’s demonstration against the government and police, who have been accused of colluding with triads (organised crime groups) to suppress protests, was also aimed at urging international visitors to pay attention to Hong Kong.

A group of students held signs in English, Japanese, and Korean calling on “international friends for help standing up to the Hong Kong government”. Many held signs in red and white, designed to look like warning flags raised by police before firing on demonstrators, which said: “Tourist warning: do not trust the police or the government.”

Authorities are bracing for days of protests, as public anger towards the police and the government of the chief executive, Carrie Lam, reaches new heights. After an attack on commuters last Sunday by suspected organised crime groups left 45 people hospitalised, dozens of groups planned rallies and issued public petitions.

On Saturday, demonstrators plan to rally in Yuen Long, in Hong Kong’s New Territories, where last week’s attack took place, in defiance of a police ban. Instead protesters are calling on residents to come “for a walk” or to “stimulate the Yuen Long economy”. Organisers have filed an appeal to overturn the police decision to bar the march.

Protesters at the airport called out to mainland Chinese travellers to come to Yuen Long on Saturday for “major discounts” on makeup, branded goods, and milk powder, items popular with Chinese shoppers visiting Hong Kong.

An Rong Xu

Hk protestors welcoming mainland travelers to Hong Kong advertising milk powder, makeup, and great deals on 7/27 in Yuen Long. What travelers may not know, is tomorrow is actually the protest to take back Yuen Long pic.twitter.com/WIp8mJQXjk

July 26, 2019

Opposition lawmakers, activists, and residents are calling for an independent investigation into why the police took more than half an hour to respond to emergency calls and why no plans were made to protect citizens despite warnings beforehand.

More than 400 public servants from 44 departments have signed a letter threatening “concrete industrial actions” if the government continues to ignore public demands. The public servants posted images of their government staff identity cards, as proof of their positions, with notes on them calling for an investigation into the police.

Protesters at Hong Kong airport on Friday.

Protesters at Hong Kong airport on Friday. Photograph: Anthony Wallace/AFP/Getty Images

On Friday, 77 conductors who work on the metro line where the attack in Yuen Long took place also threatened “further actions”. Medical students at a university and staff at a hospital also planned to stage demonstrations on Friday afternoon.

Government efforts to tamp down the demonstrations have so far been ineffective. Lam last spoke to the public on Monday when she condemned the attack in Yuen Long but went on to criticise protesters for defacing the building of China’s representative office in protests last weekend.

In a ruling likely to add to protesters grievances, Hong Kong’s appeal court on Friday overturned the conviction of two police officers previously found guilty of beating a protester in an alley during pro-democracy demonstrations in 2014.

On Friday, Reuters reported that it had obtained a recording from an official from China’s representative office calling on residents in Yuen Long to drive away protesters. “We won’t allow them to come to Yuen Long to cause trouble,” Li Jiyi, the director of the central government liaison’s local district office said at a banquet for villagers in the New Territories, according to Reuters.

Chinese officials have denied allegations it orchestrated or encouraged the attacks, with pro-Beijing figures in the Hong Kong government calling such reports “malicious rumours”.

In a press briefing on Friday, the chief secretary for Hong Kong, Matthew Cheung Kin-chung, reminded demonstrators planning to go to Yuen Long that if their appeal was not accepted their actions would be illegal.

He called on demonstrators to “peacefully and rationally” express themselves, to “stay away from violence” and “respect the life of the residents of Yuen Long”.


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