Why are people protesting in Hong Kong?

Protests began in June over extradition proposals

Wednesday, August 14, 2019

This summer Hong Kong has witnessed a series of protests by pro-democracy demonstrators who said the semi-autonomous Chinese city is increasingly losing its freedoms to mainland China.

The situation escalated this week with protestors causing a shutdown of Hong Kong’s airport that triggered disruption and outbursts of violence.

Tensions are high and the territory's leader Carrie Lam is refusing to engage in dialogue.

So how did it get to this point?

Hong Kong is a former British colony

Hong Kong was a British colony for more than 150 years but was returned to China in 1997 following the signing of the Sino-British Joint Declaration.

The agreement stated that Hong Kong would “enjoy a high degree of autonomy, except in foreign and defence affairs” and be “vested with executive, legislative and independent judicial power”.

This means the region has its own legal system and borders and has more rights than the mainland in terms of freedom of speech.

But many Hong Kong residents claim the region’s freedoms and democracy have been increasingly under threat.

Why did the protests start?

The demonstrations were initially sparked in early June by controversial proposals to send some defendants in court cases to mainland China for trial.

Critics said the extradtion plans could have led to them facing torture and unfair or politically-biased trials.

Tens of thousands of protestors took to the streets, blocking major roads and government buildings.

Skirmishes over the following 10 weeks saw tear gas and water canons being put to use and scores of protesters and police getting hurt.  

The government subsequently suspended the proposals, but protesters continue to demand they be permanently scrapped.

There are also broader calls for democratic reforms and for chief executive Carrie Lam to step down.

What is happening now?

The summer of conflict escalated this week as pro-democracy protesters descended on Hong Kong’s airport, causing a shutdown.

They clashed with riot police, who were armed with pepper spray and batons, causing several injuries - one officer drew his handgun on a protester.

The protesters used luggage carts to barricade entrances to the airport terminal and spread pamphlets and posters across the floor.

An online statement read: "It is not our intention to cause delays to your travels and we do not want to cause inconvenience to you.

"We ask for your understanding and forgiveness as young people in Hong Kong continue to fight for freedom and democracy."

More than 200 flights were cancelled before service resumed on August 14.

What next?

Hong Kong chief executive Carrie Lam

Since the unrest began more than 700 demonstrators have been arrested.

In a statement the Chinese cabinet's liaison office in Hong Kong said the protesters had "entirely ruptured legal and moral bottom lines" and would face swift and severe repercussions under Hong Kong's legal system.

Meanwhile, following the airport showdown, protesters want an independent inquiry into what they have called the police’s abuse of power and negligence.

Ms Lam defended the officers and has refused to engage in dialogue with protesters, saying they were threatening to push their home into an "abyss". She said dialogue would only begin when the violence stopped.

No military action has yet been threatened by China but paramilitary police have been seen assembling across the Hong Kong border in the city of Shenzhen for exercises, which some saw as a threat to increase force on protesters.