Moment that mattered: Hong Kong police crack down on pro-democracy protesters
On Sunday 28th September 2014 the Occupy Central civil movement announced it would join a student sit-in blocking roads in Hong Kong’s city centre. The move prompted a crackdown from police in which 87 canisters of teargas were fired into the crowds. Weeks later student protest leader Nathan Law was still camping in the street as part of the ongoing demonstration – he spoke to us about why he and his fellow protesters had been standing their ground for so long
28th September 2014 (Taken from: #16)
“It was 2am. I was MC-ing at the student rally outside government headquarters – we’d broken through the barriers and into Civic Square the day before. Suddenly, the police cut off the sound to my mic. Six or seven men without uniforms got onto the stage, pushed me to the ground and arrested me in front of the hundreds of people watching.
“Everyone tried to block them from taking me away, but I co-operated because I was afraid they would beat me up. They held me for ten hours. I was the first one of the HKFS [Hong Kong Federation of Students] to be held, but later that day they arrested some of the other students – they locked them up for 30 or 40 hours. The government just kept making mistakes to make more people come out in support; this was their first. People were desperate for them to release these kids.
“The next day there were so many people outside the government complex, the pavement couldn’t hold everyone. The police tried to stop people from going on the road. That’s when Occupy started. At first, we hadn’t even thought of people occupying streets. It’s all been an accident! We didn’t expect how much the population would react.
“The student sit-in outside the government buildings quickly broadened into an entrenched protest. The authorities’ next mistake was the teargas [as the crowd grew into the thousands police fired teargas and charged at protesters]. When the teargas started I was surprised. I was actually inside the government complex at that moment – we saw it on the television. Everyone started to cry, it was so shocking. I don’t hate the police but I do feel sick about that, for how they beat protesters in front of the TV cameras. Most of them treated protesters as troublemakers.
“After that moment streets at several locations in central Hong Kong turned into public blockades and protest camps. At the demonstration’s peak there were in excess of 100,000 people on the streets of Hong Kong.
We’re not trying to overthrow a regime… I believe we can have democracy even though we’re a part of communist China. The demands are not revolutionary”
“We met face to face with the government on 21st October for a televised talk. Nothing was gained, no promises of true universal suffrage. [The protesters’ main complaint is the Chinese government’s insistence on vetting the candidates for the Hong Kong regional elections in 2017 before they are allowed to stand.] To be honest, now it’s been going on for so long the public is getting less supportive.
“As we go on with the protest, something people need to understand is that Occupy isn’t a revolution. We’re not trying to overthrow a regime. We’re just trying for universal suffrage in the framework of ‘one country, two systems’. I believe we can have democracy even though we’re a part of communist China. The demands are not revolutionary.
“Democracy is very important. It’s the only way society can change and protect those who are less privileged. The current system only protects interest groups and establishment camps. Hong Kong is a developed city but a million people live under the poverty line. All of us have to take responsibility for fighting for democracy, not just the younger generation.
There are rumours that when your phone has a loud echo you’re being bugged – I can hardly talk on my phone, the echo is so loud”
“Now it’s been several weeks since Occupy began. I usually sleep in a tent or on the road, sometimes in our office. It’s just endless meetings. I’ve become extremely tired.
“My family haven’t been very supportive of me throughout the demonstrations, but I know they worry about my future and personal safety. There are rumours that when your phone has a loud echo you’re being bugged – I can hardly talk on my phone, the echo is so loud. The addresses and phone numbers of some of the leaders were posted on forums, exposed. It hasn’t happened to me yet, but it will.
“There’s definitely pressure on us – to some extent Occupy has crushed me down. I’m exhausted – our goals seem to be just out of our limits. But we carry on. Everything that has happened is already beyond my expectations, so let’s see. Even when the movement ends, the spirit will keep going.
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