Hong Kong activist Joshua Wong leaves jail, vows to join protests

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Hong Kong democracy activist Joshua Wong, center, speaks to the media after leaving Lai Chi Kok Correctional Institute on Monday, June 17, 2019. (AFP)
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An ambulance is pictured surrounded by thousands of protesters dressed in black during a new rally against a controversial extradition law proposal in Hong Kong on June 16, 2019. (AFP)
Updated 17 June 2019

Hong Kong activist Joshua Wong leaves jail, vows to join protests

  • Joshua Wong is the poster child of the huge pro-democracy ‘Umbrella Movement’ protests in 2014
  • Nearly 2 million of the city’s 7 million people turned out on Sunday to protest

HONG KONG: Leading Hong Kong democracy activist Joshua Wong walked free from prison on Monday and vowed to join historic anti-government protests rocking the finance hub, as activists debated how to keep pressure on the city’s embattled pro-Beijing leader.

Organizers said some two million people marched in tropical heat on Sunday calling for the resignation of chief executive Carrie Lam, protesting a now abandoned bill that would have allowed extraditions to the Chinese mainland.

The city has witnessed unprecedented scenes as public anger boils toward the city’s leaders and Beijing, with two record-breaking rallies a week apart punctuated by violent clashes between protesters and police armed with tear gas and rubber bullets.

Wong, the poster child of the huge pro-democracy “Umbrella Movement” protests in 2014, became the latest voice to call for Lam’s resignation as he was released from a sentence imposed over his leadership of those demonstrations.

“She is no longer qualified to be Hong Kong’s leader,” he told reporters. “I will also fight with all Hong Kongers to oppose the evil China extradition law.”

Wong was sent to prison in May and was eligible for early release for good behavior — there is no indication the move was linked to the current protests.

Opposition to the extradition bill united an unusually wide cross-section of Hong Kong in recent weeks, from influential legal and business bodies to religious leaders.

And while the spark for the last week of protests has been the threat of extradition to China, the movement has since morphed into the latest expression of public rage against both the city’s leaders and Beijing.

Many Hong Kongers believe China’s leaders are stamping down on the financial hub’s unique freedoms and culture.

They point to the failure of the “Umbrella Movement” to win any concessions, the imprisonment of protest leaders, the disqualification of popular lawmakers and the disappearance of Beijing-critical booksellers, among recent examples.

Critics feared the Beijing-backed extradition law would entangle people in China’s notoriously opaque and politicized courts and damage the city’s reputation as a safe business hub, sparking unprecedented protest turnouts.

The estimate for Sunday’s massive rally has not been independently verified but if confirmed it would be the largest demonstration in Hong Kong’s history.

Police, who historically give far lower estimates for political protests, said 338,000 people turned out at the demonstration’s “peak” — still their largest crowd estimate on record.

On Monday the massive crowds from the previous night abandoned their occupation of a highway next to the parliament.

Instead smaller groups gathered in a nearby park to discuss how to keep up pressure on Lam.

“We will have to stay here till Carrie Lam changes her mind,” said Candy, 32.

But others weren’t sure if Lam’s resignation would make a difference given Beijing’s hold on the city.

“The Chinese government will just send another Carrie Lam and there will be no change,” fumed Kok, a 21-year-old design student.

The extradition furor is just the latest chapter in what many see as a battle for the soul of Hong Kong.

Many Hong Kongers believe China’s leaders are stamping down on the financial hub’s unique freedoms and culture.

The sheer size of the last week’s crowds, and unprecedented violent clashes on Wednesday, forced Lam into a major climbdown.

On Saturday she indefinitely suspended the unpopular extradition bill and she apologized a day later for the attempt causing “conflict and disputes.”

But protesters have called on her to resign, shelve the bill permanently and apologize for police using tear gas and rubber bullets on Wednesday. They have also demanded all charges be dropped against anyone arrested.

In an interview with HK01 on Monday, her top adviser Bernard Chan said no chief executive would dare reintroduce the bill now.

“Everyone has forgotten what she has done. I hope people can give her another chance,” he said.

The violent crowd control measures on Wednesday, used by police as protesters tried to storm the city’s parliament to stop the bill being debated, have proved enormously costly for Lam’s government.

Political allies — and even Beijing — distanced themselves from her as public anger mounted.

“I think she has lost any remaining credibility or legitimacy to rule in Hong Kong because of her own mishandling of this whole affair,” lawmaker Charles Mok told RTHK Radio.

The massive rallies — which come 30 years after the Tiananmen crackdown — also create a huge headache for president Xi Jinping, the most authoritarian Chinese leader since Mao Zedong.

Under the 1997 handover deal signed with Britain, China agreed to allow Hong Kong to keep unique liberties such as freedom of speech and its hugely successful independent common law courts for 50 years.

But the huge crowds this week illustrate that many of Hong Kong’s 7.3 million inhabitants believe China is already reneging on that deal and fear further sliding freedoms as the city approaches that 2047 deadline.


Indians demonstrate against ‘divisive’ citizenship bill

Updated 26 min 16 sec ago

Indians demonstrate against ‘divisive’ citizenship bill

  • The bill, which goes to the upper house on Wednesday, would ensure citizenship for Hindus, Sikhs, Parsis and Buddhists from Bangladesh, Pakistan and Afghanistan, but exclude Muslims

NEW DELHI: Protests erupted across various parts of India on Tuesday, a day after the lower house of Parliament passed the controversial Citizenship Amendment Bill (CAB) which makes religion the basis for granting Indian citizenship to minorities from neighboring countries. 

The bill, which goes to the upper house on Wednesday, would ensure citizenship for Hindus, Sikhs, Parsis and Buddhists from Bangladesh, Pakistan and Afghanistan, but exclude Muslims.

“After the CAB, we are going to bring in the National Register of Citizens (NRC),” Home Minister Amit Shah said after the passage of the bill. 

The fear among a large section of Indians is that by bringing in the CAB and the NRC — a process to identify illegal immigrants — the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) is trying to target Muslim minorities. 

They insist that the new bill protects all other communities except Muslims, who constitute around 14 percent of India’s total population.

The opposition Congress Party said that the bill was a move to “destroy the foundation” of India.

“The CAB is an attack on the Indian constitution. Anyone who supports it is attacking and attempting to destroy the foundation of our nation,” party leader Rahul Gandhi posted in a tweet.

Priyanka Gandhi, Rahul’s sister and a prominent opposition leader, called the bill “India’s tryst with bigotry.”

However, BJP spokesperson Sudesh Verma said: “The opposition is communalizing the bill. 

The CAB saves minorities who owe their origin to India from being prosecuted on grounds of religious status. The same is not the case with Muslims since they have not been prosecuted because of their religion.”

Eight northeastern states observed a day-long strike against the CAB. 

“Once the bill is implemented, the native tribal people will become permanent minorities in their own state,” Animesh Debbarma, a tribal leader who organized the strike in the state of Tripura said.

“The bill is against our fundamental rights and it is an attack on our constitution and secularism,” he told Arab News.

In Assam, some places saw violence with a vehicle belonging to the BJP state president vandalized.

In New Delhi, different civil society groups and individuals gathered close to the Indian Parliament and expressed their outrage at the “open and blatant attack” on what they called the “idea” of India.

“The CAB is not only against Muslim minorities but against all the minorities — be it Tamils or Nepali Gurkhas — and is a blatant attempt to polarize the society in the name of religion and turn India into a majoritarian Hindu state,” Nadeem Khan, head of United Against Hate, a campaign to connect people from different faiths, said.

Rallies and protests were also organized in Pune, Ahmadabad, Allahabad, Patna and Lucknow.

On Tuesday, more than 600 academics, activists, lawyers and writers called the bill “divisive, discriminatory, unconstitutional” in an open letter, and urged the government to withdraw the proposed law.

They said that the CAB, along with the NRC, “will bring untold suffering to people across the country. It will damage fundamentally and irreparably, the nature of the Indian republic.”

Delhi-based activist and a prominent human rights campaigner, Harsh Mander, said: “I feel the CAB is the most dangerous bill that has ever been brought by the Indian Parliament. We need a mass civil disobedience movement to oppose this legislation.”

Meanwhile, the international community is also watching the domestic debate on the CAB. 

Describing the initiative as a “dangerous turn in the wrong direction,”  a federal US commission on international religious freedom has sought US sanctions against Shah and other Indian leaders if the bill with the “religious criterion” is passed.

EU ambassador to India, Ugo Astuto, in a press conference in New Delhi on Monday said that he hopes: “The spirit of equality enshrined in the Indian constitution will be upheld by the Parliament.”