A line of demonstrators wearing black snaked along Gateway Boulevard Sunday afternoon as a show of support for pro-democracy protesters who have taken to the streets of Hong Kong for months.
More than 150 people, some holding pictures of clashes between Hong Kong police and demonstrators, chanted “Free Hong Kong,” and sang a protest anthem, called Glory of Hong Kong. Demonstrators wore black facemasks in solidarity with people whose marches are met with pepper spray.
Across Gateway Boulevard were about 20 pro-China counter-demonstrators, many of who were wearing red and waving Chinese flags.
The two groups traded chants, and a few insults, over the din of traffic.
“Communists: go home,” yelled the Hong Kong supporters.
“Traitors,” called pro-China demonstrators in Mandarin.
Valentino Wong, who moved to Edmonton from Hong Kong, said it’s painful to watch thousands of protesters take to the streets of Hong Kong and be met with pepper spray, rubber bullets and police violence. More than 1,400 protesters have been arrested to date in the uprising.
“We were promised a democracy,” Wong said, clutching a black and yellow sign bearing a similar message.
“We were promised the freedom. We were promised two systems, one country. And nothing has come true for us,” she said. “So, we still keep fighting.”
One country, two systems
When Britain handed control of Hong Kong to China in 1997, an agreement guaranteed Hong Kong its own legal system, more political freedom than mainland China and citizen rights such as freedom of assembly and freedom of speech.
In April, Hong Kong’s government introduced a bill that would allow extradition of suspected criminals to China. Protests raged throughout spring and summer, prompting Hong Kong’s leader to withdraw the bill, but the situation had escalated. Demonstrators now want Hong Kong police to drop all charges against protesters, hold an inquiry into police brutality, to stop labelling June protests as “riots,” and establish democratic voting rights in Hong Kong’s elections.
On Sunday, supporters of Hong Kong demonstrators organized “anti-totalitarianism” solidarity events in 24 countries and 10 Canadian cities, including Edmonton.
Arnold Wong, who moved his family to Edmonton from Hong Kong three years ago, said the political atmosphere has changed since the late 1990s. A person may be technically free to criticize the Chinese government, but they could face consequences, like being passed over for a promotion at work, he said.
“The Hong Kong people are at the front line of fighting against totalitarianism,” he said. “They are fighting for genuine freedom and democracy. They are so brave that they are doing something.”
China supporters baffled by protests
Across the street, pro-China demonstrator Yipu Lu said Hong Kong police are right to crack down on protesters acting aggressively and burning flags in the street.
“They are doing something really crazy. They are telling people to make chaos and disorder in Hong Kong,” he said.
Protesters are blaming the police for the unrest they are causing, he said.
Sporting a red sweater, counter-protester Lily Sun said people who live in Canada can’t speak for Hong Kong residents.
“Hong Kong is part of China forever. No one has challenged that,” she said.