Hong Kong – Thousands of people poured onto the streets of Hong Kong as anti-government protesters renewed calls for an independent inquiry into police brutality, alongside other key pro-democracy demands.
Clad in their usual black and brandishing anti-extradition signs, the demonstrators on Sunday began gathering at Victoria Park on Hong Kong Island for a march towards Wan Chai.
Protesters renew calls for an independent inquiry over ‘escalating’ police abuse of power in anti-extradition protests.
Their destination was two metro stations away from the organisers’ preferred finish line, the Court of Final Appeal in Central. Police, however, rejected the protesters’ request citing security concerns.
In defiance of police orders, thousands of protesters continued past the original end point, occupying streets outside government headquarters and proceeding on to the top court. Scores wearing masks and carrying umbrellas pushed on even further west to Beijing’s liaison office.
“In this march, we specifically prioritise our demand of having an independent inquiry. Police abuse of power has not only continued, but escalated,” Bonnie Leung, vice-convener of the Civil Human Rights Front (CHRF), the organiser of Sunday’s march, told Al Jazeera.
“Society really needs to move on, which only can be achieved by having an independent inquiry with a trustworthy judge. Only with a thorough report can all the clashes be investigated and reported.”
Organisers said 430,000 people took part in the march. Riot police began advancing on crowds surrounding Beijing’s liaison office and warned they will begin a clearing operation.
Protesters prepared for a standoff, setting up barricades and supply stations on nearby roadways.
Protests have rocked the Chinese territory since the proposal in early June of a controversial extradition bill that would have allowed suspected criminals to be extradited to mainland China. While Chief Executive Carrie Lam earlier this month pronounced the bill “dead,” the embattled leader did not officially retract it.
The outcry over the bill has since transformed into larger concerns over increasing Chinese interference into the financial hub, which has been a semi-autonomous region since the former British colony was returned to China in 1997.
In early July, protesters stormed and ransacked Hong Kong’s Legislative Council, as the crisis came to a head.
Since the police rejected the CHRF’s appeal for Sunday’s rally to finish at the Court of Final Appeal in Central, Leung said a small team of fewer than 30 people would march on to meet their goal.
“We want to reach and see that justice,” Leung said.
“We Hong Kong people have always believed in the courts, which are still independent. Rule of law is very important to Hong Kong.”
Hong Kong inherited a framework known as “one country, two systems,” which guarantees protections of civil liberties and the rule of law, but which protesters say has come under threat in recent years.
Alongside an independent police inquiry, demonstrators on Sunday want to reiterate their five ongoing demands, including the complete withdrawal of the extradition bill, removing the “riot” label for the June 12 protests, the release of arrested demonstrators and universal suffrage.
“It’s been almost two months since our biggest demonstrations, but the government still hasn’t answered our requests,” Marshall, a 30-year-old protester told Al Jazeera. “We are not going to stop until we reach our goals.”
For Hong Kong democracy activist Joshua Wong, the “critical issue” march was to condemn police brutality.
“We urge the Hong Kong government to set up an independent investigation committee,” Wong told Al Jazeera.
“Instead of hiding behind the police force, it is a must for Carrie Lam to terminate the bill and give back Hong Kong people the right to vote in the Chief Executive election.”
Last weekend, protests that erupted in towns closer to Hong Kong’s border with the mainland resulted in more than 40 arrests and nearly two dozen injuries, according to the Hong Kong Free Press.Sunday’s march follows an eventful weekend.
On Saturday, police arrested three men connected to what they say was the “largest seizure of explosives” from a warehouse where a bomb squad was deployed, the South China Morning Post reported.
Police say pro-independence materials were found among a cache of 10 petrol bombs, metal rods, sling-shots, knives, lab-made acidic substances and two kilograms of powerful explosives.
The pro-independence Hong Kong National Front confirmed in their Telegram group one of the arrested men was a member of the group, but was unaware of the explosives.
It said the warehouse was understood to be used only to store audio equipment and promotional material.
The march also follows a Saturday pro-Beijing march, where thousands of people gathered for a “Safeguard Hong Kong” rally in favour of the police and an end to violence.