HONG KONG — Secondary-school students and retirees joined forces to protest in Hong Kong on Saturday, the first of several weekend rallies planned across the city, as pro-democracy activists vowed to battle what they say are police brutality and unlawful arrests.
A top Hong Kong official said the government was looking into setting up an independent committee to review the handling of the crisis, which has seen increasingly violent demonstrations since starting more than five months ago.
Hong Kong has seen relative calm since local elections last week delivered an overwhelming victory to pro-democracy candidates. Still, activists appear keen to maintain the momentum of their movement.
“I came out for the peaceful protest in June when there was more than one million people, but the government did not listen to our demands,” said a 71-year-old woman in Hong Kong’s Central district, who only gave her name as Ponn.
She brought her own plastic stool to join a cross-generational protest of a few hundred people at the city’s Chater Garden. Elderly Hong Kongers, some with visors and canes, stood not far from young, black-clad protesters. All listened to pro-democracy speakers in a gathering marked by a festive mood.
“I have seen so much police brutality and unlawful arrests. This is not the Hong Kong I know. I came today because I want the government to know that we are not happy with what they have done to our generation,” said Ponn, who attended with her daughter and son-in-law.
Demonstrators are angered by what they see as Chinese interference in freedoms promised when Britain returned Hong Kong to Beijing in 1997.
But China denies interfering, and says it is committed to the “one country, two systems” formula put in place at that time. It has blamed foreign forces for fomenting unrest.
On Saturday, citing authorities, the Communist party newspaper of the southern Chinese city of Guangzhou said police had arrested a Belizean citizen for allegedly colluding with people in the United States to meddle in Hong Kong affairs.
Separately, the newspaper said a Taiwanese man, Lee Meng-Chu, was arrested by police in nearby Shenzhen on Oct. 31, for allegedly stealing state secrets for foreign forces after he made a trip to Hong Kong in August to support “anti-China” activities.
In Hong Kong, the city government is looking into setting up an independent committee to review the handling of the crisis, Matthew Cheung, Chief Secretary for Administration, told reporters when asked about an independent review committee.
“We are looking for relevant candidates and we have already started preparatory work, so we hope we will make some progress in the short term,” Cheung said.
Cheung’s comment came in response to a question that did not specify police or government handling, but one of the protesters’ demands is for an independent inquiry into allegations of police brutality. Some critics on social media have said that such a committee would fall short of the independent investigation they have been demanding.
In an opinion piece in the Hong Kong-based South China Morning Post newspaper on Saturday, the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, Michelle Bachelet, also called for an investigation into allegations of excessive police force.
“I appeal the government to take important confidence-building measures, including a proper independent and impartial judge-led investigation into reports of excessive use of force by the police,” Bachelet wrote.
‘GLORY TO HONG KONG’
In Saturday’s first rally, at one point the crowd in the park rose to sing “Glory to Hong Kong,” which has become the unofficial anthem of protests. Many of them put their hands in the air with five fingers outstretched, a symbol of the pro-democracy movement.
“My mum asked me to come and protect her. So I came with my husband. It has been quiet after the district elections and that is unexpected,” senior citizen protester Ponn’s 26-year-old daughter told Reuters.
“We should not stop there, I came today because we have to keep fighting.”
Some of the young protesters waved American flags, a sign of appreciation after U.S. President Donald Trump this week signed into law bills that back the protesters and threaten China with possible sanctions on human rights.
A 70-year-old retiree in a blue aviator sunglasses and a grey tracksuit, who gave his name as Ko, said seniors could offer guidance to the younger protesters.
“Starting from day one I have been involved in this movement and there is no reason to stop now,” said Ko.
“Today is a cross-age group meeting and there are a lot of middle school students … We are here to give them advice and moral support. I think they need it.” (Reporting by Kate O’Donnell-Lamb and Felix Tam; Additional reporting by Yawen Chen in Beijing; Writing by David Dolan; Editing by Raju Gopalakrishnan and Kenneth Maxwell)