Hundreds of protesters were arrested this week after pro-democracy marches and manifestations in the Chinese city. Beijing has slowly tried to expand its influence of the former British territory by suppressing its democratic spirit and institutions.
The protests began when Occupy Central with Love and Peace (OCLP), a Hong Kong offshoot of the Occupy movement, organized a “voter referendum” on democracy and gathered around 800,000 votes. The action symbolizes Hong Kong’s intentions to democratically elect its leader come 2017, according to China analyst Andrew Leung writing for Al-Jazeera.
Though organizers did not expect many to march in the demonstrations, news from Beijing swelled their ranks at the last hour. A White Paper sent from Beijing reiterated China’s “One Country Two Systems” rationale, in which Beijing reasserted its dominance over Hong Kong by stating that they have oversight over the city’s affairs. Many in Hong Kong, who take pride in their city’s autonomy from China and its freer economic system, saw the news as an attack on their freedom and Hong Kong’s autonomy.
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A large number of people marched through the city’s financial district demanding their autonomy be left intact and calling for widespread suffrage in the upcoming elections. The numbers range widely with police claiming 98,000 protesters, while the organizers claim 510,000 participated. According to CNN, statisticians at the University of Hong Kong estimated a number between 154,000 and 172,000.
The march ended with protesters holding illegal sit-ins at two locations in the city: Chater Road in the middle of the business district and outside the office of Hong Kong Chief Executive Leung Chun-ying. The sit-in continued for the rest of the evening into Wednesday, and police arrived to remove the protesters. At around 3 a.m., officers began asking the protesters at Chater Road to disperse. They refused, and the police began arrests. A total of 511 were arrested and were taken away in buses brought in to ferry them out.
“We were able to show that peaceful, non-violent protest is possible,” Joshua Wong, 17, told CNN. “We did not engage in any verbal or physical conflict with the police.”
Wong is a co-founder of Scholarism, one of the student groups that organized the sit-ins. Young people made up many of those marching for democracy and autonomy, some even brandishing the old colonial flag from British rule. However, the police did not stop with the arrest of young protesters.
The Guardian reported that five pro-democracy leaders from the Civil Human Rights Front were arrested.
“They are making arrests even though we have had such a peaceful procession,” the group’s convener, Johnson Yeung, said following the arrest of two of his colleagues at their homes on Friday morning.
“This isn’t about any one reason, this is about political suppression,” he told reporters before surrendering to police with two others from the group.