Pro-democracy, anti-repression: Hong Kong protests since 1997

MANILA, Philippines – The massive pro-democracy protests that stemmed from an unpopular extradition bill are not the first in Hong Kong history. 

Since the former British colony was handed back to China in 1997, the region’s financial hub has seen various demonstrations that have drawn huge crowds.  

The power of the people in Hong Kong showed itself prior to 1997 through the solidarity protests joined by more than a million individuals condemning the Tiananmen Square protests.  

What were the subjects of these protests since 1997? Rappler lists key events: 

A series of protest rallies organized by the Civil Human Rights Front occurs every July 1 of each year coinciding with the establishment of the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region (HKSAR).

REJECT. A Member of the Hong Kong Trade Union Council holds placards and denounces the government's proposed national security bill in 2003. File photo by Peter Parks/AFP

REJECT. A Member of the Hong Kong Trade Union Council holds placards and denounces the government's proposed national security bill in 2003.

File photo by Peter Parks/AFP

Issue:
Protesters condemned the attempt to implement the HK Basic Law Article 23 through the National Security Bill of 2003. According to critics, the bill would have introduced policies that curtail freedom of speech. 

Period:
July 1 to September 5, 2003
 

Total turnout:
Peaked at an estimated 350,000-700,000 protesters on July 1, 2003. Various pocket protests drew crowds of more than 50,000. The estimated numbers are beyond what the organizers expected (only 20,000). 

Government response and outcome:
Several key officials resigned, including then-Liberal Party chairman James Tien, Security Secretary Regina Ip, and Financial Secretary Antony Leung. The HKSAR government postponed deliberations on the bill with temporary plans to open discussions, although without any timetable. There have been no developments since then. 

Issue: 
The series of pro-democracy protests in Hong Kong in 2010 were triggered by several problematic policies and actions by the HKSAR government, including electoral reforms that critics deemed “undemocratic," the continuous detainment of activist Liu Xiaobo, and the planned railway project that would connect Hong Kong to Guangzhou, China. 

Dates:
January 1, March 2, and July 1, 2010

Total turnout:
Each protest drew thousands of people – 9,000 in January, 3,000 in May, and at least 50,000 in July. 

Government response and outcome: 
Although the electoral reform package was passed, the 2010 pro-democracy protests were seen as the beginning and stepping stone for much bigger demonstrations in the coming years. 

Issue: 
Several organizations, including the Civil Alliance Against the National Education, protested the planned implementation of the moral and national education curriculum in Hong Kong. According to critics, the curriculum is a way for the government to “brainwash” children into supporting ideals of China’s Communist Party. 

Period:
August 30 to September 8, 2012

Total turnout:
Organizers estimate that more than 90,000 protesters occupied the surrounding area of the HK government headquarters for 10 days. 

Government response and outcome: 
There is still no significant development regarding the implementation of the national education in HK curriculum. In 2017, the South China Morning Post reported that the current government is working towards reviving and prioritizing it despite opposition. 

Issue: 
The public joined employees of the Kwai Tsing Container Terminal who went on strike to protest the planned outsourcing of the workforce and to demand an improvement in working conditions. 

Period:
The labor strike itself took 40 days, from March 28 to May 7, 2013. The accompanying public demonstration, however, started on April 7, 2013. 

Total turnout:
Organizers estimated that at least 4,000 people joined the march but police said the crowd reached at least 2,800 only

Government response and outcome: 
The strike hit the operations of the busy port, resulting in backlogs of container processing. The port authorities and workers agreed on a 9.8% increase in pay, according to a BBC report in 2013. 

 

Issue: 
The public protested against the electoral reforms introduced by the Standing Committee of the National People's Congress, particularly what critics called the problematic nominating committee for the 2017 chief executive election. The protesters also called for the resignation of then-chief executive Leung Chun-ying. 

Period:
September 26 to December 15, 2014, or a total of 77 days

Total turnout:
The protests occurred in 4 key areas in Hong Kong: Admiralty, Causeway Bay, Mong Kok, and Tsim Sha Tsui. According to organizers, the crowd peaked at an estimated 100,000 “at any given time.” 

Government response and outcome: 
Almost 1,000 people were arrested throughout the demonstrations with more than 200 activists injured. 

Among those arrested and eventually imprisoned were prominent leaders who included Joshua Wong, Nathan Law, and Alex Chow. In 2016, the courts found Wong and Chow guilty of taking part in an unlawful assembly while Law was found guilty of inciting others to take part. 

In 2017, the Court of Appeals upheld the convictions and sentenced the 3 to prison terms of from 6 to 8 months. 

Issue: 
The public condemned the introduction of a bill that would allow extraditions to any jurisdiction, particularly to mainland China. According to the government, it is an effort to prevent Hong Kong from being a place full of fugitives. Groups fear that the bill would lead to China’s further control on people, especially civil society, and those advocating for free speech.   

Period: 
The pro-democracy protests started on March 31, 2019 and are still ongoing. In total, as of August 13, the demonstrations have already run for more than 4 months. 

Total turnout:
Many report that the 2019 protests are the biggest in the history of Hong Kong. The biggest crowd drew an estimated two million people

Government response and outcome:
The massive protests have led to positive developments, including the suspension of the extradition bill on June 15. Chief Executive Carrie Lam on June 16 apologized to the public for the bill, eventually saying by July 9 that it is dead.  

Despite these, demonstrations and clashes between protesters and police continue. As of Monday, August 12, at least 700 people have been arrested and more than 230 people injured. – Rappler.com

Jodesz Gavilan

Jodesz Gavilan is a writer and researcher for Rappler and its investigative arm, Newsbreak. She covers human rights and also hosts the weekly podcast Newsbreak: Beyond the Stories. She joined Rappler in 2014 after obtaining her journalism degree from the University of the Philippines.

image