Thousands Protest In Hong Kong Despite Ban
SCOTT SIMON, HOST:
Tens of thousands of protesters are in the streets of Hong Kong again today, despite a police ban and at least nine arrests of prominent activists and local politicians earlier this week. It's the 13th straight week of marches and demonstrations against Hong Kong's Beijing-controlled government. NPR's Beijing correspondent Emily Feng is there in the streets of Hong Kong and joins us. Emily, thanks for being with us.
EMILY FENG, BYLINE: Hi.
SIMON: I gather police in Hong Kong told people to stay home. Why did so many defy those orders and come out today?
FENG: Well, they're furious at what they see as police brutality, and they're further galvanized by a wave of arrests of prominent activists and politicians yesterday. So today, they held what they called a religious rally. It was an attempt to evade police restrictions. Police called it an illegal gathering, however. And then, after the rally, they marched west towards Beijing's government offices on the island. And throughout the afternoon, protesters alternated between chanting for democratic elections and also singing religious songs. Here's one of the songs that they sang.
(SOUNDBITE OF PROTEST)
UNIDENTIFIED PROTESTERS: (Singing) Sing hallelujah to the Lord. Sing hallelujah, sing hallelujah...
FENG: So protesters say they chose to sing that song because they were praying for peace, and they were also praying for, quote, "sinners." I spoke to Christine, who's a 59-year-old protester at the rally, early today. And she explained what she meant by that.
CHRISTINE: The police are the violent ones. And Carrie Lam, the chief executive, are the sinners.
FENG: They're also out to protest this weekend because they're commemorating an important anniversary. It's been exactly five years since Beijing decided they were going to maintain control over how Hong Kong elects its leader. And that decision set up this big democracy movement in 2014 called the Umbrella Movement. It ended, but their demand for direct elections for their leader are being repeated by protesters today.
SIMON: Emily, what - what's the government there in Hong Kong done to try and contain the protests?
FENG: Well, as you mentioned, they arrested at least nine activists and politicians yesterday. Those included Joshua Wong, who's probably the most famous Hong Kong activist out there. He was let go on bail, along with another demonstrator, yesterday. And he actually was able to join marches today.
Unrelated to government efforts, early this morning, there was a massive cyberattack that took down the primary chat forum that Hong Kongers have been using to organize protests. And, again, people were out marching today. But people - police had already barricaded all of the roads and the metro station that was right next to Beijing's government offices and wheeled in water cannons in preparation.
The marches were mostly peaceful today, the ones that I attended. But earlier today, police fired tear gas at protesters who had clustered outside the Hong Kong central government buildings. They also fired blue-colored water cannons at protesters, which dispersed them only temporarily.
SIMON: And what's happening around you right now that it's evening?
FENG: As you can hear, there is a lot still happening. There are thousands of people standing around me on just one street in Hong Kong. If you can hear clanging, it's because they're dragging these big metal fences across the street and building barricades that have stopped all traffic from entering this downtown area. People are pounding on drums. They're firing laser pointers at cameras and police. And people have their gas masks and goggles on, so I think there's the expectation that police are going to escalate.
And keep in mind protests don't just end tonight. Tomorrow, more protests are planned that are going to shut down the transportation lines into Hong Kong's international airport. Protesters have already shut it down twice before in the last three months. And there are general strikes starting across the city and universities on Monday.
SIMON: NPR's Emily Feng in the streets of Hong Kong. Thanks so much.
FENG: Thanks, Scott. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.