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'We Are Entitled To Freedom': Hong Kong Protesters Forge On


Now to Hong Kong, where tomorrow's July 1 handover anniversary will be marked by an unprecedented lockdown. A series of demonstrations rocked Hong Kong this month, and hundreds of thousands are expected to try to use the 22nd year of Hong Kong's reversion to China as an occasion to continue their protests targeting a controversial extradition bill and more. NPR's Julie McCarthy has this report.

JULIE MCCARTHY, BYLINE: The contentious bill would have allowed Hong Kong to extradite suspects to a long list of jurisdictions, including the Chinese mainland. Protestors who massed in the streets said anyone taken to China would not be guaranteed a fair trial. What was viewed as an assault on their liberties sparked the biggest demonstrations since Britain handed over Hong Kong in 1997.


MCCARTHY: Some demonstrators clashed with police, who used tear gas and rubber bullets. Chief Executive Carrie Lam acknowledged she had not fully realized the sensitivity of the issue, suspended the measure and dropped out of public view for more than a week. On Monday, a thick cordon of barricades and riot police will encircle one of Hong Kong's most important events of the year to discourage any disruptions. Demonstrators distrustful of Beijing and its anointed chief executive are unmoved.

JOSHUA WONG: It's not the time for us to put aside this critical issue.

MCCARTHY: Activist Joshua Wong says the extradition proposal erodes Hong Kong's freedom, guaranteed under the basic law governing the territory.

WONG: Suspension is not enough. We are asking for fully withdraw the evil bill.

MCCARTHY: The so-called evil bill has been mischaracterized, according to Regina Ip, a member of the council that advises Hong Kong's chief executive. Ip says the public's been misled by videos circulating online.

REGINA IP: Which suggest that anyone with an argument with a neighbor could face trumped-up charges from the mainland and whisked across the border overnight. This is totally untrue because all rendition cases will be subject to lengthy and complicated legal procedures.

MCCARTHY: University of Hong Kong law professor Albert Chen says by forcing the government to suspend the bill, protesters have essentially won. He says it stands no chance of being revived, so fraught is the political climate.

ALBERT CHEN: In fact, there's zero chance that a bill can be resurrected. If the bill is to be resurrected, immediately, there will be half a million people taking to the streets again.

MCCARTHY: Could they surreptitiously bring it back? Chen scoffs.

CHEN: Hong Kong is not like some authoritarian states when the law can be passed at any time.

MCCARTHY: Bonnie Leung with the Civil Human Rights Front, conveners of the mass demonstrations, says the government has suspended issues in the past only to revive them. And she is suspicious about the shelving of the extradition bill.

BONNIE LEUNG: It is, I believe, a tactic that the government would only want to buy time and release some kind of social pressure. And then it will come back when we're not looking, when the world is not looking.

MCCARTHY: The demonstrations have morphed into demands that Carrie Lam be removed, that there'd be a full inquiry into the police handling of the protests, that all jailed protesters be released and to freely elect Hong Kong's chief executive, who is effectively appointed by Beijing. Many out on the streets were infants when Hong Kong reverted to China. But Bonnie Leung says they were reared with democratic values.

LEUNG: We are a generation who cannot be oppressed just like that because we're used to freedom, and we believe that we are entitled to freedom.

MCCARTHY: They are expected to be out in force Monday, exercising their freedom to assemble.

Julie McCarthy, NPR News, Hong Kong.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARVO TO ME'S "MND WRKS") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Julie McCarthy has spent most of career traveling the world for NPR. She's covered wars, prime ministers, presidents and paupers. But her favorite stories "are about the common man or woman doing uncommon things," she says.