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Hong Kong Activists Speak Out


Hong Kong police are hunting for suspects they say disrupted the 22nd anniversary of the city's handover from Britain to China. Demonstrators stormed and vandalized Legislative Council along - the Legislative Council along Hong Kong's harbor Monday night. NPR's Julie McCarthy spoke with several of them about what happened.

JULIE MCCARTHY, BYLINE: These are perilous times for some demonstrators, who only agreed to come forward on the condition their identities remain confidential. They are using names that authorities wouldn't recognize. Katherine, 26, participated in the 2014 mass demonstrations known as the Umbrella Movement. The demand was direct elections, including for Hong Kong's chief executive, now vetted by Beijing. Katherine recalls 2014 as a festival-like sit-in, admired by the world for being peaceful.

KATHERINE: To some of us, this compliment is of no use because we couldn't get anything we want.

MCCARTHY: She says her thinking about what draws the government's attention has evolved.

KATHERINE: If the government is not listening, that you keep doing the same thing again and again, that's not useful.

MCCARTHY: Today, she says, Hong Kong's administration isn't listening to demands to totally withdraw an extradition bill it only suspended. The measure could extradite suspects to mainland China where due process is not guaranteed. The administration has also declined to release all protesters or retract the term riots or, Katherine adds, launch an independent inquiry of police into alleged excessive force.

KATHERINE: When we come out to protest, the police are abusing us physically, violently. The government is on the police's side. I would say they use police as a tool to suppress the people.

MCCARTHY: The night protesters stormed the Legislative Council building, Katherine waited anxiously outside in solidarity. The demonstrators were pressing for the rights to vote for all, not just some, of their legislators. And Katherine says those who crossed the threshold did so to tell the government that if their representatives couldn't occupy that building, they would.

KATHERINE: This is very dangerous. And they're risking up to 10 years freedom.

MCCARTHY: Alex, a new IT graduate, debated the risks of entering with his friends. Recounting his decision to walk in, he breaks down.

ALEX: (Speaking Cantonese).

MCCARTHY: Alex drew inspiration from demonstrators he didn't even know. They died. One fell hanging a banner. Three others took their own lives. One left a note suggesting that she had sacrificed herself to preserve Hong Kong's freedoms. Alex says their deaths drove him to join some 300 other protesters who spray painted anti-Beijing graffiti on the walls and defaced portraits of pro-Beijing legislators.

ALEX: (Speaking Cantonese).

MCCARTHY: "At that time, I was both furious and sad," he says. "These people who died, they didn't take their own lives. It was the government that pushed them to the edge," he says. Mary, age 19, was on the front line that night as a scout. She asked for IT-savvy protesters to go to the security room of the Legislative Council and destroy CCTV footage of the demonstrators inside. Mary, who's in hiding, says the breaking into the Legislative Council is just the beginning.

MARY: I am scared about what the police will do to me or my friends, but I don't regret what I did on that day.

MCCARTHY: Katherine says the destruction of property paled in comparison to what she says the government is destroying - the rights of the Hong Kong people guaranteed under the policy of one country, two political systems. She says she wouldn't call China the enemy.

KATHERINE: But they are someone hindering our development, hindering our evolution to a more civilized society.

MCCARTHY: Julie McCarthy, NPR News, Hong Kong. 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.