This story is being published by POLITICO as part of a content partnership with the South China Morning Post. It first appeared on scmp.com on Sept. 6, 2019.
Nearly a thousand alumni and students across Hong Kong added their voices to a citywide protest on Friday, as demonstrators called on the government to meet all their demands and do more than just withdrawing the extradition bill.
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They formed human chains outside schools in Kowloon Tong, Tai Po and on Hong Kong Island, and asked other students to join them to put pressure on Chief Executive Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor’s administration.
Protesters want an independent investigation into the use of force by police, an amnesty for arrested protesters, a halt to categorizing the protests as riots, and the implementation of universal suffrage.
Their show of defiance continued despite Lam’s announcement on Wednesday that she would formally withdraw the extradition bill that has sparked months of protests in the city.
With Lam only acceding to one of the demonstrators’ five demands, protesters and politicians from both sides of the divide have said the move was too little, too late.
In Kowloon Tong, more than 500 men and women wearing masks and dark clothes lined the walls surrounding the neighborhood’s elite schools, La Salle College, Bishop Hall Jubilee School, Jockey Club Government Secondary School, and Tung Wah Group of Hospitals Wong Fut Nam College.
The demonstrators, most of whom were alumni, chanted school anthems and popular anti-government cheers, such as “there are no rioters, only a tyrannical regime,” and “Hongkongers, add oil.”
Some students in school uniforms also joined the effort to form a human chain.
The rally extended about 700 meters along the narrow, tree-lined pavement around two blocks, situated in an otherwise quiet middle-class neighborhood with low-rise residential buildings.
“Even though Lam announced she would withdraw the bill, the decision should have come three months earlier. I hope she will respond to more of our demands,” said one La Salle College graduate, who wished to remain nameless.
More than 70 students skipped classes on Monday and Tuesday, according to Chan, a member of the school’s student concern group, who would only give his last name.
Despite that the Education Bureau did not want to see a school boycott, education minister Kevin Yeung Yun-hung said he would leave it to schools to handle the matter themselves according to their own judgment. Many schools allow students to skip classes if they have the permission letters from parents.
Chan, a Form Six student at La Salle, said the turnout was bigger than expected. The school had the largest crowd of the four schools, with more than 300 people involved.
Meanwhile, a handful of teachers stood at the gate of each of the schools, watching in silence.
“The students are very restrained and peaceful, so I’m not too worried that anything radical might happen,” said Andrew Lau, deputy principal of Bishop Hall Jubilee School.
“What I’m worried about is that the government has lost the hearts of a generation of young people, and that they might walk further away from the government.”
Teachers at the school were opposed to the strike, and the pupils had been largely obedient, Lau said, who added that there was no class boycott at the school.
In Tai Po, more than 300 people, including students and alumni from seven secondary schools, and residents and pupils from neighboring schools, formed a human chain stretching across Tat Wan Road.
According to the students, 100 students from Kau Yan College went on strike on Monday, and 20 from Law Ting Pong Secondary School went on strike on Thursday.
“Taking part is the only thing I can do as a secondary school student to call for the government to meet the five demands,” said a 17-year-old Form Six student at Law Ting Pong Secondary School, who gave his name as Anson.
Protesters chanted popular slogans such as “liberate Hong Kong, revolution of our times” and “return the eye”, referring to a young woman who suffered a severe eye injury during a violent protest in August.
The crowd gathered at Tai Po Market MTR station around 6:45 a.m. and left just before 8 a.m. so pupils could go to class on time.
“We can’t go on the front lines, but we can still yell slogans and show others that many secondary school pupils are aware of the protests and are also fighting for the five demands,” said a 16-year-old Form Six student from neighboring Kau Yan College surnamed Ng.
“There have been months of protests and so many injured. If Lam withdrew the bill earlier then the problem would have been solved.
“But we have already gone through so much, such as the Yuen Long incident and police brutality. We cannot stop unless all our demands are met.”
While some passers-by cheered the protesters on, others were angry about the disruption.
“This is a public space. I have my own freedom to enjoy a peaceful and quiet walk down the street,” said a 53 year-old retired Tai Po resident surnamed Leung.
“The students are still living under their parents’ roof, they should fulfill their responsibility and go to school,” he said.
Meanwhile, more than 100 members of St Paul’s Convent School alumni and some school students gathered outside the entrance in Causeway Bay in a show of defiance after teachers prevented a boycott on September 2, and stopped students from wearing ribbons or handing out fliers in support of the boycott.
At about 7.30am, alumni formed two long lines outside the school’s gates and handed out ribbons to passers-by and held up fliers in support of current students.
According to students, the teachers also stopped a planned panel discussion about the extradition bill, and did not allow students to form a human chain.
“We think it’s really ridiculous that they banned the girls from wearing masks and ribbons,” said Sharon Lam, 21, one of the coordinators of the demonstration, and an ex-student of the school.
“The school gave ‘political reasons’ for the move.”
According to Lam, Sister Margaret Wong, the school principal, told the students they were “blind rebellious spirits” for planning a class boycott.
“While I understand that teachers want to preserve the school’s reputation, I was disappointed when they asked us to cancel our planned activities,” said a 17-year-old student, who wished to remain anonymous.
“I hope the school can hear our voices and will let us say something regarding what is happening in society.”
During the demonstrations, the school issued a “special notice” on their website reiterating that they did not support a school strike, as the school was “a place to study.”
However, the statement said if a student did want to strike, they must “submit a parent letter in accordance with the school’s rules.”
Meanwhile, pro-Beijing lawmaker Junius Ho Kwan-yiu has formed a concern group to monitor the schools suspected of supporting the boycott.
He called on the Education Bureau to disqualify those principals and teachers who supported the boycott, and said their approval exceeded the educational and moral ethics for educators.