Thousands of pro-democracy activists chanted for reform on Friday as they staged a sit-in at Hong Kong airport, hoping to win international support for their movement after two months of protests.
“No rioters, only tyranny,” the demonstrators chanted as they began a three-day action — the latest in a string of protests that have rocked the international financial hub.
Activists, some dressed in the movement’s signature black, sat on the floor in the airport’s arrivals hall and held up signs in Chinese and English condemning police violence.
“Save Hong Kong from tyranny and police brutality!” read one sign on a piece of cardboard.
They cheered loudly as activists overcame objections from airport staff and hung a long banner from the railings of the upper floor reading “LIBERATE HK. REVOLUTION NOW.”
The protests that began two months ago over a controversial bill to allow extradition to mainland China have now morphed into a broader movement demanding democratic reforms.
Protesters have staged increasingly inventive rallies across Hong Kong, and brought out supporters ranging from families to lawyers in a bid to show the broad backing for their demands.
But the demonstrations have also increasingly descended into violence, with police firing tear gas and rubber bullets and protesters hurling bricks and bottles.
The airport sit-in, scheduled to run throughout the weekend, is the second time the demonstrators have brought their message to the busy travel hub, hoping to garner support from international arrivals.
‘Let them know the truth’
“Ask me about Hong Kong” read signs in different languages attached to the sleeves of some of the protesters.
“We want to tell the passengers what’s happening in Hong Kong, so we prepared these leaflets showing our five major demands,” said Charlotte Au, a 16-year-old student among the protesters.
“We hope to let them know the truth through our communication and gain their support,” she told AFP.
Protesters want to see the controversial extradition bill, which has been suspended, completely withdrawn, and are also seeking direct election of the city’s leader and an investigation into alleged police brutality.
“We want the government to withdraw the bill and set up an independent inquiry commission,” said another protester, who asked to be identified only by her surname Choi.
“I also want to be here to support those who were arrested because our goals are the same.”
The three-day airport rally was promoted online with a mock boarding pass reading “HK to freedom” and “warm pick-up to guests to HK”.
Passengers arriving at the airport appeared confused as they came into the hall to see the sit-in, with some stopping to take photos or look at leaflets being handed out by the demonstrators. Some offered protesters a thumbs-up as they chanted.
Clara Boudehen, visiting from France, said she was “very impressed” by the rally.
“Our democracy is not absolute, we have to fight for it… To see the population fight for democracy is very important,” she said.
Monica Yoon Hee Jung, who had just arrived from Korea, said she had been slightly nervous about her trip — several countries have issued or upgraded travel warnings for Hong Kong in recent days.
But she seemed reassured by the sit-in, which did not appear to have disrupted airport operations.
“When I see the rally here, it is really peaceful. They are not aggressive at all. I feel they are trying to show their real heart. Very genuine,” she said.
The airport sit-ins have not been authorised, but a previous demonstration at the transport hub passed off peacefully without disrupting flights.
Further protests are planned across Hong Kong over the weekend, with fears that new confrontations between police and demonstrators are possible.
Hundreds of people have been arrested in the unrest that has gripped the city since the protests began, and with little sign that authorities plan to meet protester demands, the crisis is expected to continue.
The weeks of demonstrations pose the biggest threat to Beijing’s authority since Hong Kong’s handover from the British in 1997.
And the protests have hit the city’s tourism industry, with international arrivals down and hotel bookings tanking, officials say.