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Hong Kong Solidarity on the Streets of London

SNA (London) — StandwithHK, a Hong Kong solidarity organization, drove a digivan broadcasting live protest footage from Hong Kong through Central London. StandwithHK wrote on Facebook that the event aimed to “bring [the] current situation in Hong Kong to light and call for global solidarity with Hongkongers in our call for universal suffrage and democracy, and our fight against police brutality.”

After the van was driven across Central London in the early afternoon on August 31, passing landmarks such as the London Eye, it was parked in Golden Square, Soho. Just a few miles away, large areas of the capital were brought to a standstill as a result of #StopTheCoup demonstrations protesting Boris Johnson’s prorogation of parliament. Yet here in a quiet corner of Soho tucked away from Regent Street, activists and onlookers solemnly gathered in silence to watch the scenes unfold in Hong Kong, thousands of miles away.

The crowd witnessed the police repeat the brutal repressive tactics they have employed since the very beginning of this summer’s pro-democracy movement; they fired tear-gas, rubber bullets, and live warning shots. In a first, police deployed water-cannons which shot dyed water at demonstrators. In response, protesters lit fires outside government buildings, and hurled petrol bombs back at the police. These violent scenes attracted several passersby to walk over to the digivan and watch what was going on.

After around an hour the van moved onto the next location, Camden, keeping activists updated through a chat on the encrypted messaging service, Telegram (which has proved popular among Hong Kong protesters for privacy reasons) and on Twitter. While it was in transit to the second location, the digivan drove through the busy streets of Central London, and the spectacle attracted many shoppers and tourists, who snapped photographs on their mobile phones and pointed it out to friends and family.

Over in Camden, the van parked near the entrance to an Underground station. By this time, the weather had turned bleak; a few core activists braved the harsh winds and lashing rain to continue monitoring the situation in Hong Kong, while others huddled in a nearby sandwich shop. The digivan soon relocated to South Kensington, where the weather cleared up. Crowds of diners were sitting outdoors near to where the digivan was parked, savoring their meals and chatting. As crowds of around fifty gathered around the digivan screen, a beautiful sunset broke out across the West London sky. This was in harsh contrast to the events in Hong Kong which could be seen developing on the screen.

As Hong Kong police stormed railway carriages in Prince Edward and Mong Kok, beating innocent commuters and demonstrators alike with batons and firing pepper spray, StandwithHK activists chatted to curious onlookers and diners. The activists implored them to sign various petitions urging British solidarity with Hong Kong, while thousands of miles away commuters cried out with fear as the police beat them mercilessly. A man was left alone to suffer in the station, bleeding from the head.

StandwithHK activists later told Shingetsu News Agency in an email that these brutal acts “in fact illustrate that the government would rather suppress the people with force than listen to them, and continues to keep people connected and supportive of each other because they know their common enemy is the government and its apparatus.” They also reported that most of the people they spoke to were “supportive” of their cause.

It transpired that in Hong Kong the police brutality had started after a largely peaceful march in the pouring rain, in which protesters marked the fifth anniversary of Beijing’s Standing Committee of the National People’s Congress decision on Hong Kong, which ruled out democratic elections on the island. While small radical groups of protesters were certainly violent on that day, critics argued that what the police did was far worse. As well as firing tear gas, rubber bullets, and warning shots, deploying water cannons, and beating up uninvolved commuters inside railway carriages, it also turned out that police disguised themselves as demonstrators, arresting them and firing rounds of pepper spray into their faces.

The digivan broadcasting event was not the only effort by StandwithHK to promote British solidarity with the pro-democracy cause that weekend. Activists placed advertisements in The Guardian​, ​The Economist,​ and ​The Times​, urging support for the pro-democracy movement. This was all part of a week of global solidarity protests. More than 28 events were held in all corners of the world; rallies took place in New York, Los Angeles, Toronto, Tokyo, Melbourne, Berlin, and Amsterdam, to name but a few.

The wider solidarity movement within London and the United Kingdom is vibrant. The movement has garnered a significant amount of public support, amassing tens of thousands of signatures on petitions urging that a human rights clause be included in any post-Brexit Hong Kong trade deal, and on petitions calling for British National (Overseas) Hongkongers to be given full British citizenship. A march on August 17, organized by StandwithHK and Democracy for Hong Kong (D4HK) in Trafalgar Square, attracted thousands. Activists have previously projected footage from Hong Kong protests on Parliament itself, in Oxford Circus and Shoreditch. Billboards have been put up in London, Edinburgh, Manchester, Liverpool and Birmingham. Last month, Hongkongers participated in the Prudential RideLondon FreeCycle event, donning the pro-democracy protesters’ typical gear of goggles, gloves, a yellow helmet and a mask.

Several further demonstrations are planned. StandwithHK noted in an email that they will continue to try and make the general public aware of this issue, to make it heard above the Brexit debate, which currently exercises a toxic stranglehold over British politics.

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