A small group of protesters who broke into the Legislative Council on Monday night said they had no other plan but a radical act to storm the parliament, in the crazy hope the city chief could listen to their demands.
“Helmet”, “goggles”, “plastic wraps” – protesters yelled or used sign language outside the Legislative Council on Tim Mei Avenue in Admiralty to get the equipment they needed to relay to frontline activists before they broke into the building at 9pm on Monday. It was the 22nd anniversary of the city’s handover.
With the police suddenly pulling back their anti-riot squad inside the parliament, a few hundred protesters were able to ram their way into the chambers – and deface the premises with extensive graffiti and other damage.
After breaking into the chamber, the protesters seemed to have no idea what to do next. Then, when they heard that a clearance action would be carried out by midnight, their numbers began to dwindle.
A dozen individuals chose to stay inside and started to debate what to do – stay or leave?
One protester named Owen (not his real name), still inside, told a reporter he understood that if arrested he would face up to 10 years in jail, Ming Pao Daily reported.
Owen, who grew up in a single-parent family, worried about his mother and the fact that “this should be the last chance to save Hong Kong”, even though he knew their radical action would draw heavy criticism.
Deaf to our demands!
Only radical action could get the attention of Carrie Lam, the city’s chief executive, he believed. When Hongkongers marched peacefully, the government was deaf to the people’s demands, he said, disgusted.
As the police clearance deadline approached, more protesters left. But four decided to stay no matter what, they said. Pro-democracy lawmakers including Fernando Cheung Chiu-hung, Roy Kwong, and Lam Cheuk Ting tried to persuade them to leave, but failed.
At 11:10pm, a masked protester read out a manifesto inside the chamber, saying the current government no longer had the people of Hong Kong as their first priority.
“We are protesters from the civic society. If there’s a choice, we wish we didn’t have to protest against tyranny with our own bodies, and didn’t have to occupy the Hong Kong Legislative Council as a bargaining chip in negotiations with the government,” he said.
The government had ignored their demands and left them no choice but to fight back, the man said.
“Society may criticize us for the action of occupying [LegCo] today. But what is the main reason for the sharp division in society? What is the main cause of the ever-increasing public grievance? Why are Hongkongers being forced into this position?
“We are not armed, nor being violent. We are only moving forward bravely with a heart of justice, hoping the government will get back on the right track in time.”
The so-called “Declaration of Hong Kong Protesters” circulated on LIHKG, a Reddit-like forum, while the parliament was occupied. It reiterated the protesters’ five demands: full withdrawal of the extradition law amendment, having the “riot” classification on the June 12 clashes dropped, having criminal charges against all arrested protesters dropped, an investigation into “abusive” police actions and genuine universal suffrage (the right to vote).
One of the protesters, a 24-year-old father who decided to stay, told a reporter that he had prepared to go to jail when he joined the mob, Apple Daily reported.
The young man said his father came to Hong Kong because of the Cultural Revolution on mainland China in the 60s and 70s. He grew up in Hong Kong. “I like Hong Kong because living here, I could enjoy the freedom and live with dignity. Do you guys want to give up this (freedom)?” He wished his children good luck and urged them to see what their father had done and they could decide whether his action was right or wrong.
Another protester who remained said: “I am using my own life as a safeguard. If you want to leave, go ahead. And if you want to stay, stay”.
But the occupiers admitted they needed more support from other protesters outside.
‘Leave together’ chant
When the police started their clearance operation, dispersing protesters with tear gas on Lung Wo Road and Harcourt Road next to the LegCo complex, a swarm of protesters who left the parliament re-entered the chamber, minutes before the police arrived, to try to get the last of their colleagues to leave the premises.
“Leave together. Leave together,” the swarm of protesters shouted over and over.
According to a video on Standnews.com, one of the protesters came up from the ground floor to the chamber, saying they had learnt via the Telegram app that four protesters had decided to stay inside the chamber.
Despite the risk of being arrested, a group of around 100 people decided to return. One girl, who was sobbing, said: “If they don’t leave, we won’t leave either. We will push them to leave with us.”
She was scared to re-enter the LegCo, “but we are much terrified that we will not be able to see them [the four inside] tomorrow.”
Some protesters on the ground floor did not want to go up to the chamber and felt people should respect the decision of the last four to “sacrifice” themselves in a symbolic act of defiance, she said.
But the girl was determined to show solidarity. “We came here as one, we shall get out of here as one,” she said.
At 12.15am, riot police arrived at the LegCo building and conducted a search of the building. But they found no one remaining.
The mob had convinced the four, to leave with them. Drama till the end.