Hong Kong lawyer and Australian citizen Kevin Yam wrote on Twitter: “This is a brazen act of stifling freedom of speech and assembly in circumstances where a completely legal protest rally had just taken place.”
Hua held a camera on a pole and had come out on Saturday night to record the fifth anniversary of Hong Kong’s Umbrella Revolution.
An estimated 200,000 people had gathered at harbourfront Tamar Park at 7pm to listen to the Umbrella founders, including Joshua Wong. Wong was a school boy in 2014 but inspired students to sit in Harcourt Road for 79 days and demand universal suffrage.
The protest movement that roared back to life this year has now surpassed the Umbrella Revolution in longevity – protests enter the 17th week on Sunday. The support from the community is also wider.
Wong said: “I am not a leader and there is no main stage.”
The volume of tear gas fired, and violence on the streets, has also eclipsed 2014, when umbrellas were a frontline defence.
Among the many parents of the Umbrella generation who gathered at Tamar Park, Mr Ko, 68, had brought his yellow umbrella, handpainted with the words ‘I want universal suffrage’, out for the first time in five years. “We promised we would be back,” he said.
Mr Ko said the events of 2014 were an important precursor to this year’s protests. “The behaviour of our government is really outrageous. It has angered a lot of Hong Kong people and we have awoken to what is happening – Beijing is trying to break up One Country, Two Systems,” he said, referring to the special deal that gives Hong Kong autonomy while recognising Chinese sovereignty.
“Five years ago it was all theory, but now it has become so real. And in this fight, the young people have learned so fast,” he said.
He said he was glad that a rally for Hong Kong will be held in Australia on Sunday, among scores to be held internationally on the same day.
Mrs Yiu, also at Tamar Park on Saturday evening, said: “Our government is doing worse than before. They are walking towards the Chinese communists. We are seeing more unfair treatment. They are not giving us what they promised – universal suffrage.”
She has two children who are students, and thinks it is safe for them to protest if they stay away from the frontline. “Hong Kong people and protesters are peaceful,” she said.
Responding to demands for political reform at the rally, a government spokeman said universal suffrage was enshrined in Hong Kong’s Basic Law but there needed to be a community dialogue “under a peaceful atmosphere with mutual trust” to narrow the differences between different sides to achieve it.
The Tamar Park rally had been authorised for two hours, but was cut short by police. Police warned at 8.30pm they would begin to forcibly disperse the crowd, after a small group of protesters on the other side of the Legislative Council on Harcourt Road threw two petrol bombs at barricades outside the government offices.
The police water cannon fired blue tinged water at protesters gathered on the road, and tear gas shots were fired. The sound of smashing glass echoed down Harcourt Road as protesters threw bricks at windows in the government building.
Leaving, many protesters avoided the MTR stations where exits had been locked and riot police waited on the concourse. But Hua’s exit required entering the MTR station and waiting for the wheelchair lift.
The heavy police presence was likely a taste of what is to come on Sunday, as protesters are expected to return to the streets for an illegal march against authoritarianism. Hong Kong authorities are bracing for more civil disobedience on the 70th anniversary of the People’s Republic of China on October 1.
A government statement on Saturday evening condemned “radical protesters” for blocking roads and throwing petrol bombs and bricks at government offices.
Kirsty Needham is China Correspondent for The Sydney Morning Herald and The Age.