Hong Kong marks fourth anniversary of Umbrella Movement

An activist walks past a display of photographs on a banner showing events during the pro-democracy protests of 2014 on Sept 28, 2016, on the second anniversary of the “Umbrella Revolution”. (AFP pic)

HONG KONG: Hundreds gathered in Hong Kong Friday to mark the fourth anniversary of the mass pro-democracy Umbrella Movement rallies as concerns grow that freedoms are disappearing under an assertive Beijing.

The subdued gathering comes days after the Hong Kong government banned a political party which promotes independence, calling it a threat to national security.

Britain and the United States expressed concern over the move and rights groups warned it was an assault on the semi-autonomous city’s freedoms.

Hong Kong enjoys rights unseen on the mainland, including freedom of speech, but those are increasingly under threat as Beijing seeks to quash any challenge to its sovereignty.

Leading pro-democracy campaigner Joshua Wong attended the event Friday and said he would continue to push for Hong Kong’s freedoms by raising awareness overseas, despite waning public momentum behind the movement at home since the rallies failed to win political reform.

“All we hope to do is to generate more pressure on China,” he told AFP.

Wong and other democracy campaigners have launched a new think tank “Civil Hub” to appeal for international help.

Leading pro-democracy figures will speak on the sidelines of Britain’s Conservative Party Conference this weekend in Birmingham.

However, Wong, 21, is unable to travel due to bail conditions pending an appeal over a protest-related three-month jail sentence.

Hong Kong’s Court of Appeal denied Wong’s request to get his passport back Friday, saying his overseas engagements — including lobbying at the United Nations and speaking at the Oslo Freedom Forum in Taiwan — were “not obligatory”.

Wong was previously jailed for six months on another Umbrella Movement charge, but was released after his prison term was overturned.

Hong Kong’s crackdown on dissent has escalated since the 2014 protests, which saw tens of thousands block major thoroughfares in the city for 79 days.

They were calling for fully free leadership elections in the city, in a movement spearheaded by student leaders who have since been prosecuted.

The crowd gathered at the former protest camp in the business district of Admiralty Friday raised yellow umbrellas at 5:58pm (0958 GMT), the time when police fired teargas at protesters on September 28, galvanising huge numbers to join the rallies.

Umbrellas became a symbol of the movement after demonstrators used them to shield themselves.

Flight attendant Carol Lo, 38, who attended the anniversary event, said she wanted to show some Hong Kongers still believe in the need for change.

“It seems like people who cared before don’t care any more,” Lo told AFP.

“But we want to show the others that there are still some people who want to do something.”