By Jennifer Creery

The fallout of the storming of Hong Kong’s legislature continues as reactions have poured in from different sectors of Hong Kong, as well as from abroad.

Hundreds of masked anti-government protesters broke into, and vandalised, the Legislative Council (LegCo) on Monday evening in an escalation of events earlier in the day which saw police use pepper spray against crowds occupying thoroughfares in Admiralty.

The Civil Human Rights Front (CHRF), which organised a separate July 1 democracy march, issued a statement on Tuesday saying that despite having different strategies it supported the protesters.

“Our views towards different courses of actions may differ, but we sincerely hope that no one blames one another nor breaks off with one another,” the statement read. “We cannot afford to lose even one. We will soldier on for our beloved Hong Kong.”

The political crisis over the government’s reviled extradition bill has deepened over months of mass protests, which have morphed into a wider display of discontent over dwindling freedoms, alleged police misconduct related to the use of crowd control weapons, and democratic freedoms, among other demands. The bill was suspended on June 15, but not axed.

The city’s embattled leader condemned the protesters’ actions on Monday as “extremely violent,” saying the government would hold those responsible to account.

“I am extremely angered and saddened, and must strongly condemn these actions,” said Chief Executive Carrie Lam.

She did not answer questions about the deaths of two women who left notes relating to the protests and a man who fell to his death from a building last month while protesting the extradition bill.

‘Abhorrent’

Lam’s response has been met with condemnation from the Progressive Lawyers’ Group, which criticised her apparent indifference to the three incidents as “abhorrent.”

“In light of the recent and ongoing turbulence in Hong Kong, we expect the [Chief Executive] to expeditiously and transparently take an active role in leading our city out of the turmoil and in addressing the root causes of the anger and frustration of the protestors. We believe that the [Chief Executive] has failed in this task,” their statement read.

The group said it shared the profound disappointment felt by protesters while appealing to them to exercise restraint within the law.

‘Uphold the rule of law’

The Hong Kong Chamber of Commerce echoed the term “violence” to describe the incident on Monday saying that people must respect the law while protesting.

“People have the right to express their views, but violence should not under any circumstances be condoned. We have to respect and uphold the rule of law,” said Chairman Aron Harilela. “We fully respect freedom of expression and hope that calm can be restored by resolving differences through rational dialogue and constructive engagement.”

‘Engage in dialogue’

A spokesperson for the European Union said that those who stormed the LegCo complex were a minority of people who did not represent the views of most peaceful protesters.

“In the wake of these latest incidents, it is all the more important to exercise restraint, avoiding escalatory responses, and to engage in dialogue and consultation to find a way forward,” the statement read.

Meanwhile, the American Chamber of Commerce (AmCham), which has positioned itself against the proposed extradition bill, also condemned the occupation of LegCo as violent, saying: “AmCham Hong Kong supports the right of Hong Kong people to peacefully express their concerns. However, we join Chief Executive Carrie Lam in condemning the violence displayed last evening by demonstrators in their occupation of LegCo.”

“The Chamber does not condone violent acts causing physical harm and destruction of property as [a] legitimate means to achieve objectives for the greater good in a lawful society,” the statement read. “We believe the violent protests of recent days do not reflect how the majority of people in this dynamic and advanced economy would choose to be heard.”

‘Crossed’ line

The Law Society also said it respected people’s right to protest under the law but condemned the break-in.

“There is a line separating the lawful exercise of constitutional rights, as evidenced by recent peaceful demonstrations, from unlawful activity, which is and should be subject to sanctions and constraints,” the statement read. “Where the line has been crossed, the police should take appropriate action to prevent criminal violence, secure observance of the law and uphold order for the protection of life and property.”

Xiang Zhang, the president and vice-chancellor of the city’s oldest higher education institution – the University of Hong Kong – said he condemned the incident while calling on all parties to compromise in order to heal the rift in society.

“I am disheartened by the violence that occurred in the Legislative Council building and would like to condemn such destructive acts,” Zhang said. “I urge all parties to communicate in a rational and pragmatic manner, and make an effort to resolve differences without resorting to confrontations.”

‘No other option’

But democracy activist Joshua Wong said in a lengthy Twitter thread that the incident follows months of protests which have fallen on deaf ears.

“The protesters who broke into the Legislative Council complex were NOT rioters. They were NOT violent. Their objective was never to harm any individuals,” he wrote. “They wanted to make the regime hear Hong Kongers’ voice, and they had no other option. WE ALREADY TRIED EVERYTHING ELSE.”

Wong, who provided a blow-by-blow account of events leading up to Monday’s break-in, defended the protesters for their discipline, saying: “They left cash at the counter before taking drinks from the cafeteria. They sealed the library off to preserve historical documents stored inside. Not a second did they lose their cool.”

(Article originally appeared in Hong Kong Free Press on 5 July 2019)