The coronavirus pandemic has put a damper on many activities, including Hong Kong’s anti-government protests.
But anger in the city has not gone away, nor has the protest movement gone completely dormant, even as restrictions on gatherings and a desire to avoid infection has put a temporary halt to the kind of mass demonstrations seen in 2019.
Just as the extradition bill which sparked last year’s protests gave a shot in the arm to a movement that was looking all but defeated, recent moves by Beijing and the Hong Kong police have also reinvigorated opposition in the city. This comes as the city begins to consider relaxing coronavirus restrictions, with local cases dwindling to just a handful per day.
While there have been small, sporadic protests throughout winter and into spring, even with the pandemic concerns, a major rally on July 1 could be the first major test of the protest movement’s ongoing public support this year. A strong turnout, in defiance of both the government and the virus, could be a sign that Hong Kong is in for another summer of discontent.
Just like protesters, police and the government also seem to be looking ahead to potential renewed unrest.
Over the weekend, police arrested more than a dozen prominent pro-democracy activists and lawmakers, in a move widely denounced by human rights bodies, and politicians in the United States and the UK. They were charged with “organizing and participating in unlawful assemblies,” in relation to several protests last year.
“Arrests of pro-democracy activists in Hong Kong are deeply concerning,” US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said Saturday. “Politicized law enforcement is inconsistent with universal values of freedom of expression, association, and peaceful assembly.”
Martin Lee, founder of the city’s Democratic Party and one of those arrested Saturday, said that the move appeared designed to send a message to “Hong Kong people and also the international community that they, Beijing, will rule Hong Kong with an iron fist.”