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Radio Free Asia

Thousands Rally in Hong Kong to Stand With Catalan Independence Activists

2019-10-24 -- Thousands of people rallied in Hong Kong on Thursday in support of Catalunya, where pro-independence politicians were recently jailed for running a 2017 referendum without approval from Madrid.

Protesters waved the flag of the Catalan independence movement and chanted "Visca Catalunya" in the downtown Central business district, although organizers said the rally was in protest at violence by Spanish police towards demonstrators, and the jailing of politicians for their views.

Police and protesters clashed at Barcelona airport hours after the Spanish supreme court jailed nine Catalan separatist leaders over their roles in the failed bid for secession for the region of seven million people that have their own language, parliament and flag.

The defendants were acquitted of violent rebellion, but jailed on Oct. 14 for sedition, misuse of public funds, and "disobedience," prompting mass public protests in the region.

Some 3000 people participated in the Hong Kong-Catalonia Solidarity Assembly, organizers said via a Twitter account.

Catalan activists responded in kind by singing "Glory to Hong Kong," the anthem of the protest movement that began with mass public opposition to plans to allow extraditions to mainland China in early June.

"Catalans are singing "Glory To Hong Kong" in front of Chinese Consulate-General in Barcelona in the "Catalonia-Hong Kong Solidaritat Amb Hong Kong" Assembly," the same account reported. "Thank you so much!"

China sees 'virus' in protests

The rallies come as a Chinese official likened the Hong Kong protests to a "virus, whose name is street violence," without mentioning police and triad-linked violence that has been meted out even to non-violent protesters since June.

Foreign ministry envoy Xie Feng said the virus was being encouraged by "the opposition faction in Hong Kong and the foreign forces in the background."

"Its real aim is to bring chaos to Hong Kong, and to overthrown the legitimate government ... and turn Hong Kong into an independent or semi-independent entity," Xie said.

Hong Kong political analyst Willy Lam said the majority of Hong Kong protesters aren't interested in independence for the city, but in civil liberties, democratic government and an independent judiciary.

"The demands of the protesters are pretty modest, actually," Lam said. "They want to preserve Hong Kong's traditional values, including judicial independence, freedom of expression and so on."

"Hong Kong is now deeply divided between the blue-ribbon [pro-China, pro-police] camp and the yellow ribbon [pro-democracy] camp, and this sort of talk will just exacerbate that division," he said. "It will do nothing to resolve it."

Protesters, some of whom have fought back against riot police, thrown bricks and petrol bombs and engaged in widespread vandalism of politically linked buildings and facilities, have repeatedly said that their use of force didn't arise in a vacuum, and has generally been the result of heavy-handed tactics by riot police.

Bruce Lui, senior journalism lecturer at Hong Kong Baptist University, said resistance and protest happens everywhere, for local reasons.

"Wherever governments are unjust, unreasonable or totalitarian, local people are going to resist in their own way," Lui said. "Most countries can draw on experiences of this kind."

'Reckless and unlawful tactics' by police

The administration of Hong Kong chief executive Carrie Lam formally withdrew the hated amendments to the city's extradition laws this week, fulfilling the first of the protest movement's five demands.

But protesters say they will continue to protest until there has also been an amnesty for thousands of people arrested during the movement, the withdrawal of the official term 'rioting' to describe some gatherings, an independent inquiry into police violence against protesters, and fully democratic elections to the Legislative Council and for the post of chief executive.

In recent weeks, protesters have also begun calling for the current Hong Kong police force to be disbanded, particularly after widespread reports of the sexual abuse and torture of detainees at the hands of police have been publicly dismissed by senior officers.

Police have fired thousands of rounds of tear gas and rubber bullets at protesters and arrested more than 2,300 people since June, many of them minors. Two people have been shot with live rounds, while there is widespread anger over the police failure to arrest and prosecute pro-China thugs who have attacked the general public and a number of prominent figures in the movement, including Civil Human Rights Front convenor Jimmy Sham, who was left with serious head injuries after a hammer attack earlier this month.

London-based rights group Amnesty International has hit out at the Hong Kong police over the torture and other ill-treatment of anti-extradition protesters in detention, as well as the reckless and indiscriminate use of force.

The group has called for a prompt and independent investigation into police actions since protests escalated in early June, after gathering testimonies from more than 20 arrestees, as well as lawyers, healthcare workers and others.

It said "reckless and unlawful tactics" by police seemed to have escalated throughout the course of the anti-extradition movement, which has gripped the city with strikes, sit-ins, mass rallies, human chains and million-strong marches in recent months.

Reported by Wong Lok-to for RFA's Cantonese Service. Translated and edited by Luisetta Mudie.

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