Hong Kong Law & Crime Politics & Protest

What will Hong Kong’s ‘leaderless’ anti-extradition law protesters do next?

By Elaine Yu and Jacques Clement

Hong Kong’s “leaderless” demonstrations brought millions of people onto the streets and forced the city’s pro-Beijing leadership into a rare climbdown. But with no one directing the action, where does the movement go now?

The unpopular bill that sparked the protests and would have allowed extradition to mainland China has now been suspended.

Extradition bill June 16

Anti-extradition rally on Sunday, June 16. Photo: inmediahk.net.

But protesters are adamant that the bill must be fully withdrawn and the city’s pro-Beijing Chief Executive Carrie Lam step down – demands she has so far resisted.

“More demonstrations and resistance will happen soon if Carrie Lam does not know what respect means,” said Joshua Wong, an activist who became the face of Hong Kong’s 2014 pro-democracy “Umbrella Movement”.

Carrie Lam.

Carrie Lam. Photo: GovHK.

Wong was released on Monday, half-way into a two-month sentence linked to his activism, and a day after organisers said two million demonstrators marched in Hong Kong’s streets to protest against the bill.

china extradition June 16 Sunday protest (1) (Copy)

Photo: Tom Grundy/HKFP.

He told AFP he now expects to see “upgraded, more progressive actions”.

So far, no fresh protests have been announced, but small groups of die-hard activists remain in the streets around the city’s legislature, setting up supply stations with water, food and first-aid kits in anticipation of future mobilisation.

The massive demonstrations were organised in part by a coalition called the Civil Human Rights Front, an umbrella group of dozens of organisations.

Joshua wong release prison

Joshua Wong. Photo: Joshua Wong/Facebook.

While the group applied for rally permits, it has said it does not speak for the protesters and has given no indication of future demonstration plans.

‘Trying to figure things out’

Wong said the movement’s leaderless nature was part of the reason for its success.

China extradition protest admiralty clash

Photo: Todd R. Darling/HKFP.

“The leaderless model enhances the movement to become more organic. It (becomes) hard for the regime to target any representative, icon or leader,” he said.

In the past, “when we organised (a) strike or movement, they will try… to target the leader, negotiate with them”, he added.

China extradition protest admiralty clash

Photo: Todd R. Darling/HKFP.

That was the experience of 2014’s Umbrella Movement, which failed to win democratic concessions and landed several of its top leaders, including Wong, in jail.

The new movement’s leaderless model though has left many unsure of what to do next.

protest china extradition

Anti-extradition march on Sunday, June 16. Photo: HKFP.

“The bottom line is that people are trying to figure things out as they go,” said Laurie Wen, a writer among the protesters still camped outside Hong Kong’s legislature.

The Umbrella Movement “didn’t get us what we wanted in terms of policy demands at least. So what are we going to do differently this time? How can we use our… two-million-strong power?”

Hong Kong enjoys freedoms unseen in mainland China under the terms of its 1997 handover by Britain, but there are concerns that the territory’s special status is under threat from Beijing, which will retake control of the financial hub in 2047.

China extradition protest admiralty clash

Photo: Todd R. Darling/HKFP.

Activists have long sought more say in particular over their leadership — the city’s executive is chosen by Beijing, which has thrown its support behind Lam even while distancing itself from the extradition bill.

‘Mad as hell’

“This goes back to the Umbrella Movement, that’s what it’s all about: the election, not selection, of the Chief Executive,” said Claudia Mo, an opposition lawmaker.

“She cannot be ousted from the office by the people as such, she can only be ousted by Beijing, her big boss.”

Even with little sign, their demands will be met, activists are keen to keep up the pressure.

extradition china protest rally hong kong

Lawmaker Claudia Mo (centre). Photo: inmediahk.net.

“On the one hand, we feel it’s almost impossible to get… what we want because they won’t listen to us,” said protester Wen.

“But on the other hand, we have the freedom to protest and occupy without being killed.”

china extradition June 16 Sunday protest (1) (Copy) killing us

Photo: Tom Grundy/HKFP.

And they believe their movement will continue to win public support.

“The people are still mad as hell,” opposition lawmaker Ray Chan said Tuesday.

“People will take to the streets again in massive numbers and keep enormous pressure on the government until Carrie Lam steps down and the extradition to China bill is completely withdrawn.”


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What will Hong Kong's 'leaderless' anti-extradition law protesters do next?