Thousands gathered at Tamar Park in Admiralty on Saturday to show their support for the Hong Kong authorities and police force following weeks of anti-government demonstrations.
Under the slogan “protect Hong Kong,” crowds – mostly middle-aged or older – chanted “Hong Kong is my home.”
The city has been plunged into a political crisis after weeks of protests sparked by the government’s reviled extradition bill, which was suspended on June 15 but not axed.
The proposed law would enable fugitive transfers to jurisdictions including China, a prospect that has crystalised fears over increased involvement from Beijing in the semi-autonomous territory.
Addressing attendees, former secretary for justice Elsie Leung said that she decided to attend because society had become “chaotic.”
“I know that we have a lot of problems in society, such as wealth inequality and young people having difficulty in buying property… but these problems cannot be solved in a chaotic society. If we want to solve these problems, we must have a stable and law-abiding society,” she said.
Also on stage, pro-Beijing heavyweight Maria Tam said that those guilty of violence or cyber-bullying will create a “vicious cycle” that will ultimately cause harm to themselves.
Meanwhile, Former police commissioner Tang King-shing and former police union chief Joe Chan also spoke at the rally, calling on the public to support the police as he condemned protesters as violent.
Police and frontline protesters have clashed in recent weeks amid several largely peaceful demonstrations against the extradition law. Last month in Admiralty, protesters were filmed throwing bricks and other objects at officers, leading them to deploy tear gas and rubber bullets to clear thousands from the streets. On July 1, some activists broke into and vandalised parts of the legislature.
One of the attendees on Saturday was Fila Chan, a 40-year-old woman who used to work in a law firm. She told HKFP that she wanted to oppose the violence seen at recent anti-extradition law protests: “I hate violence, especially from teenagers and youngsters,” she said.
Chan said that it was her first time attending such a rally after seeing images of protesters beating up police officers. She added that although she believes the government hasn’t handled the extradition bill crisis well, there is no reason to target officers who are “executing their duties.”
A 48-year-old woman from Guangzhou, who declined to give her name, told HKFP she brought her son to the rally to show support for the police, who she said have been treated unfairly by protesters. “They have a difficult job to do,” she added.
Participants are distributing signs expressing disapproval of recent anti-extradition law protests. One reads "I want freedom, say no to terror or violence," while the other reads "cherish Hong Kong, cherish freedom." pic.twitter.com/OsZ6lpcAei
— Hong Kong Free Press (@HongKongFP) July 20, 2019
Organisers, the Hong Kong Island Federation, said 316,000 participated in the rally.
Starry Lee, chairperson of the largest pro-Beijing party, the Democratic Alliance for the Betterment and Progress of Hong Kong, told HKFP that she respected peaceful processions but violence was not the solution: “We would like to express our peaceful voice… Hong Kong is in a very difficult time – we call upon all people to safeguard Hong Kong and stop using violence to fight for things.”
Lee said that she supported the police but did not approve of an independent investigation into the recent clashes led by judges: “No, I think there is already an investigation,” she said, adding that the existing mechanisms for investigation were sufficient.
During the rally, four ships passed through the harbour sounding their horns and carrying messages of support for those attending.
Attendees also erected a message board of supportive messages written on post-it notes.
Meanwhile, a similar “Lennon Wall” message board near the MTR station was vandalised.
The anti-extradition law movement has burgeoned into a popular display of anger against the government over its handling of the controversy, alleged police misconduct, as well as other grievances.
The Civil Human Rights Front, which organised an anti-extradition law march attended by “two million” last month, is set to hold another protest on Sunday.
Police, wary of further road occupations, have erected two-metre tall water barricades outside the government headquarters and chief executive’s office while removing surrounding metal fences to prevent protesters from building makeshift barricades in preparation for the weekend activities.