China bars online images as Hong Kong explodes
Instagram has been blocked in mainland China since Sept. 28, in an evident attempt to stop images of pro-democracy protests in Hong Kong as street clashes entered their third day. Following repression of the massive Occupy Central demonstration, thousands of people have remained on the streets of Hong Kong, defying tear gas and ignoring orders to disperse. Overnight, riot police advanced on crowds who ignored official warnings that the demonstrations were illegal. In what can be read as a veiled threat, Hong Kong's chief executive CY Leung reassured the public that rumors the Chinese army might intervene are untrue. (Shanghaiist, Sept. 29; BBC News, Sept. 28)
What began as a student strike in support of a democratic election system exploded Sept. 26, as thousands gathered outside the Government Headquarters in Tamar. Around 200 protesters managed to breach the police cordon and climb into Civic Square, a former public protest zone that was sealed behind high security fences two months ago. The protesters in Civic Square held out overnight, but the next day riot police used pepper spray and made dozens of arrests—including the 17-year-old leader of student activist group Scholarism, Joshua Wong, who faces the serious charge of assualting an officer and was denied bail. By mid-afternoon the next day, the final protesters were removed by police, and more arrests made—including radical legislator "Longhair" Leung Kwok-hung of the League of Social Democrats.
The protests were sparked by the decision handed down on Aug. 31 by the Standing Committee of China's National People's Congress, ruling out democratic elections in Hong Kong in 2017. Activists charge that this is a betrayal of a commitment to allow the territory's first-ever free elections by that year when Hong Kong was transferred to Chinese rule in 1997 after more than 150 years of British colonial administration.
In July, the Chinese government issued a "white paper" stating that it has "comprehensive jurisdiction" over Hong Kong and that "the high degree of autonomy of [Hong Kong] is not an inherent power, but one that comes solely from the authorization by the central leadership." In the following month's Standing Committee decision, Hong Kong citizens will be allowed to vote for the chief executive, but the candidates will have to be approved by a special committee similar to the Beijing-appointed committee that currently appoints the chief executive.
Occupy Central repeatedly postponed following through on its threat to actually launch the occupation, with leaders Benny Tai Yiu-ting and Dr. Chan Kin-man coming under increasing pressure from young students. When the occupation was finally launched, leadership had effectively shifted to the Wong and the Scholarship movement. (New Bloom, Sept. 30; Vox, Sept. 28; Chinaworker.info, Sept. 27)
Organized labor has also got on board. At a Sept. 24 press conference, 25 Hong Kong social groups and unions, including the Confederation of Trade Unions, issued a statement in support for universal suffrage and the demands of the student strike then getting underway. The statement also criticized the "laissez-faire" economic policy that favors the business sector, resulting in an un-regulated labor market and the lack of social security. The statements said that the handover of Hong Kong to China "has changed nothing of the colonial system of favoring the rich. This is why, despite the social movement fighting for an improved pension system and for the regulating of work hours, the government continues to turn a deaf ear." (China Labour Net, Sept. 29)