A history under Chinese rule after the 1997 handover

A 2014 decision by the central Chinese government to pre-select candidates for Hong Kong’s top job dashed hopes that the city would achieve the promised goal of true universal suffrage.

The move coincided with a civil disobedience movement coordinated by three democracy advocates, including law professor Benny Tye. The Occupy Central with Love and Peace movement aimed to paralyze the city’s main financial district to force the government to allow fully free elections.

Police efforts to clear the streets with tear gas prompted the first protesters to shield themselves with umbrellas, giving the movement its other name: the Umbrella Revolution.

The sit-in, which began in September and brought activists like Joshua Wong to international attention, spread outward from the city’s government offices, eventually blocking major roads in three major districts and polarizing public opinion toward the movement.

The protest camps were cleared after 79 days, ending the movement without Beijing granting any of its demands for wider democracy. But a new generation of pro-democracy leaders had been inspired by the experience.

2016: Legislative cancellations

Undeterred by the stagnant movement of 2014, young democracy advocates sought to change the system from within by running for seats in the city’s legislature. Although some candidates were barred from asking questions about their views on Hong Kong independence, others were elected.

At the start of the new legislative term, some activists used the swearing-in ceremony to stage protests against the central government, with activist Sixtus “Baggio” Leung holding a banner reading “Hong Kong is not China” during his swearing-in . The series of protests resulted in six elected representatives being barred from taking office.

2019: Protests against the extradition

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Police clash with protesters in Hong Kong in August 2019.Anthony Wallace/AFP via Getty Images

In early 2019, after a Hong Kong woman was murdered by her Hong Kong boyfriend while on vacation in Taiwan, authorities proposed an extradition bill that would allow fugitive criminals to be sent for trial to countries without extradition agreements with Hong Kong, including Taiwan and mainland China.

The bill exposed Hong Kongers to mainland China’s opaque legal system, raising fears it could be used to target pro-democracy elements in the city and further curtail its freedoms. Protests against the bill swelled throughout the summer, as reports of police brutality against protests and the authorities’ initial reluctance to withdraw the bill fueled further protest demands.

The largest protest, organizers said, drew as many as 2 million people.

Although the extradition bill was eventually withdrawn, protests continued until January 2020, when Hong Kong confirmed its first case of the coronavirus. More than 10,200 people have been arrested in the sometimes violent protests, which authorities have sought to characterize as a series of riots sponsored by foreign powers. About 2,850 have been prosecuted, with many imprisoned for years.

2020: National Security Act

Andrew Wan
Former lawmaker Andrew Wan, seen here being detained during protests on July 1, 2020, is a defendant in Hong Kong’s biggest single national security case. Vincent Yu / AP File

In response to the 2019 protests, Beijing imposed a national security law on Hong Kong, saying it was necessary to restore order. The law, passed on the eve of the anniversary of the surrender, made secession, subversion, terrorism and collusion with foreign powers punishable by life imprisonment. It also allowed suspects to be tried in mainland China. Foreign governments and rights activists criticized the law as vaguely worded and draconian.

Since then, the law has been used to target and shut down Hong Kong’s political opposition. Nearly 200 people have been arrested under the law, including 81 opposition leaders, 92 ordinary citizens with no previous public profile and 15 journalists, according to the Hong Kong Democracy Council, a Washington-based non-governmental organization.

The vast majority of the city’s pro-democracy figures are now behind bars, retired from public life or living in self-imposed exile.

Mass arrests and raids on the city’s pro-democracy press offices have spread fear across the city, shutting down independent media outlets and dozens of unions and other civil society groups.

Lee, Hong Kong’s new chief executive, has said one of his top priorities is to enact the Article 23 legislation that failed in 2003, raising fears that the city’s freedoms will be further eroded.

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