Pro-democracy protesters rally peacefully in Hong Kong

Salesian priest tells Catholics to show restraint to avoid a repeat of the Tiananmen Square massacre
Pro-democracy protesters rally peacefully in Hong Kong

About 1.7 million protesters brave heavy rain in Hong Kong for their pro-democracy rally on Aug. 18. Concern is growing that the ongoing protests could lead to a brutal military intervention by Beijing. ( photo)

Nearly two million Hong Kong people demonstrated peacefully in the rain to turn up the heat on the government after 11 weeks of protests in the Chinese territory.

The protest’s organizers, the Civil Human Rights Front (CHRF), said 1.7 million people gathered under umbrellas in Victoria Park for the Aug. 18 rally.

Although the controversial extradition bill that sparked the protests has been suspended, the Hong Kong government is now facing a broader movement demanding democratic reform and an investigation into alleged police brutality.

Protesters are making five demands: full withdrawal of the controversial bill; a retraction of characterization of the protests as riots; the unconditional release of all arrested protesters; the formation of an independent commission of inquiry into all events since June; and universal suffrage.

The CHRF is also demanding the resignation of the Security Department head and the top three ranked police chiefs because of alleged police violence.

The rally started at 2 p.m. but a massive crowd of protesters came two hours earlier to the park and filled up nearby MTR train stations.

“August 31 is the fifth anniversary of the National People's Congress's undemocratic and restrictive decision on universal suffrage in Hong Kong," the CHRF said in a statement after the rally.

“We believe only a true democratic system can help Hong Kong to move on. We ask all of you to gather again August 31.”

Before the rally, more than 500 Catholics attended a prayer meeting organized by the Justice and Peace Commission of Hong Kong (JPC) and the Hong Kong Federation of Catholic Students. 

'Endless bleeding'

Father Carlos Cheung, 36, told the faithful during the prayer meeting that this situation was not simply a matter of different political stances but was also about conscience.

“We have been exposed to endless bleeding for more than two months. This is about people being abused by the government, people being falsely arrested by the police, people being unfairly prosecuted by the Department of Justice, people being threatened with white terror,” he said.

“Do we have no feeling in these at all? Dear sisters and brothers, where is our conscience? As Christians who are well familiar with words of justice, do we choose to remain silent when the world needs us to speak up?”

The Salesian priest reminded the faithful that the movement is not looking for short-term victories in this campaign and it would be a long-term battle.

“Young people were massacred in Tiananmen Square on June 4, 1989. The same may happen again in Hong Kong. Therefore, we must show restraint. We should not sacrifice ourselves aimlessly for this evil regime,” Father Cheung said.

JPC officer Jackie Hung said the rally was a peaceful one by people determined to express their demands.

She claimed that the government was blindly supporting the police and it showed there was very little chance of setting up an independent investigation committee.

“A responsible government should listen to public opinion, especially when more than a million people voice it in the streets. However, our Hong Kong government has not done it,” Hung said. 

Cardinal John Tong, the apostolic administrator of Hong Kong, will celebrate a Mass on Aug. 23 focusing on the situation in the city.

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