CATHOLIC NEWS OF THE WEEK . Sunday, 1 September 2019

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Mighty show of peace at rain drenched rally

HONG KONG (SE): Over 500 people joined a prayer service, organised by the Justice and Peace Commission and the Hong Kong Federation of Catholic Students, at the music kiosk of Victoria Park on August 18 at 2.00pm before a peaceful rally against the now-suspended extradition bill and police brutality against protesters. 
 
Father Carlos Cheung Sam-yui reminded those present that the fight for justice is a long-term one, so even if the government does not listen to the people, they must keep making their voices through their parishes and communities.
 
He said people had seen enough violence committed by the police over the past two months as well as the mudslinging tactics of the government against the protesters at press conferences. “We are not only here to pray, but also tell the government that if it goes on with this approach, it is not correct,” he said.
 
The Civil Human Rights Front, who organised the rally, claimed a turnout of at least 1.7 million, while the police said around 128,000 people were in Victoria Park during the rally’s peak. 
The government issued a statement expressing its regret over the rally targeting the police and reiterated its support for the police’s dedication to maintaining law and order. It said the police used minimum force to disperse protesters during clashes with protesters, during which 180 officers were injured. 
 
The government issued another statement after the rally ended saying that it was most important to restore social order as soon as possible, it would then would try to rebuild social harmony through sincere dialogue. It also noted that the rally, though largely peaceful, had caused inconvenience to the public by occupying major roads.
 
Chief executive, Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor met the media on the morning of August 20, expressing her hope that the peaceful rally marked a return to peace and a moving away from violence. She said the Independent Police Complaints Council had received 174 complaints related to public events, with about one third concerning the attack in Yuen Long. She said overseas experts who had dealt with similar crises would be enlisted and a supervising team had been set up in the council to ensure an objective inquiry into different incidents.
 
Jackie Hung Ling-yu, project officer of the Justice and Peace Commission and a member of the Civil Human Rights Front, pointed out that a strengthened police complaints council may not win the trust of people as members, appointed by the government, are mostly from the pro-establishment camp. 
 
She also raised concerns over people with more objective views, like scholars and legal experts, leaving the council. 
 
Secondly, the independent council cannot deal with a case until it has been processed by the Complaints Against Police Office, whose fairness is questionable as it is composed of police officers. She added that the council has often been criticised by the public, especially marginalised groups like ethnic minorities and sex workers, for its rude manners against complainants. 
 
She reiterated that the people want a truly independent commission of inquiry instead of one consisting only of police officers. 
 
She felt that the government’s blind support for the police made hope for an independent inquiry committee seem remote. She characterised it as irresponsible and stubbornly deaf to the demands of over a million people.
 
However, she said the front was glad to see that Hongkongers could peacefully express their views even without the arrangements and assistance of the police. 
 
Addressing the government’s complaint about the blocking of major roads, Hung blamed the police for not allowing a proper march in the first place. Thus signs and stations showing participants which way to go could not be set up. She believes the rally would have been even more orderly had the police had permitted them to organise it properly.
 
She said the front repeatedly reminded participants to remain peaceful and not to make any unnecessary sacrifices because inciting people to violence could have been a tactic used by the undercover police or pro-government elements. 
 
Police officers were discovered to have disguised themselves as protesters at a protest in Causeway Bay on August 11 and alleged mainland agents were found among protesters at the airport on August 13. Hung said that as a result, participants on August 18 were more cautious whenever they were encouraged to take radical action.
 
Hung said that even though the government may turn a blind eye to the request of the protesters, she hopes protesters can stick to peaceful approaches. “First, violence against violence deepens hatred and is against Catholic principles. Secondly, it is the government who ultimately benefits from violent protests,” she said. 
 
She explained that violence can easily undermine public support and give the government an excuse to ignore protesters’ demands.
 
The front has applied for the permission to organise another rally on August 31.

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