The months-long pro-democracy protests in Hong Kong might be 7,200 miles away from Orange Coast College, but for two students on campus the unrest is close to home.
Yuna Wantanabe, an 18-year-old communications major, and Justin Chang, also 18 and a liberal arts major, are international students raised in Hong Kong and who support the pro-democracy or Occupy movement.
According to news reports, the protests began on June 9 when a controversial extradition law was introduced that would have extended Hong Kong’s extradition agreements to include Taiwan and China.
The impetus for the bill came when officials were unable to charge or extradite a Hong Kong citizen who reportedly murdered his pregnant girlfriend while in Taiwan.
However, many in Hong Kong feared the bill would have disallowed political dissidents because the government of China’s President Xi Jinping is known for brutal reprisals against activists.
The effort to extradite Hong Kong residents was quashed after weeks of protests, but the spark ignited ongoing pro-democracy protests across Hong Kong. Watanabe and Chang said the protests are frightening.
“They can’t say anything because they’re so scared. Because once the government finds out that you’ve been talking behind their backs, the whole family, the name itself, could bring the whole family misery,” Wantanabe said.
While the bill has been formally removed from legislation, China is reportedly pressuring the chief executive of the legislature Carrie Lam to resign. On this issue alone, Beijing and the Occupy movement are united.
“Protests keep going on. People start to see what the police are doing and some of them speak up and stand up, not because of political reason, but simply because they just can’t just stay home and watch the news and do nothing because this is, this is our home,” Chang said.
The hostilities between the police and the Occupy protesters dates back to the Umbrella Revolution in 2014 after voting reforms were introduced that many said would China greater control over Hong Kong’s politics.
Wantanabe said her parents have been victims of pro-Chinese laws.
“Although they know that my dad is innocent, they caught my dad first without having this law passed on. He was arrested, he was detained for 48 hours. And then what happened after that? And then he came out innocent and yet he went back in and out twice after that. So, three times in total,” Wantanabe said.
Wantanabe’s friends have also been jailed for their role in the protests. Both Chang and Wantanabe spoke of protesters being imprisoned in a large pitch dark cell called the Black Room.
“She had a lot of bruises when she came out and she told me what was going on. She was forced to perform oral sex if she would disobey or she didn’t respond,” Wantanabe said of one of her friend’s imprisonment.
Recently, the Occupy protesters were nominated for a Nobel Peace Prize.
“If the Nobel Peace Prize was awarded, that means God, I’m gonna start crying. I’ll be so happy. Cause like if we get recognized for these things, it means that we can push, you know, this system, you know this justice system. Yeah. You know this, you know this whole system of like people trying to control us,” Wantanabe said.
Although Chang and Wantanabe are far from the protests in Hong Kong, Wantanabe still sees herself as an active part of the Occupy movement.
“So, the reason why I’m trying to speak out is because I’m doing something that I can’t do because I’m over here, so I’m trying to stress, well yeah, I know you can’t do it in Hong Kong, but it’s to be effective in Hong Kong. But now that we are not in Hong Kong, I’m trying to raise more awareness out here. Yeah, I’m doing my best,” Wantanabe said.
Hong Kong protests
- Started in June against proposals to allow extradition to mainland China.
- Critics feared proposal could undermine the city’s judicial independence and endanger dissidents.
- Hong Kong was a British colony until 1997 and was controlled by Britain.
- Since returning to Chinese rule, it has more autonomy than the mainland, and its people have more rights. The arrangement is known as “one country, two systems.”
- City leader Carrie Lam agreed to suspend the extradition bill but demonstrations developed to include demands for full democracy and an inquiry into police actions.
- Clashes between police and activists have become increasingly violent with police firing live bullets and protesters attacking officers and throwing petrol bombs.