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Protesters Worry Hong Kong's Freedoms Are Gradually Eroding


Protesters in Hong Kong are not going quietly. Hundreds of thousands were on the streets over the weekend, speaking out against legislation that would allow the government in Hong Kong to extradite criminal suspects to mainland China to face charges. Many in Hong Kong are worried that the freedoms that set the territory apart from mainland China are gradually eroding.

Despite all the protests, Hong Kong's leader, Chief Executive Carrie Lam, has vowed to push forward with the bill, claiming this.


CARRIE LAM: This bill is not initiated by the Central People's Government. I have not received any instruction or mandate from Beijing.

MARTIN: Pro-democracy activist Emily Lau served on Hong Kong's legislative council for 25 years, and she joins us now from the BBC studios in Hong Kong.

Ms. Lau, thanks so much for being with us this morning.

EMILY LAU: Oh, hello. Good afternoon. Oh, good morning.

MARTIN: Good morning. Good afternoon. Thanks for making the time. As you well know, protest has been part of Hong Kong's history - pro-democracy protests. What, if anything, feels different this time?

LAU: Well, we are a city of protests, according to Lonely Planet and - but this time, it is really very close to the hearts of many Hong Kong people. In the past, we fought for democracy in China, human rights and all these things. Now we are fighting for our own future, our personal freedom, our safety and the rule of law underpinned by an independent judiciary - something that mainland China does not have.

And mainland China promised us in 1997 that we will have 50 years of one country, two systems, where our free lifestyle, the rule of law, can remain. But now it seems it's all crashing down, and that's why you saw a million people marching with their kids, with the elderly, the very old, the very young, the very rich, the very poor. They've all poured into the streets of Hong Kong to show they are terrified.

And unfortunately, Carrie Lam would not listen. She said, oh, yeah. I heard you. I know there are huge numbers. But we will resume the debate in the Legislative Council on Wednesday. And the people are very, very angry and very nervous.

MARTIN: But what compels her to pay attention to all those people marching in the streets?

LAU: Well, that - you're right because we did not elect her. She got elected with 777 votes from the political and business elites, who listen to the orders of Beijing. And - but in any city - city of 7 million people - and if you have a million marching, that must be a big deal, isn't it, Rachel? (Laughter) And if anybody who refuse to listen to that, I'm sure there should be consequences.

MARTIN: So can you explain for those who don't follow the relationship between mainland China and Hong Kong closely just how much control China - mainland - has over Hong Kong and how you see things slipping away - Hong Kong's very existence?

LAU: Beijing promised us a high degree of autonomy over our own internal affairs. But in the last few years, especially after President Xi Jinping took charge in China, he adopted a very harsh policy on the whole country, like in Xinjiang - more than a million people were locked up - and also in Hong Kong. We saw our freedoms, the rule of law, civil liberties being eroded. And people are not used to it. That's our bottom line - personal safety and freedoms - things we enjoy under British rule, and we continue to enjoy. And we saw that slipping away.

MARTIN: What do you want allies in the United States to be doing in this moment?

LAU: I hope people will raise questions in Congress. We have many friends in the United States. The United States is our big trading partner. So I hope when you see your good friend Hong Kong is in such deep trouble, I hope you will speak out. Take whatever action that you think will help because we are a small city. We don't want to be crushed by evil forces.

MARTIN: Emily Lau, former member of Hong Kong's Legislative Council, pro-democracy activist in Hong Kong, thank you for your time.

LAU: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.