Police descended on the streets of Hong Kong on Wednesday, using rubber bullets, pepper spray, and tear gas to quash escalating protests sparked by a highly controversial extradition bill. Hong Kong residents, rallying since Sunday against the proposed change that would permit the extradition of criminal suspects to mainland China, were met with violence at the hands of officials outfitted in riot gear and armed with batons. In response, Amnesty International’s Hong Kong director, Man-kei Tam, shared a statement on Wednesday denouncing the police’s use of force as “ugly.”
The protests began on Sunday with numbers in the hundreds of thousands. They continued on Wednesday around the city’s Legislative Council building, where the bill was set to be debated in the early afternoon. Though Hong Kong Chief Executive Carrie Lam had previously maintained that the debate over the bill would continue as usual, it was eventually postponed “to a later time to be determined” amid the chaos. And while a portion of protesters scattered following that announcement, those who stayed were pushed back and roughed up by the officers who arrived several hours later.
According to CNN, 72 people have been injured as officials beat back the protesters from the Legislative Council area, with crowds regrouping and occupying the neighboring streets. In the face of the semi-autonomous city’s biggest protests since the Occupy Central movement, also known as the Umbrella Revolution, in 2014, Lam has reaffirmed her support for the bill, maintaining that it is necessary to prevent criminals from taking refuge in Hong Kong; her continued approval was echoed by Chinese officials. The bill is widely condemned by pro-democracy advocates, who say it will allow Beijing to target activists and journalists in Hong Kong who are currently protected under Hong Kong law thanks to the “one country, two systems” arrangement in place since China took control of the former British colony in 1997.
With no end to the protests in sight, the next date to watch is next Thursday, when a final vote will be held on the bill.