Not-So High Flyers: Hong Kong airport cancels flights due to protests

August 22, 2019

2 min read

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What's going on here?

Thousands of anti-government protesters staged a mass sit-in at Hong Kong Airport, one of the world’s busiest transport hubs, in criticism of an extradition bill and police violence.

What does this mean?

Countless flights have been cancelled due to vast disruption at the departures area of Hong Kong airport involving thousands of (mainly student) protesters. This is especially concerning since 75 million passengers pass through the airport each year.

The demonstrations are in response to an extradition bill proposed two months ago by Carrie Lam, Hong Kong’s Chief Executive. It would have allowed suspected criminals to be sent to mainland China for trial, a country known for its covert actions. The bill would undermine Hong Kong’s freedoms under the “one country, two systems” policy, as it would likely be used to silence political dissidents. Protests ensured the bill was never passed, but it has not yet been removed. Hong Kong’s citizens are campaigning for its complete withdrawal, as well as an independent investigation into police brutality. This comes after the authorities used tear gas in enclosed spaces, beat protestors with batons and shot rubber bullets at close range, causing one woman’s eyes to bleed – a now iconic photograph of the violence.

Airport activity returned to normal last week after a judge granted an interim order to limit anti-government protests. Several protesters remained at the airport to apologise to travellers, holding up signs saying “sorry for the disruption, but we are fighting for our freedom”.

What's the big picture effect?

The protests began peacefully 11 weeks ago, but the government’s response has only enraged Hong Kong’s citizens, causing the current chaos. At one point there were over 2 million people on the streets, this is almost one third of the population, making the demonstration one of the largest in the world. The long-term effect of this could be massive.

The government in Hong Kong is far from truly democratic, with Beijing maintaining a vast amount of power in the region. Hong Kong’s leader is elected from a 1200-person election body of mostly Beijing supporters, and chosen by just 6% of eligible voters. Further, most seats in Hong Kong’s law-making body, the Legislative Council, are not elected. Dissent is therefore one of the only ways local people can make their opinions heard.

Even without this extradition bill, several pro-democracy legislators and five Hong Kong book-sellers have “gone missing” over recent years, appearing later in custody in China. Artists and writers are now under huge pressure to self-censor, a shocking indication of the kind of state Hong Kong could turn into if the protests have no effect. Demonstrators have already been likened to terrorists for their actions against the police, and as some are calling for Hong Kong’s independence, the tensions are not likely to decrease soon.

Report written by Eleanor Rickards

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