- The Washington Times - Tuesday, July 1, 2003

HONG KONG — Hundreds of thousands of angry and worried Hong Kong residents marched peacefully yesterday, the sixth anniversary of Hong Kong’s return to China, to protest an antisubversion bill they fear will undermine freedoms of speech, press and assembly.

“This will push Hong Kong toward an era of tyranny,” said W.C. Mak, a 74-year-old retired nurse. Miss Mak said that the last time she demonstrated was June 1989, after Chinese troops crushed a student democracy movement in Beijing and 1 million stunned people in Hong Kong, then a British colony, took to the streets.

An organizer of yesterday’s protest, Richard Tsoi, said more than 500,000 people turned out.

Police said 350,000 people were on the streets during the peak of the demonstration. The total would have been higher. They acknowledged that it was the biggest protest here since the June 4, 1989, crackdown in Tiananmen Square shocked Hong Kong.



Hong Kong Chief Executive Tung Chee-hwa issued a statement that he was “concerned” so many people had protested. Mr. Tung reiterated assurances that his government will “continue to take active steps to maintain and safeguard rights and freedoms.”

Hong Kong’s national security bill, expected to pass in a few days, will ban subversion, treason, sedition and other crimes against the state, giving police more powers and carrying life prison sentences for some offenses.

Critics worry about possible mainland-style suppression of dissent in Hong Kong, although the government insists it is not a concern and that constitutionally protected liberties will not be harmed.

The black-clad protesters waved signs as they formed a long corridor as wide as two dozen people. The demonstration route extended across a wide stretch of Hong Kong island, from an urban park to government headquarters. Lines to join the march were so long that some people had to wait about four hours to get going.

To commemorate the 1997 return of Chinese sovereignty, a uniformed band played patriotic music earlier in the morning and helicopters dragged the Chinese and Hong Kong flags through the sky as government leaders, including Chinese Prime Minister Wen Jiabao and Mr. Tung, stood at silent attention.

Activists outside torched the flag of the Chinese Communist Party, demanding an end to its monopoly on power in the mainland and scuffling with police.

Mr. Wen told an audience of political and business elite that Beijing would honor its pledge to allow Hong Kong considerable autonomy to preserve its “unique position and irreplaceable role” within China and the global economy.

Mr. Wen was later asked about the antisubversion bill and said it “absolutely will not affect the different rights and freedoms Hong Kong people, including reporters, enjoy under the law.”

Mr. Wen left Hong Kong before the protest march.

Vincent Lui, a 35-year-old engineer who said he had never protested before, turned out with his wife and two children, holding a black flag that said: “We are angry.”

When Hong Kong was returned to China in 1997, an arrangement dubbed “one country, two systems” guaranteed that the territory could maintain its liberties. But its miniconstitution also required that it pass an antisubversion bill. Critics accuse Hong Kong officials of going too far.

Many critics say they believe that Hong Kong will use the law to ban Falun Gong, the meditation group outlawed in mainland China as an “evil” sect. Beijing is trying to eradicate Falun Gong in the mainland, but the group remains legal in Hong Kong and frequently demonstrates here.

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