HONG KONG — Hong Kong’s legislative body on Thursday canceled debate for the rest of the week on a flash-point bill to allow extraditions to mainland China — leaving protesters emboldened and planning another major show of resistance against Beijing’s efforts to reshape the rules governing the former British colony.
The delay in the extradition bill was hailed as a symbolic victory among the demonstrators who have poured into Hong Kong’s streets this week. It also could become a rallying cry for another massive rally on Sunday.
Lawmakers are still expected to move ahead with the measure, which protesters view as another blow to Hong Kong’s freedoms and special status since returning to Chinese control more than two decades ago.
“We will still try our best to stall the passing of this very evil law,” said Claudia Mo, a pro-democracy lawmaker, in an interview. “It might be a losing battle we are fighting, but we still need to keep up the fight. We can’t just take it lying down.”
Authorities, meanwhile, stepped up their own crackdowns in response.
Arrests included some activists at hospitals where they were getting treatment for injuries sustained as a result of police tactics. Tweets from Hong Kong University students described police searches through dorm rooms.
A cyberattack on Telegram, a messaging app widely used for organizing the protests, underscored the tech-focused worries of protesters trying to evade and foil some of the world’s most sophisticated surveillance systems.
Telegram founder Pavel Durov said the hack originated from “IP addresses coming mostly from China,” but gave no further details. The app was hit with a powerful distributed denial of service (DDoS) attack, which clogs servers with junk requests.
“Historically, all state actor-sized DDoS . . . we experienced coincided in time with protests in Hong Kong,” he wrote. “This case was not an exception.”
Many demonstrators left the streets they had occupied. But they showed no signs of backing down.
Throughout the day, pockets of protesters wearing black clothes, with surgical masks obscuring their faces, wandered the streets near the Legislative Council, the territory’s lawmaking body.
A silent vigil was held on a pedestrian bridge leading to the complex. The demonstrators held up signs including “Stop shooting Hong Kong students,” and they created a sea of black T-shirts across the walkway as metal barricades and rubbish littered the ground below.
A heavy police presence remained throughout the city, blocking the road leading to the chief executive’s residence.
The Legislative Council, meanwhile, again postponed a reading on the extradition bill, canceling sessions on Thursday and Friday. The law would allow Hong Kong to extradite fugitives to countries it does not have a formal treaty with, including mainland China — removing a long-held “firewall” between the legal systems of the two jurisdictions.
The legislature had previously said it would bring the bill to a vote by June 20. Andrew Leung, the council’s president, had reserved 66 hours for debate.
Lawmakers said it would be hard for the legislature to keep to the planned timetable. Hong Kong’s legislature is controlled by a pro-Beijing faction that has the votes to push forward the law.
The Civil Human Rights Front (CHRF) — the group that organized the massive protest Sunday in opposition to the bill, with a historic turnout of more than 1 million people — called for more demonstrations over the weekend and into Monday.
“All Hong Kong people are holding on to the end!” the group said.
Pro-democracy lawmakers and human rights groups condemned the actions of police, who pushed back on demonstrators with tear gas and rubber bullets. Police said Thursday that they had released 150 canisters of tear gas in just a few hours during the afternoon. The Hong Kong hospital authority said 81 people were injured in the protests; the youngest of them was 15 years old.
“This excessive response from police is fueling tensions and is likely to contribute to worsening violence, rather than end it,” said Man-Kei Tam, director of Amnesty International in Hong Kong.
“We urge the Hong Kong police not to repeat such abuses against peaceful protesters, and instead ensure people can legitimately exercise their rights.”
Stephen Lo, the police commissioner, said police had made 11 arrests related to the protests on Wednesday. Separately, the Hong Kong-based South China Morning Post newspaper reported that Ivan Ip, the administrator of a Telegram messaging group with thousands of members, had been arrested at his home and charged with conspiracy to commit public nuisance. Injured demonstrators were being questioned by police upon arrival at nearby hospitals, prompting some to seek treatment further from central Hong Kong.
“I consider our officers are acting in accordance with guidelines,” said Lo in a news conference. “We have absolutely no bad intention to cause trouble to anyone. We are just doing our duty.”
Lo added that the Hong Kong police did not have any assistance or direction from the Chinese People’s Liberation Army (PLA).
Unlike the 2014 “Umbrella Revolution” protests that brought a 79-day occupation of Hong Kong’s main arteries, these demonstrations do not appear to have clear leadership, a probably intentional move aimed at making it harder for authorities to imprison activists. Leaders and organizations associated with the 2014 protests have been convicted on a variety of charges. Most recently, two professors who founded the movement were sentenced to 16 months in jail.
Demonstrators say they were taking a stand against the tightening grip Beijing is exerting over the semiautonomous territory, which was promised a degree of independence and democratic rule when it was handed over from the British to China in 1997.
The erosion of the city’s identity and way of life, they say, will speed up if the extradition bill passes: a nail in the coffin of the “one country, two systems” framework that guarantees Hong Kong residents rights including the freedom to demonstrate.
“[Chinese president] Xi Jinping has touched on the issue again and again that Hong Kong has to match [Beijing] on issues like national security and economic development,” said Ivan Choy, a political scientist at Chinese University of Hong Kong. “It means that Hong Kong has to pay more attention to one country, rather than two systems.
“Hong Kong is losing its own autonomy, and it is integrating into the whole system politically,” he said.
Yet, the stark differences between the mainland and Hong Kong were on clear display with a glance at Chinese state media. The English-language Global Times, which typically runs stories accusing the United States and Western countries of puppeteering Hong Kong, quoted someone advocating more harsh “direct” police action against the “masked, violent activists.”
Wednesday’s protests had support from a wide swath of Hong Kong society. People showed up in droves offering donations, supplies and medical care to the demonstrators. Many small businesses also shut down for the day in solidarity.
And in a complete distortion of facts, the China Daily English-language newspaper, run by the Chinese Communist Party, said 800,000 had demonstrated in support of the extradition laws Sunday.
“Two fleets of fishing boats sailed through Victoria Harbour in a two-hour sea parade organized by the Hong Kong Fishermen Consortium, displaying banners with slogans in support of the bill,” the article said.
In reality, more than 1 million people filled the streets of Hong Kong Sunday to demonstrate against the extradition measure, in a historic turnout, marching through the night.
Mainland China residents seemed largely unaware Wednesday of the events in Hong Kong.
“No. What’s going on?” a young Beijing woman in her 20s replied when The Washington Post asked whether she had heard the news.
Other Beijing residents passing through a crowded shopping street at lunchtime also claimed ignorance.
“Our Internet is a local-area network, and we can only see what they want us to see,” said one man in his 30s.
Yuan Wang and Jeanne Whalen in Beijing contributed to this report