“They want to tear down all the material because they want to silence us,” said a black-clad protester named John, 30, who works in real estate. “We don’t care how much they tear down; we’ll just come back tomorrow, every night and day.”
Protesters remained unfazed by the sweep of Lennon Walls and showed no signs of backing down. Nor does the government show any willingness to make concessions, and tensions are running high as the 70th anniversary of Communist Party rule in China approaches.
The public mosaics expressing support for the democracy movement have come to define Hong Kong’s protests since they erupted in June over a controversial extradition bill. Though the bill has been shelved by the city’s embattled leader, Carrie Lam, protesters are digging in on their remaining four demands, including free elections and an independent inquiry into police violence this summer.
Behind the mural sweep was outspoken lawmaker Junius Ho, who became a polarizing figure after a shocking subway attack on July 21 when a mob of white-shirted, rod-wielding men with Chinese flags stormed a station and indiscriminately beat civilians, injuring at least 45 people, including journalists and a lawmaker. Ho was accused of colluding with the attackers after he was filmed in the area that evening shaking hands with men wearing white. He has denied any connection.
Protesters preempted the sweep by plastering pictures of Ho on walkways by Lennon Walls so cleaners would need to remove them. Passersby took videos of themselves walking on the pictures, which had been marked with fangs and expletives.
“They have the right to do it,” said Poon, a 35-year-old designer who identified himself by his surname, referring to Ho’s supporters tearing down the murals. “No one can stop them. They have the right to express their opinions, only no violence.”
Ho returned to headlines Wednesday after the powerful Hong Kong Jockey Club canceled a race in which his horse, Hong Kong Bet, was participating. The club said it scrapped the event due to “potential social unrest,” fearing the stadium would become the next protest flash point.
Meanwhile, in Hong Kong’s western area of Tuen Mun, thousands crowded into every inch of shade as they congregated in a playground. A small group of protesters played soccer while others handed out protest gear such as face masks and protective sleeves for identity cards to prevent the tracking of personal information. Police estimated that 4,300 attended the Tuen Mun rally.
Hong Kong’s subway closed two stations ahead in anticipation of clashes.
Ostensibly the demonstration was about damas, or “singing aunties,” women who sing loudly into microphones in parks late at night and dance for men and donations. Depending on the neighborhood, protest events often take up local issues. A police ban on the damas event was overturned.
But as the shouts and cheers indicated, it was another anti-government demonstration. Protesters in the stands chanted “Liberate Hong Kong! Revolution of our times!” and “Add oil!” Black-clad protesters played soccer before unfolding umbrellas to kick off a march under the sweltering sun.
“The Hong Kong government is still not responding to the five demands,” said Harrison, 28, an airline worker. “We want to keep fighting until the day they respond to our five demands. We keep fighting until the police pay for what they’ve done to us.”
By late afternoon, the march devolved into confrontations between police and protesters near a shuttered subway station. Protesters threw bricks, built barricades and set fires. A few burned a Chinese flag — a major offense in the eyes of Beijing. Police charged and fired tear gas.
The police have come under intense scrutiny since Amnesty International this past week issued a report accusing them of an “alarming pattern” of “reckless and indiscriminate” tactics against protesters.
Before Hong Kong, a former British colony, was returned to Chinese sovereignty in 1997, Beijing promised that the city would have a high level of autonomy for 50 years. Hong Kongers were supposed to enjoy freedoms denied to those in mainland China, such as rule of law, a free press and independent judiciary.