Hong Kong civil servants join protests against extradition bill

By on 09/08/2019 | Updated on 24/09/2020
Civil servants demonstrated against their employer in solidarity with citizens and over concerns of police misconduct. (Image courtesy: Studio Incendo/Flickr).

Civil servants in Hong Kong took to the streets on 2 August to protest against a government bill that would allow authorities to extradite suspected criminals to mainland China, in a rare act of public sector defiance.

The demonstration, which organisers estimate was attended by 40,000 people – not all of them civil servants – follows two months of unrest in Hong Kong as citizens fight the bill. The government has suspended the bill, but not withdrawn it.   

The protestors ignored a government order to remain “totally loyal” to Hong Kong’s leader, Carrie Lam, and stern warnings that their participation in the protest would violate the civil service code of conduct with respect to political neutrality.

“At this difficult moment, government colleagues have to stay united and work together to uphold the core values of the civil service,” the government said in a statement.

Officials ignored the warning, crowding into a public park near government offices – some wearing masks to conceal their identity. According to The Guardian, one of the organisers told the crowd: “In the face of right and wrong, if we stay silent we betray our duty.” The crowd responded by shouting: “Hong Kong people, go! Hong Kong civil servants, go!” 

Demands for government

The rally came after an open letter, published on Facebook by an anonymous group claiming to represent civil servants, set out five demands to government: the complete withdrawal of the extradition bill; a halt to descriptions of the protests as ‘rioting’; the dropping of charges against those arrested; an independent inquiry into police misconduct; and a resumption of political reform. Protesters are also calling on Lam, who has made few public appearances since the protests began, to resign.

It is thought many civil servants were moved to act in solidarity with citizens after a mob beating of protesters in a train station on 21 July. While police have been quick to arrest anti-government demonstrators, they have been criticised for a slow response to violence against protestors.

Maggie Cheng from Hong Kong’s Home Affairs department said in an interview, as reported by the New York Times: “I feel heartbroken because the police have become a political tool for the government to stand behind”.

General strike

Medical workers also protested on the same day as civil servants, and further demonstrations by Hong Kong residents followed over the weekend and on Monday 5 August – when a general strike brought trains and roads to a standstill, and led to the cancellation of more than 200 flights from Hong Kong airport. Union officials estimate that 350,000 people stayed home from work.

Zhang Xiaoming, the director of the Hong Kong and Macau Affairs Office, said at an event last week: “The violence is getting more and more intense, impacting an increasingly wide part of the society. It can be said that Hong Kong is facing the most serious situation since its return” to Chinese rule in 1997.

China has offered its full support to Hong Kong’s leader and police force, and called for violent protesters to be swiftly punished.  

Under Chinese rule Hong Kong has been allowed to retain extensive freedoms, such as an independent judiciary, but many residents see the extradition bill as the latest step in a march towards mainland control.

About Mia Hunt

Mia is a journalist and editor with a background in covering commercial property, having been market reports and supplements editor at trade title Property Week and deputy editor of Shopping Centre magazine, now known as Retail Destination. She has also undertaken freelance work for several publications including the preview magazine of international trade show, MAPIC, and TES Global (formerly the Times Educational Supplement) and has produced a white paper on energy efficiency in business for E.ON. Between 2014 and 2016, she was a member of the Revo Customer Experience Committee and an ACE Awards judge. Mia graduated from Kingston University with a first-class degree in journalism and was part of the team that produced The River newspaper, which won Publication of the Year at the Guardian Student Media Awards in 2010.

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