Welcome to Hong Kong: Travelers get crash course in city’s unrest via airport protesters

A crowd of pro-democracy protesters gathered at Hong Kong International Airport today to spread their message to international arrivals to the city. Photo by Iris To.
A crowd of pro-democracy protesters gathered at Hong Kong International Airport today to spread their message to international arrivals to the city. Photo by Iris To.

Hong Kong’s pro-democracy protesters sought to bring their message to an international audience, staging a protest inside the arrivals of Hong Kong International Airport in an effort to give travelers “an immediate glimpse” into the unrest in the city.

Protesters started gathering in the arrivals hall at 1pm, chanting slogans like “free Hong Kong”, “Carrie Lam step down” and “respond to the five demands.” A number also held out laptops and tablets to show travelers videos of police action and previous protests.

Several travelers, meanwhile, filmed the protest on their phones.

A protester holds up a tablet computer to show travelers footage of past protests. Photo by Iris To.
A protester holds up a tablet computer to show travelers footage of past protests. Photo by Iris To.

One tourist from Barcelona said the protest was “a really great thing,” saying he felt most other tourists would feel the same.

“I think tourists that are not close-minded will support this, at least most tourists from the West,” he said. “Democracy and the freedom of speech are not something that is only good for Hong Kong, but are global values that are important to the rest of the world. We should all protect them.”

Another tourist from Australia, who gave his name as Ed, was watching the protests from above with his wife.

“I was just waiting for my flight, so I’m here,” he laughed. “But of course, it is right to protest for human rights. We had seen news about the extradition bill; it is not a good thing, so of course people would protest against it. Nothing wrong here at all.”

His wife, who asked not to be named, added that “the violence at the [Yuen Long MTR] station the other day was a bit worrying, but so far protest here at the airport is very peaceful — they are just getting their points across.”

Not everyone was so supportive. At one point, a young man, apparently from the mainland, began yelling at the protesters. He was quickly escorted away, but not before one woman yelled back, “Don’t come to Hong Kong!”

Some protesters had signage translated into multiple languages with information about the protests, which were sparked by fears over a now-suspended extradition bill, but have since expanded to include more broadly pro-democratic demands.

Others had printed out leaflets and were handing them out to people passing through the terminal.

Protesters with signs in multiple languages with information about the protest movement. Photo by Iris To.
Protesters with signs in multiple languages with information about the protest movement. Photo by Iris To.

One woman handing out leaflets, surnamed Wong, cited Beijing’s “tightening rule” and the government’s refusal to adequately address protesters’ demands as her motivation for continuing to protest.

“I’ve been in pretty much all the protests since June 9,” she said.

“My leaflets are in both Chinese and English. I hope international tourists will get to know what is going on in Hong Kong by reading them, and a more global majority will be concerned. How the Chinese rule Hong Kong is unreasonable, and we cannot ignore that.”

The protest was initiated by employees in the airline industry, many of whom turned up today to sign a petition criticizing the government’s handling of the extradition bill and police’s heavy-handed tactics at past protests.

Yoko Tsang, 29, said the more she traveled around the world as a flight attendant, the more she has come to cherish Hong Kong’s freedoms, which she feels are increasingly under attack.

Aviation industry workers line up to sign a petition criticizing the government and police. Photo by Iris To.
Aviation industry workers line up to sign a petition criticizing the government and police. Photo by Iris To.

“No matter where we go, Hong Kong is always our home and our roots,” she said. “Whether it’s before or after work, we have to fight for time to show our support in rallies.”

Cathay Pacific’s Flight Attendants Union said it supported the rally and encouraged members to join, a stance that earned it a rebuke in China’s state media.

“We feel deep regret with the incapability of our [Chief Executive] Carrie Lam and her team that only play tricks to fool its people,” the union said in a message on Facebook, referring to the city’s unelected leader.

One particularly creative group of protesters were using a television to display a satirical version of an airline safety announcement video that details protester demands and warns of protests in the city.

“Kindly put on your masks and black t-shirts… when attending the assemblies,” the video said, in reference to the color widely adopted by anti-government protesters.

One student protester, surnamed Lam, said taking their message to the airport had injected a little energy into the movement after weeks of demonstrations to no avail.

“I feel like with all the protests going on, people had been getting less responsive, or even feeling indifferent,” she said. “At least a protest here at the airport is more special, and hopefully people would notice.”

Another protester, who gave his name as Kelvin, agreed.

“I thought it was great that we are trying out to different places to protest, since if we keep going back to Admiralty the government is still going to ignore us,” he said, adding that he was upset with the escalating violence in Hong Kong.

“First it is the police, and now the thugs? A month ago, we never thought we would end up here.”

Additional reporting by AFP.

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CITY: HONG KONGCATEGORY: NEWSSUB-CATEGORIES: POLITICS, TRANSPORTATION

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