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In Pictures: Activists around the world stage ‘Fridays for Freedom’ protests in solidarity with Hong Kong pro-democracy movement

This article was originally published in the Hong Kong Free Press by Rhoda Kwan and it focuses on the work that NOW! is doing. Click here to read the original piece.

Human rights activists around the world have been protesting in front of Chinese embassies in solidarity with Hong Kong’s pro-democracy movement over recent Fridays. The string of protests are part of a weekly “Fridays for Freedom” campaign, which aims to coordinate international support for the city’s democratic movement.

Organised by NOW!, an NGO which advocates for global democracy, the initiative was joined by participants from six continents. Demonstrators hailed from cities such as Brussels, Barcelona, Milan, Montreal, Turin, San Francisco, Frankfurt, Dusseldorf, London, Helsinki, Glasgow, Edinburgh, San José, Kampala, Manchester, Buenos Aires, Melbourne, and Toronto.

Protesters gathered with placards demanding freedom for Hong Kong. Some displayed flags with slogans now banned in the city under the new national security law.

Other protesters held yellow umbrellas, a symbol of the 2014 Umbrella Movement which saw hundreds of thousands occupy the city’s streets in support of universal suffrage.

“We are witnessing one of the darkest periods of history unfolding: millions of people are losing their rights and freedoms, and the world is standing down. As governments are bowing to China’s economic muscles, people of the world need to stand in solidarity with Hongkongers and demand better from world leaders,” NOW!’s co-executive directors said in a statement.

“That’s why we are incredibly proud of the brave activists, who in all corners of the globe are standing up to ensure that world leaders protect Hong Kong and democracy!” 

One group from Sweden also protested against the treatment of the Uighur community in Xinjiang, China. Video footage which remerged on social media recently showed shackled, blindfolded and shaven members of the Uighur ethnic group being lead onto trains in northwestern China.

The international protests coincide with increasing pressure from Western governments over Hong Kong’s national security law, enacted by Beijing in June.

Earlier this month, US President Donald Trump ended Hong Kong’s special trading status and signed the Hong Kong Autonomy Act, empowering the US to impose sanctions on officials involved in the passing of the law. Meanwhile, the UK, Australia and Canada have all suspended their extradition treaties with Hong Kong as a response to the legislation, which could see suspects face trial in the mainland.

On June 30, Beijing enacted laws to prevent, stop and punish behaviours in Hong Kong that it deems a threat to national security. The legislation was inserted into the city’s mini-constitution, bypassing the local legislature, in order to criminalise subversion, secession, foreign interference and terrorism.

The move – which gives police sweeping new powers – alarmed democrats, civil society groups and trade partners, as such laws have been used broadly to silence and punish dissidents in China.

Hong Kong government officials have said that the new law is crucial to safeguard against the sometimes violent protests which have the city since last June.

In the few weeks since the law’s passing, democracy books have been pulled from the city’s public libraries, the slogan “liberate Hong Kong; the revolution of our time” has been banned, and students have been forbidden from partaking in any political activities at school.

According to organisers, the “Fridays for Freedom” campaign has attracted 700,000 followers online. The initiative forms part of a wider campaign, “Waves of Freedom”, which aims to create an international coalition to implement measures to safeguard Hong Kong’s remaining freedoms and advocate for democracy for the city. The next protest will take place this Friday.

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