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The face of resistance: Graduate student unmasks himself at Hong Kong protest

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Smith Hall, where the UW department of political science is located.

Editor’s note: Tim Phung is a writer for the Daily. We chose to include his story to add a firsthand account of the protests. 

Political science graduate student from Hong Kong, Brian Leung was the only protester who unmasked himself during the July 1 protest against the Chinese government at the Legislative Council Building (LegCo).

There has been significant international media attention on Hong Kong. Week after week, the citizens of this semi-autonomous territory continue fighting for their basic freedoms.

The ongoing protests began as a reaction to an extradition bill, which China could use to take in and punish anyone that speaks out against the Chinese government. 

On the anniversary of the British handover of China, Leung joined hundreds marching into the LegCo to make a statement. 

Although he was not available for comment, he shared his motivations and experiences with the South China Morning Post (SCMP) in a phone call through Telegram, an app that is widely utilized in the movement.

In the beginnings of the extradition movement, the masses called for Hong Kong’s leader Carrie Lam to step down. Now, universal suffrage is the main focus. 

“We came to realize the root of the problem stems from the undemocratic system in selecting the chief executive,” Leung said in an interview with SCMP. “Whether Lam remained in office became a secondary issue.”

Junior Tim Phung was also on the front line of the protests two weeks later during his brief layover to Hong Kong July 14.

“I really understood the need for freedom and thought the protest would help at least show the Hong Kong government that there was/is public distaste about their policies and actions, especially in regards to universal suffrage for posts like Chief Executive,” Phung wrote in an email.

He did not know anyone participating but said that “after a while you talk to people and there forms a solidarity.” 

Leung mentions that there was no consensus on the duration of the occupation at the July 1 protest, which reflected the decentralized, leaderless, and spontaneous nature of this movement. He spent nearly eight hours in the LegCo building.

After an hour and a half, participants were starting to leave in fear of police action.

“I made a risky move to step on the desk of one lawmaker, removed my face mask, and shouted at the top of my voice: ‘The more people here, the safer we are. Let’s stay and occupy the chamber, we can’t lose no more,’” Leung wrote.

Leung volunteered to read out the demands of the protesters in front of the cameras. It was important for Leung that clear demands be put on the table.

“If we didn’t do that, the public might only remember the vandalism and point fingers at us as a mob,” Leung said. “That would also hand the government a convenient reason to prosecute each and every one of us.” 

Leung emphasized that the vandalism and force was used purposefully to express the frustrations of an unfair electoral system and was not the chaotic actions of an unruly riot. 

The police closed in on many of the protesters and pushed them into the New Town Plaza Mall at Tim’s protest. 

Police pepper sprayed the masses within the mall and confined them by blocking the entrance to the train station. Phung escaped by sneaking out of a back door. 

Roots of the conflict stem from 1997 when the British Empire conceded their colony of Hong Kong to China, under the promise of one country, two systems. This granted Hong Kong a high degree of independence and maintained Hong Kong’s role as a capitalist center of Asia. 

In this transferral of power, the new constitution of Hong Kong was created. It detailed the full concession of Hong Kong over to China in 2047. Yet, the citizens are losing their power much before that date, with no universal suffrage and an attack on free speech with the halted extradition bill.

Leung says that he and his peers could have a future of being political exiles if the government chooses to press charges against them.

Reach reporter Tiasha Datta at Twitter: @TiashaDatta2

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(1) comment


Great to see The Daily at UW mentioning our own students putting the words and education in action, change the world and make good impact, ADD OIL Hong Kongers!

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