What began in June in Hong Kong as a series of peaceful pro-democracy marches to oppose a proposed extradition bill has evolved into a clash drawing international attention as protesters have grown increasingly frustrated and police turn to controversial tactics such as tear gas and pepper spray to curb their opposition.
Jackie Chan, a Hong Kong native, reportedly called the recent events “sad and depressing” and expressed hope that peace would come soon.
“I have visited many countries, and I can say, our country has been rapidly developing in recent years,” he said, according to the South China Morning Post. “I feel pride in being Chinese wherever I go, and the ‘Five-starred Red Flag’ is respected everywhere around the world. I also deeply feel that safety, stability and peace are just like fresh air, you never know how precious it is until you lose it.”
Hong Kong, a peninsula and collection of islands on the southern coast of China, was a British colony for more than 150 years before it was given back to China under the “one-country, two systems” principle in 1997.
Though it remains a part of China, Hong Kong citizens are governed independently and enjoy freedoms that mainland Chinese citizens don’t have, such as free speech, unrestricted internet access and the right to free assembly, according to the New York Times.
The protests can be traced back to February, when government officials in Hong Kong introduced a bill that would allow people accused of crimes to be sent to places, including mainland China, with which Hong Kong doesn’t have formal agreements.
The bill sparked fears that people sent to China to be prosecuted would be “subjected to the country’s opaque legal system in which due process is far from a guarantee,” according to CBS News.
According to the Times, while proponents say it guarantees justice in criminal investigations if suspects try to hide in Hong Kong, those against it argue it will allow Beijing to target government critics with “phony” charges — a common tactic in autocratic governments that do not tolerate opponent dissent.
A march to oppose the bill on June 9 was attended by more than one million people, but the protests became violent days later as police tried to quell the crowds with things like tear gas and pepper spray.
Though the bill has since been suspended, those against it want it gone for good and have continued to protest, even forcing the Hong Kong airport to shut down for two days. The clash has now extended past just opposition to the bill with many angry over the police’s violent response.
“Fueled by anger toward the police, as well as the slow erosion of civil liberties, the largely leaderless protests have morphed into a broader, more complicated movement: about protecting freedoms, democracy and Hong Kong’s autonomy,” the Times reported earlier this month.
Liu Yifei, a Chinese-American actress who will soon star in Disney’s live-action adaptation of Mulan, reportedly voiced her support for the Hong Kong police on social media, drawing some criticism.
The actress reportedly used the Chinese platform Weibo (analogous to Twitter) to re-share a message from a Chinese newspaper that read, according to Newsweek, “I support Hong Kong’s police, you can beat me up now… What a shame for Hong Kong.”
The message soon led to the hashtag “#BoycottMulan,” which trended on Twitter on Thursday.
Representatives for Chan and Liu did not immediately respond to PEOPLE’s request for comment.
Concerns of police brutality have reached the United Nations, with High Commissioner for Human Rights Michelle Bachelet Jeria issuing a statement saying she was “concerned” by the events and the escalation of violence.
In the statement, Jeria called on authorities and the people of Hong Kong to “engage in an open and inclusive dialogue aimed at resolving all issues peacefully.”
She added that the UN Human Rights Office had “reviewed credible evidence of law enforcement officials employing less-lethal weapons in ways that are prohibited by international norms and standards,” such as tear gas canisters being fired into crowded, enclosed areas and directly at individuals.
The statement ended with a call for authorities to investigate immediately.
President Donald Trump also weighed in on Thursday, writing on Twitter that he hoped the protests would come to a peaceful end with intervention from Chinese President Xi Jinping.
He wrote: “If President Xi would meet directly and personally with the protesters, there would be a happy and enlightened ending to the Hong Kong problem. I have no doubt!”
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