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Panel featuring Hong Kong protesters sparks debate

<p>Supporters and detractors of the Hong Kong protest movement attended an event in which five Hong Kong citizens spoke about their experiences.</p>

Supporters and detractors of the Hong Kong protest movement attended an event in which five Hong Kong citizens spoke about their experiences.

The Institute for Research on Women hosted a panel discussing the ongoing protests in Hong Kong yesterday. The panel featured five Hong Kong citizens who are involved in the movement. 

The panelists, allegedly, in fear of retribution from the government for their involvement in the uprisings, chose to speak anonymously through a conference call. They spoke about the origins of the protests, police brutality and their demands for change. 

The student, who spoke under the pseudonym “Psyduck,” said the protests began in June 2019 due to the Extradition Law Amendment Bill (ELAB), which had been proposed in March. The bill was in response to a Hong Kong man who committed murder in Taiwan but could not be extradited. 

“We Hong Kongers were also horrified (with the murder),” said “Pinky,” a legal expert on the panel.

Pinky said the ELAB was opposed not because it allowed extradition to Taiwan, but because it included a clause that permitted extradition to mainland China, which has a very different legal system from Hong Kong. 

All of the panelists said the protests began peacefully, but as tensions grew between protesters and police, violence became more common.

“We are so devastated that the government consistently ignores our peaceful expressions and only responds when there is violence,” said “Cat,” a protester on the panel. 

“Corgi,” a panelist who focused on police brutality, said the Hong Kong police had used excessive force repeatedly, even on nonviolent protesters. The panel included videos of police clashes with protesters, including a man being hit on the head repeatedly with a baton.

“A baton, according to the guidelines, should never hit the head because it can cause permanent injuries,” Corgi said. 

Sexual violence is also a problem within the Hong Kong Police Force, the panelist “Monkey” said. They said the #MeToo movement became a part of the protests, under the title #ProtestToo.

Although the protests began in reaction to ELAB, it evolved into something bigger. Aside from the full withdrawal of ELAB, which Chief Executive of Hong Kong Carrie Lam already promised, protesters demand an independent investigation into police brutality, retraction of classification of the protesters as “rioters,” amnesty for protesters and a fully democratic legislative body, Pinky said. Additionally, a new demand to disband the police force has been recently proposed. 

The panelists said they hope their demands can be met so that Hong Kong can return to normal. 

“We all hope that all these protests that have happened in the past few months can be solved peacefully and nonviolently,” Corgi said. “We don’t want to see anyone injured on both sides.”

The panelists said no matter what the government does, they will continue to work toward improving their city.

“We are the people who truly love, protect and fight for the future of this society,” Cat said. 

After the panelists finished their presentation, they held a question-and-answer session, in which the audience could submit questions online. Many students who wanted to ask questions verbally expressed dissatisfaction, accusing the panelists of pre-selecting questions and silencing their dissent. 

Vito Wu, a School of Arts and Sciences first-year from Beijing, said the event was controversial because many mainland Chinese students did not feel like the issue was being represented fairly. He said students wanted to share their different perspectives. 

“In China, the one principle and discipline that we hold is the stability of the society,” Wu said. “What (the protesters) are doing – although the initial purpose might be good and positive – what it turned into is nothing that our country tolerates.” 

Isaac Sheidlower, a School of Arts and Sciences senior, came out to show support for Hong Kong citizens. 

“As an advocate of democracy and free speech, I think government oppression of these things is not good,” Sheidlower said. “Police brutality against protesters is unacceptable.” 

Alex Zhang, a School of Arts and Sciences senior from China, said the protests have gotten out of hand. 

“Those Hong Kong protestors or rioters tried to hide from the fact that they did attack a public facility and policemen,” he said. 

Some students handed out flyers deprecating the protests, saying the violence and vandalization amounted to “terrorist attacks” and that police brutality was warranted in this situation.

Charles Rule, a School of Arts and Sciences junior, said the Hong Kong protests represent a larger issue with government control and human rights. 

“It’s important that Rutgers holds these kinds of events so that both American students and international students can have their voices heard,” Rule said. 

Although Wu did not agree with the protests, he also said he thinks holding political discussions for Rutgers students to engage in can be beneficial. 

“I think it is good because there is always going to be different opinions and different perspectives, as long as all groups are allowed and given the right to speak,” Wu said. “It is part of our growth. There might be conflicts, there might be good things that come out of this.”

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