BANGKOK - Rallies rang out in dozens of cities across the globe Saturday to commemorate two years since pro-democracy activists surrounded Hong Kong's legislature in a failed effort to thwart passage of a national security law.
The law has dramatically expanded Beijing's control of the semi-autonomous city. It's passaged triggered months of anti-government protests and a violent crackdown by state security forces.
Activists and political figures from 20 countries participated in the global campaign for Hong Kong, held across more than 50 cities, including several in the U.S., U.K, Canada and Australia. Virtual events were also scheduled in cities such as Bangkok and Taipei, due to the COVID-19 restrictions.
Ted Hui, a pro-democracy activist and former Hong Kong legislator who fled the city after facing at least nine charges, called the rallies a "firm message" that Hong Kongers "have not given up."
On Saturday, Hui told VOA that he had shared with a crowd in his adopted home of Sydney "how I made my determination to devote myself to the movement, a lifelong mission in life."
"I asked them to make more steps forward, keep the spirits high and preserve our Hong Kong identity to make our movement long and sustainable," Hui, 39, said.
In Germany, Hong Kong political and digital rights activist Glacier Chung Ching Kwong, who is also in self-exile, addressed gatherings in Berlin.
"In two years, all the people I have worked with are either in jail or in exile," she told the crowd. "The fear is real."
'Sad and angry,' yet 'vigilant'
The 24-year-old founder of Keyboard Frontline said, "We are all sad and angry, but we are also vigilant to not let this costly ordeal become a force that clouds us, limits our thinking and undermines the movement or the reason to fight for freedom and democracy at the first place."
"Hong Kong, as we know it, is dying, but the new Hong Kong is yet to be born," part of her speech read.
Outside the Chinese Consulate in Gothenburg, Sweden, demonstrators held Hong Kong pro-democracy banners and put posters on lampposts, photojournalist Dennis Lindbom, who attended the event, said.
Nine cities were scheduled to hold events in Britain. At the Marble Arch in London, politician Sir Iain Duncan Smith addressed hundreds of protesters on stage with a flurry of British Hong Kong flags in the background.
"You are the great people. Not people like me or politicians, it is your determination to stand for freedom," the British MP said.
Last year the British government offered up to 3 million Hong Kong residents the opportunity of residency, via the British National Overseas passport scheme.
Protests were also scheduled to take place in Boston, Chicago, New York, San Diego, San Francisco, Seattle and Washington, D.C., on Saturday.
In Hong Kong, where pro-democracy protests remain banned, muted demonstrations were held despite a heavy police presence, resulting in few arrests. Online calls to gather at Causeway Bay, a sprawling shopping district and key battleground during demonstrations in 2019, largely went unheeded.
But according to local reports, the Hong Kong police had deployed at least 1,000 officers to counter any demonstrations. As the evening drew to a close, no large crowds had materialized as police officers remained, performing stop-and-search operations while cordoning off streets in the area.
The political group Student Politicism was due to hold a pop-up booth in the residential district of Mong Kok - another flashpoint amid the months of unrest in 2019 - but its organizers Wong Yat-Chin and spokesperson Alice Wong were both arrested on Friday for allegedly inciting others to participate in illegal assembly leading up to the event.
Wong Yat-Chin was only detained last week during a small demonstration to mark the 32nd anniversary of the Tiananmen Square crackdown in Beijing on June 4.
Earlier in the day, high-profile activist Agnes Chow was released from prison. Chow was sentenced to 10 months in jail in December a day before her 24th birthday, following her guilty plea to charges over her involvement in an unauthorized assembly in June 2019.
Chow served over six months of her sentence and when released on Saturday, looking slightly worn and thinner than usual, declined to speak to the scrum of media waiting as she made her way home in a t-shirt emblazoned with the phrase "You are doing so great."
But the activist later posted on social media that she had endured "half a year and twenty days of pain" and that she intends to have a good rest following her release.
Chow, 24, may face another jail term stemming from a separate arrest under the national security law in August 2020 for which she has yet to face charges.
National security law
The national security that triggered the 2019 protests, which eventually passed in 2020, dramatically expands Beijing's control of the semi-autonomous city, prohibiting things such as secession and subversion, putting an end to major street demonstrations. The legislation carries maximum punishments of life imprisonment and even allows Beijing to take over "serious" cases that can still include extradition to mainland China.
Since ratification, authorities have cracked down on dozens of pro-democracy activists, who have been either been arrested or jailed while others have fled the in self-exile.
On June 12, 2019, Hong Kong riot police used tear gas and rubber bullets to disperse the huge crowds.
Footage of the clashes intensified public anger and fueled what became an increasingly violent movement calling for full democracy that raged for several months.
Huge crowds rallied week after week in the most serious challenge to China's rule since Hong Kong's 1997 handover from the United Kingdom.
Beijing's leaders continue to dismiss calls for democracy, portraying protestors as stooges of "foreign forces" trying to undermine China.
Some information is from AFP.