Police had to intervene Sunday afternoon outside a church in Vancouver, British Columbia, escorting worshipers past a gathering of more than 100 flag-waving pro-China activists. About 80 people had attended a prayer meeting at Tenth Church to support the Hong Kong protest, which continued for an 11th straight weekend.
Chris Chiu, who organized the Vancouver prayer vigil and promoted it as a public event on Facebook, says he feared for people’s safety. “We would have felt unsafe to just walk out of the door,” he says. “People waving Chinese flags…were obviously here trying to intimidate us.”
Churchgoers Pray for Hong Kong Protest and Human Rights
Tenth Church, an evangelical Christian church in Vancouver’s Westside area, has held two previous prayer vigils for the situation in Hong Kong, but this is the first to draw a counter-protest. Officers filmed the encounter, which was tense but stayed peaceful.
“We were praying for human rights,” says Chiu. “For freedom and democracy in Hong Kong.” He didn’t know who’d called the police, saying they may have just followed the pro-China group from another counter-protest. But the vigil organizer was grateful for the officers’ presence, indicating the confrontation felt like bullying.
“It tramples on freedom of religion, freedom of religious assembly, freedom of expression,” Chiu says. “In the future, are we going to organize any more public prayer meetings for Hong Kong, if this is what’s going to happen?”
Other protests and counter-protests occurred in Canada throughout the weekend. On Sunday, China’s embassy in Ottawa warned Canada to “immediately stop meddling in Hong Kong affairs and China’s internal affairs.”
Protests Escalate in Hong Kong
This weekend in Hong Kong, 1.7 million people (or one-fourth of its total population) rallied despite heavy rains. Riot police were visible among the sea of umbrellas as protesters (which included Hong Kong Christians) marched to the Chinese government’s headquarters. Police said only 128,000 people attended the pro-democracy event, but they counted only those at a sanctioned rally.
Among protesters’ demands is the total withdrawal of an extradition bill that allows Hong Kongers to be put on trial in China. Other demands include universal suffrage, or the freedom to elect Hong Kong’s political leaders, and the end of police suppression.
“China is taking over Hong Kong,” says Carol Lui, a teacher who protested this weekend. “We’re just making a last-ditch attempt to do something amid our despondency. Hong Kong is dying anyway, so we are just fighting to our last breath.”
Although this weekend’s protests, organized by the Civil Human Rights Front, were peaceful, previous rallies have ended with tear gas and clashes with police. One Chinese official accused protesters of “terrorism” after their occupation of Hong Kong’s airport led to flight cancellations.
Pro-democracy protesters promise to continue their efforts. “We have been fighting for more than two months,” says one marcher, “but our government has no response at all. We could just come out again and again.”
Another says violence remains an option. “Violent escalation is an extreme measure, but if it is effective, we would continue,” says a 25-year-old engineer. “We need to try all means to attract attention to our cause.”