Tens of thousands of Hong Kong residents have returned to the streets for fresh protests against a controversial amendment to the territory’s extradition laws, which would allow criminals to be sent to China to face trial.
On Wednesday, the center of the city was shut down by demonstrators, who have been barricading roads, surrounding government buildings while facing off against—and clashing with—riot police armed with rifles, shotguns, water cannons, tear gas and pepper spray, the Associated Press reported.
The action followed a march on Sunday which organizers said was attended by more than 1 million people.
Among the buildings surrounded on Wednesday were the government headquarters and offices of the Legislative Council. The new extradition law was due to be debated by lawmakers this week, but pro-Beijing Chief Executive Carrie Lam has now said the session will be delayed.
But activists are still in the streets. On Wednesday morning, police resorted to firing tear gas and bean bag rounds to force protesters away from government buildings. Though Sunday’s protest was permitted by the government, Wednesday’s was not, prompting fears of a harsher response.
Opponents fear the controversial bill would allow China to target political dissidents in Hong Kong, undermining the “one country, two systems” agreement active since the former British colony was handed back to Chinese control by the U.K. in 1997. The system allows Hong Kong residents personal and political liberties not enjoyed on the mainland under the Communist Party’s totalitarian rule.
Prominent U.S. lawmakers on both sides of the aisle have been lauding the efforts of the Hong Kong activists, and calling on the Chinese government to respect the territory’s legal structure and the residents’ right to protest.
Among them is House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, who released a statement on Tuesday celebrating the efforts of the marchers. “America stands with the people of Hong Kong,” she said.
The statement said the “hearts of all freedom-loving people were moved by the courage of the one million men and women of Hong Kong who took to the streets on Sunday to peacefully demand their rights, defend their sovereignty and denounce this horrific extradition bill.”
Pelosi also said the proposed bill “chillingly showcases Beijing’s brazen willingness to trample over the law to silence dissent and stifle the freedoms of the people of Hong Kong,” and would “legitimize and legalize the kidnapping of businessmen, booksellers and anyone that China disagrees with, and imperils the safety of the 85,000 Americans living in Hong Kong.”
Speaking in the Senate on Tuesday, Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said the people of Hong Kong “must be heard.” The Kentucky Republican said the people of Hong Kong “rightly view this measure as another erosion of the rule of law and tightening of Beijing’s grip on their imperiled autonomy.”
McConnell added that the protesters represented a “broad cross-section of Hong Kong’s diverse society…all committed to preserving the personal freedoms and judicial independence that have made Hong Kong such a special and prosperous city.”
Fellow Republican Lindsey Graham said he “could not agree more” with a State Department statement registering its “grave concern” with the proposed legislation.
Graham said the bill would “be in violation of all international understanding about the relationship between Hong Kong and China,” and suggested the “communist weaklings in Beijing fear transparency, free speech, free press, and the free expression of their own citizens!”
Senator Marco Rubio was also among the American politicians critical of the new bill. Rubio tweeted that China has already “jailed innocent foreign business executives as retribution against other countries,” and suggested that if Hong Kong “legalizes the kidnapping of people who disagree with Beijing it will have a devastating effect on their economy.”