A sea of protesters marched through Hong Kong’s streets for hours Sunday in opposition to a bill that would grant extradition powers to mainland China.
Organizers said more than 1 million people joined the protest, roughly 1 in 7 of the territory’s population, while local police estimated crowds at several hundred thousand. Either way, it was the largest protest in Hong Kong in decades, according to Associated Press journalists who covered Sunday’s demonstration as well as other large protests in 2014 and 2003.
At issue is a bill currently making its way through Hong Kong’s legislature that would allow people suspected of crimes by mainland authorities to be sent there for trial. Hong Kong, a special administrative region within China, was under British rule until 1997 and today continues to have separate government and economic systems from the communist People’s Republic.
Hong Kong currently doesn’t have a treaty to allow extradition of suspects to China, and opponents of the bill told news organizations they feared the new bill would erode the rights they have under their separate system of government.
“The people of Hong Kong want to protect our freedom, our freedom of speech, our rule of law, our judicial system, and also our economic foundation, which is welcome to international investors,” activist Lee Cheuk-yan told the AP. “If international investors lose confidence in Hong Kong because of this evil bill, then Hong Kong, economically, would also be destroyed.”
Others said they feared China would abuse the proposed new power.
Schoolteacher Garry Chiu told Reuters he was protesting for his 1-year-old daughter.
“If the law is implemented anyone can disappear from Hong Kong. No one will get justice in China. We know there are no human rights,” Chiu said.
Some protesters carried umbrellas, a nod to the 2014 Umbrella Revolution protests against attempts by Beijing to exercise power over Hong Kong’s government.
A group of students showed up in chains as they joined the march.
For hours Sunday, the massive crowds remained peaceful. As the protest wound down in the early hours of Monday, a smaller group clashed with police outside the home of the Legislative Council.
Protesters pushed down a metal barricade, and officers used tear gas.
A vote on the bill is set for Wednesday.