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Despite Pandemic, Hong Kong Protesters' Demands Remain

MICHEL MARTIN, HOST:

We're going to turn our attention now to Hong Kong. You may remember that last year, there were mass protests that started over a bill that would have made it easier to extradite people to China. The protests grew to include broader pro-democracy issues like an investigation into use of force by police. The treatment of protesters in Hong Kong even became another friction point in U.S.-Chinese affairs. But then the coronavirus pandemic hit, and efforts to control the virus changed everything.

So we wanted more perspective on how it's changed life in Hong Kong, so once again, we've called on a lawmaker there with whom we've been keeping in touch, Alvin Yeung. He's a member of the Legislative Council of Hong Kong, and he's the leader of the pro-democracy Civic Party.

Alvin Yeung, nice to have you back on the program. Thanks for joining us.

ALVIN YEUNG: Thank you for having me.

MARTIN: And first of all, you know I'm going to ask - how are you? How are you doing?

YEUNG: (Laughter) Surviving, I think, just like the rest of the world. Hong Kong is still hanging in there. We impose a very strict social distancing rule as far as the restaurants and entertainments are concerned. That has been relaxed a bit around two weeks ago. But people are still going to work, and everybody's wearing a mask.

MARTIN: Well, let's get to the news, the immediate news. Yesterday, a police watchdog group released a report which had been long awaited, especially by people like yourself, which looked into charges of police brutality during last year's pro-democracy protests. The report found that the police pretty much used force only when necessary. What's your reaction to those findings?

YEUNG: First of all, I wish to make the audience - make it clear to them that this police watchdog - members of such were appointed directly by the chief executive. Nobody from the opposition were members. So basically, the whole group is pro-Beijing. And so we were not expecting a lot from this watchdog in the first place anyway. But it was completely disappointing when they fully accept the explanation by the police without taking police brutality into account.

MARTIN: What's been happening in this area now that the social distancing measures that you described have been relaxed somewhat in Hong Kong? Have there been further demonstrations? Have there been further clashes with police?

YEUNG: There are still people who try to come out and try to protest in a very gentle way - not really protest, but they gather in shopping malls, for example, and put up their slogans. But the Hong Kong police still become very brutal to them. They charge them for illegal assembly, for example. The restriction restricted people of group before.

But we have seen enormous cases that the police would still issue this fine to the people who were basically alone in a mall, but police alleged them for joining the gathering. So we're expecting some cases will challenge in court of this sort of fine.

MARTIN: I'm presuming that your demands as a pro-democracy lawmaker and activist have not changed. If the government is using efforts to control the virus as an opportunity to clamp down even further on gatherings, what avenues do you have to make your case?

YEUNG: Of course, right now, when the pandemic's still out there, it's very difficult to have major protests like what we had last year, with over million people participating. But I have full faith in Hong Kong people that when the pandemic is over, I'm sure they will come out again. And the demands, as you mentioned a bit earlier, we are not changing.

We are not asking for the moon. The five demands - namely, universal suffrage - that is, director democracy of Hong Kong people - and independent investigation of police brutality - is still very strong in people's mind regardless of the pandemic. And so when there's an opportunity, I'm sure Hong Kong people will come out and take to the street again.

MARTIN: How would you describe the atmosphere in Hong Kong overall after, you know, everything that everyone there has been through? I mean, we talked about, you know, the violence, then this deadly global pandemic. How would you describe the mood there? What would you want us to know about what life is like there right now?

YEUNG: To a certain extent, life is still as usual. But politically, we can see that the Hong Kong government is taking full advantage of this corona. But we are not going to just simply say, go ahead. We will fight back.

MARTIN: That's Alvin Yeung. He's leader of the pro-democracy Civic Party, and he's a member of the Legislative Council of Hong Kong, and he joined us from there.

Alvin Yeung, thanks so much for joining us once again.

YEUNG: Thank you so much. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.