It was silent, it was dignified. A march by hundreds of Hong Kong lawyers on Wednesday highlighted the depth and breadth of the protest movement, despite warnings from China of a crackdown against mass demonstrations in the city.

The rally came amid increasingly violent protests in the Special Administrative Region during the past two months with Beijing threatening earlier in the week that “those who play with fire will perish by it.”

Yet for the legal professionals, it was important to show their solidarity for the protest movement’s demand for an independent inquiry into police tactics, as well as politically motivated prosecutions from Hong Kong’s Department of Justice.

“I really dislike how this government uses scaremongering and divisive tactics,” Anita Yip, a senior counsel, told AFP.

“They carry out prosecutions selectively … How would people still have confidence in the government?” she added, referring to the perceived different treatment given by police to protesters and their opponents, pro-government supporters, who are alleged to have links to Triad gangs.

So far, the police have arrested more than 500 protesters and charged dozens with rioting, which carries a maximum 10 years in jail.

But they have only arrested 19 people for last month’s attacks on democracy protesters.

“Law enforcement is an important element in law. If law enforcement is done poorly, how can we tell others that Hong Kong has rule of law?” Michelle Wong, 22, a law student, said after joining the march.

Earlier this week, the city witnessed a rare general strike and the most widespread unrest since the demonstrations began. On Tuesday, police revealed that they had fired 800 rounds of tear gas in a single day at a dozen locations.

“It’s very important to show that there can be peaceful and effective demonstrations,” Warwick Haldane, 77, a lawyer, said.

“No one is going to throw anything, and I hope we’re not going to get tear-gassed or charged by anyone,” he added.

The March took place on Wednesday as a Beijing official insisted during a meeting in Shenzhen that Hong Kong’s “one country two systems” will remain firmly in place even if Beijing deploys the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) to help restore order in the special administrative region. 

Zhang Xiaoming Photo: RTHK

“Hong Kong’s crisis … has continued for 60 days, and is getting worse and worse,” said Zhang Xiaoming, one of the most senior Chinese officials overseeing Hong Kong affairs.

“Violent activities are intensifying and the impact on society is spreading wider. It can be said that Hong Kong is now facing the most severe situation since its handover [in 1997],” he said.

Speaking after the meeting, several attendees said Zhang cited speeches by former Chinese paramount leader Deng Xiaoping in 1984 and 1987 in which he said if “turmoil” occurs in Hong Kong, “the central government must intervene.”

Lawyer and lawmaker Dennis Kwok Wing-hang said sending in troops to Hong Kong to suppress the protests would completely destroy the city.

Martin Lee Chu-ming, a former member of the Drafting Committee for the Basic Law, said there was no need to suppress protests with the PLA because there were laws to allow the government to arrest and prosecute people who triggered political unrest.

Barrister and former lawmaker Martin Lee speaks following the silent protest in Hong Kong on Wednesday, Aug. 7, 2019. Photo: Philip Fong / AFP

Lee added that it was redundant for Zhang to cite Deng’s speech on how the central government could send in PLA troops to Hong Kong as the Basic Law has already stated the mechanism.

According to Article 18 of the Basic Law, the central government may issue an order applying national laws in the city if the standing committee of the NPC declared a state of emergency beyond the control of the Hong Kong government.

Zhang made his comment during a closed-door forum with about 500 pro-establishment lawmakers and Hong Kong delegates of the NPC and the Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference.

The forum was aimed to call for pro-China Hong Kong politicians to support the police’s efforts to crack down on the ongoing protests in Hong Kong.

Maria Tam Wai-chu, deputy director of the Basic Law Committee, said Zhang had urged the forum’s participants to support the police force as it was the only mechanism for upholding law and order in the city.

She echoed Zhang when he said it was not an appropriate time to set up an independent inquiry into the shelved extradition bill, which triggered the protests. The government could consider it “when things quiet down,” Zhang added.

Wang Zhimin, director of the Liaison Office, said people may have taken to the streets because of a “development imbalance” in Hong Kong’s capitalist society. He called on “people who love the country and love Hong Kong” to communicate more with the younger generation, and “to spread more positive and peaceful messages.”