Tens of thousands of pro-democracy protesters attended a rally in Central on Monday night and called on the US Congress to pass the Hong Kong Human Rights and Democracy Act of 2019.

People filled the rally venue at Charter Garden and the crowd spilled over the roads in Central and Admiralty. Organizers increased the estimated number of people attending from 130,000 to 200,000 on Tuesday, while police said only 25,000 attended on Monday night.

It was the first rally approved by the police force since the enactment of the anti-mask law, but many defied the law by putting on face masks despite a police warning. The rally organizers also asked people not to wear them.

The US Congress is due to discuss the bill, which would require a re-evaluation of certain rights Hong Kong was granted that are separate from China. The act also proposes economic sanctions and penalties on Chinese and Hong Kong officials found to have suppressed democracy in the city.

The government issued a statement right after the end of the rally, saying it regretted the assembly and reiterated that foreign legislatures should not interfere in the internal affairs of the SAR.

Monday’s rally started at 7pm. Demonstrators chanted slogans in English, saying “Fight for freedom, stay with Hong Kong,” while some waved American flags. Others held self-made placards urging the US to pass the act as it not only saves Hong Kong, “but also saves 85,000 Americans, 1,100 US companies and US$80 billion investment in the city.”

Protesters hold placards at the rally in Central. Photo: RTHK

They also sang the so-called Hong Kong anthem Glory to Hong Kong and broadcast the US national anthem before the rally ended at 9pm.

The organizers said they urged the US Congress to pass the bill as soon as possible and to evaluate the US-Hong Kong Policy Act. They also called for a stop to exporting weapons to Hong Kong, a thorough investigation over injustice and suppression of human rights and to provide humanitarian relief work in Hong Kong.

One participant named Tong, who held a US flag, said “we are not demanding independence. What we want is the rights of autonomy,” the Ming Pao Daily reported.

The rally was generally peaceful, but there were small-scale clashes outside Hong Kong Station. Police arrested at least three men, one of them seen shoving a trolley towards a police vehicle as officers were leaving the station, Radio Television Hong Kong reported. Police used pepper spray to disperse the crowd.

Some protesters blocked major roads around Exchange Square with barricades, but left when riot police arrived. Officers also stopped and searched people at Central MTR station when the rally ended.

Meanwhile, Chief Executive Carrie Lam criticized remarks by US senator Josh Hawley, who said: “Hong Kong is becoming a police state.” The senator had just finished a visit to Hong Kong.

Hawley was one of the sponsors of the Human Rights and Democracy Act. He went to a protest site in Kowloon’s Mong Kok and talked with Hong Kong people, journalists and lawmakers.

Lam, speaking ahead of the weekly Executive Council meeting on Tuesday morning, lashed out and called Hawley’s accusation “irresponsible” and “totally unfounded.”

“The Hong Kong police force is a highly professional and civilized force. I would challenge every politician to ask themselves if the large extent of violent acts and all those petrol bombs and arson and really deadly attacks on policemen happened in their own country, what would they do? What would their policemen do?” she asked.

Hawley said in his Tweet on Tuesday that he chose the words “police state” intentionally to reflect what he had witnessed. “I chose the words ‘police state’ purposely – because that is exactly what Hong Kong is becoming. I saw it myself,” he said.

“If Carrie Lam wants to demonstrate otherwise, here’s an idea: resign.”

Carrie Lam calls a US senator’s remarks ‘irresponsible.’ Photo: RTHK

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