Hong Kong International Airport has cancelled flights for the day after 6 PM local time (6 AM ET) as pro-democracy protests in the city rage on for the tenth consecutive week. Incoming flights will be allowed to land, but outgoing flights for the night have been halted and it’s not clear when air travel might resume.
Thousands of people are currently protesting in the Hong Kong airport, holding up signs to warn travelers about police brutality, which has only escalated in recent weeks. Some protesters were wearing an eye patch, a sign of solidarity with a woman who was shot in the face with “nonlethal” ammunition by Hong Kong police on Sunday. Police have been using rubber bullets and teargas against protestors, leading to concerns from human rights groups.
The image of the young woman bleeding on the pavement went viral on social media over the weekend and is being shared as a warning that police have gotten more violent in recent days.
“I just don’t understand how people can tolerate that kind of police brutality. I feel like if I don’t come out now, I can’t come out ever,” Hilary Lo, one of the protesters told the Guardian. “People are starting to realize the police are out of control, especially with what has happened in the past two weeks.”
The demonstrations began roughly 10 weeks ago, originally as a protest against a proposed law that would have made it easier for citizens in Hong Kong to be extradited to mainland China. The law has not been introduced, but there are still major concerns in Hong Kong about the future of the Chinese government’s control over the region. Xi Jinping, who took power in 2012, has not been a friend to democracy and currently holds anywhere from 800,000 and 3 million Muslims in concentration camps.
Hong Kong has operated under a “one country, two systems” regime ever since the British handed over Hong Kong to China in 1997. The arrangement allows Hong Kong to have sovereignty in areas like trade policy and even the Olympics, but that system is set to expire in 2047, well within the lifetimes of many young protestors.
The government of Hong Kong issued a statement late Sunday night condemning the protests, according to a report from the Hong Kong Free Press.
“Violent protesters vandalized public property and blocked roads. They also besieged police stations, aimed laser beams and hurled bricks to attack police officers. Some violent protesters even hurled petrol bombs, injuring a police officer,” the statement reads.
“We are outraged by the violent protesters’ behaviors which showed a total disregard of the law, posing a serious threat to the safety of police officers and other members of the public. We severely condemn the acts.”
Hong Kong’s major airline, Cathay Pacific, warned employees on Monday that it strictly forbids anyone from participating in the pro-democracy protests.
“Cathay Pacific Group has a zero tolerance approach to illegal activities. Specifically, in the current context, there will be disciplinary consequences for employees who support or participate in illegal protests,” CEO Rupert Hogg said, according to a report by the AFP.
Hogg added that anyone caught protesting could be fired, though the only employee who’s been disciplined so far was a pilot who was suspended. It’s not clear if that pilot will have a job with the airline in the future.
Hong Kong is a major international hub, carrying roughly 75 million passengers in 2018, and as the Financial Times notes, shutting down the airport for any extended period of time is likely to have major economic impacts. Both sides of the protest aren’t backing down, so only time will tell what might happen. But if Hong Kong’s economy suffers, things could get even uglier very quickly. No one hits back harder than a rich person who’s losing money.
Update, 6:20am: Euronews has a video livestream from the Hong Kong airport. It appears to show an orderly, if admittedly busy, scene.