North-East travel writer Tommy Walker, who has been caught up in the protests that have rocked Hong Kong, describes life in the city since the unrest began.

IT’S no secret that months of protests have rocked Hong Kong. The former British colony, part of the One Country, Two Systems agreement with mainland China, has been headline news since June. Originating from a controversial bill that would allow extradition to the mainland, pro-democracy demonstrations have swarmed the streets of Hong Kong that seemingly have no end.

Hong Kong enjoys freedom not seen in the mainland of China, such as its own border, currency, and judicial system. Freedom of speech and assembly are also protected. The Sino-British Agreement began in 1997 when China “took back” Hong Kong. This was to last until 2047, allowing Hong Kong a high degree of autonomy until then. In recent years, this autonomy has been slowly eroded.

Since the Hong Kong protests began in June, the extradition bill has since officially been removed by under-pressure Chief Executive Carrie Lam. It is the lead up to the eventual removal that has spurred Hong Kong protesters to continue. Accusations of police brutality and incompetence from the Hong Kong government have opened the doors for “five demands not one less” from the pro-democracy protestors, essentially requesting more freedom from mainland China.

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While all the talk is about the reasons for the Hong Kong protests – and rightly so – the police, government, pro-Beijing supporters and even local triad gangs have all had their share of the spotlight. There have been skirmishes all over Hong Kong and everyone has seemingly been caught up in it.

Police brutality has been heavily criticised, such as horrific attacks that almost left one Hong Kong nurse blind from a projectile. There have been incidents from special riot police called Raptors appearing from nowhere to aggressively attack and arrest protestors.

On television screens and smartphones, you’ll have no doubt watched the unrest unfold, with footage of riot police, petrol bombs, and tear gas, all now regular viewing. It might seem from afar the chaotic violence is premeditated or occurs unprovoked, but all the harrowing incidents are the reactions from an original action. Whether it’s over-the-top antics from the Hong Kong police, unanswered requests or rumours of negligence, the Hong Kong protestors have reacted loudly. Their peaceful requests have previously gone unnoticed, and that’s why there’s growing trouble within the city and the protests are what they are today.

The Northern Echo:

I’ve had an eye on the ground, witnessing many of these demonstrations. I’ve been covering the protests through my own footage and words as I feel compelled to report on the struggle, first-hand. Hong Kong was once under the British flag, and that is still very evident today. From the culture, the buildings, the education and the respectful treatment to Brits, there is a part of Britain still here. Not only that, to witness Hong Kong crumble, the place I’ve lived for the past two years, is difficult to believe. For me, there hasn’t been much time to comprehend the damage. Once a demonstration goes live, it’s now inevitable to escalate. There’s a constant sense of working on-call, waiting for things to explode.

Rushing around in the heat and humidity of Hong Kong’s suburbs is a bit of a blur. Incidents are happening left, right and centre. Roads are barricaded with debris. Graffiti is sprayed on city walls. MTR Stations are desecrated. Chants of “Free Hong Kong” bellow between the skyscrapers. Fires break out, as the grey smoke floats thick into the air. Molotov cocktails are heaved high in the direction of police. The riot police fire back with the shuddering sounds of tear gas and rubber bullets.

I’ve found myself squeezed into a closed shop entrance as the protestors and police battle it out in front of me. The next minute, I’m inside a vandalised MTR station, and then suddenly I’m yards away from police opening fire.

At times, it’s like urban-guerrilla warfare.

For anyone serious at the frontline, everyone will be wearing a gas mask, a hard-hat helmet, and goggles. Add a press vest, a DSLR camera, two phones, and a rucksack, and that’s my uniform. Lugging this around whilst trying to get a close up of a protestor in battle, or the groups of riot police cornering off the streets – amidst all the other elements – is as hectic as it sounds.

WE hear about world politics every day, not to mention what’s going on with Brexit. Other controversial political punch-ups confuse and contradict. The movement in Hong Kong is plain and simple – it’s freedom versus control. We’re still seeing the struggle of democracy in 2019. For many of us, freedom is a luxury we enjoy every day, as we live and strive for a democratic society. This is far different from mainland China, whose economic power has grown to the second biggest in the world. Yet, China is trying to influence, entice and implement its ways globally. Communism has never worked, and yet it’s being pushed slowly into the Hong Kong way of life. Everyone needs friends in the world, and Hong Kong needs worldly support. The Hongkongers have never had their own independent freedom, it’s now their time to fight for it.

Tommy Walker is a freelance travel writer, journalist, and correspondent from Stockton –