As It Happens

'We are the chosen generation': Hong Kong airport protester says police brutality won't stop them

Protester Nicholas Chan says the thousands of people who effectively shut down the Hong Kong airport on Monday were motivated by what they saw as excessive force by police.

Flights set to resume Tuesday after 4 days of peaceful demonstrations in Hong Kong airport

Protesters occupy the arrival hall of the Hong Kong International Airport during a demonstration on August 12 Hong Kong. (Anthony Kwan/Getty Images)

Read Story Transcript

Protester Nicholas Chan says the thousands of people who effectively shut down the Hong Kong airport on Monday were motivated by what they say is excessive force by police. 

Flights are set to resume Tuesday after four days of peaceful anti-government demonstrations forced airport authorities to cancel all flights that were not yet checked in on Monday.  

These latest protests come after reports that police used tear gas and rubber bullets inside a train station over the weekend. They follow weeks of demonstrations triggered by a bill, now suspended, that would allow suspects to be extradited to mainland China to face charges.  

Chan, 24, was at the protest on Monday. He spoke to As It Happens guest host Nil Köksal about why he wants to see an investigation into police brutality. Here is part of their conversation. 

What's it like in the airport today?

I went to the airport at around two in the afternoon.

When I arrived there, there's already a lot of people ... all in their black shirts and people are peacefully sitting on the ground. 

And to be honest there were a lot more people than I expected because it's a Monday afternoon so people were supposed to go to work or go to school. But I know a lot of people took it off because of what happened during the last weekend. 

A protester who was at the Hong Kong airport on Monday sent this photo to As It Happens of the arrival gate, where thousands of people effectively shut down flights. (Name withheld by request)

And you were one of those people who wasn't there on the weekend, but felt that it was important you go today. Why did you feel it was so important to be there today?  

The reason why I think a lot of people went out today is because yesterday there was a series of very important and unacceptable incident that happened related to the operation of the police.

First of all, there was a first aid girl who was helping out to take care of the wounded protesters. And she got shot in [her] eye, which as we find out now she is going to be blind permanently. 

And at the same time there is a reporter that found out that actually there were undercover police in the crowd that created the chaos, [who] tried to arrest protesters. And then, as the journalist was questioning them, if they are actually police, they refused to show their badge, which is pretty shady. 

And then also they released tear gas bomb inside a subway station. So it's like a series of crazy stuff that happened in one night. So I think that really causes a lot of anger and a lot of disappointment and a lot of emotions of Hong Kong citizens.

You mentioned how full it was on the ground floor of the airport. What else are we hearing and seeing there? 

To be honest, it was really peaceful because I think a lot of people, they respect the airport as a very important ... international location that really represents Hong Kong. 

But I also observed that there were a lot of tourists coming in the arrival hall because the ground floor is our arrival hall. So actually people split roads for the tourists to pass through and then when they're passing through, the protesters ... were distributing flyers and posters and also leaflets explaining and apologizing to the tourists.

You clearly have the world's attention and you're talking to tourists one-on-one and visitors in the airport there. What's the reaction from them been? 

I can see, like, some of them they are terrified because I don't know if they expected to have such a large crowd waiting for them at the arrival hall. 

And some of them they're nice enough to really ... support us in a way that they say that they understand why we are doing what we are doing. And … they are all for democracy and that they support us in fighting our own rights. 

Protesters hand out leaflets at the arrival hall of the Hong Kong International Airport during a demonstration on August 11. (Anthony Kwan/Getty Images)

Some authorities have been using words including "radical" or even "terrorists" to describe the protesters, to describe people like yourself who were at the airport. What's your response to words like that being levelled against you?

This is absolutely not accurate because what I saw and what I was a part of today is definitely not riots.

And when they're referring to terrorists I think they should be referring it to the police, because they are the ones who are over abusing the power.

A protester throws back tear gas fired by riot police in the Cheung Sha Wan area on August 11, 2019 in Hong Kong. Pro-democracy protesters have continued rallies against a controversial extradition bill since June 9. (Billy H.C. Kwok/Getty Images)

This has been going on for nearly three months now. Weeks and weeks. How do you feel at this point in the process? 

To be honest, it's very mentally and physically [draining] and because, you know, we go to work on the weekdays and we have to come out on the street to protest on the weekends. 

But at the same time, I think the more that I see more people, I would say, awakened ... the more encouraged that I think I get.

I would say, like, we are the chosen generation. And ... when we are chosen, we are responsible for something. So it comes with a cost, but it's totally worthwhile.

So you're not backing down, clearly, but are you worried that there's going to be an even deeper crackdown by police? 

I think the only resolution is the government really step out and take full responsibility. At the same time, they have to control the police. They have to set up an independent investigation in order to really ... see if they are abusing their power. 

Written by Sarah Jackson. Produced by Jeanne Armstrong. Q&A has been edited for length and clarity. 


To encourage thoughtful and respectful conversations, first and last names will appear with each submission to CBC/Radio-Canada's online communities (except in children and youth-oriented communities). Pseudonyms will no longer be permitted.

By submitting a comment, you accept that CBC has the right to reproduce and publish that comment in whole or in part, in any manner CBC chooses. Please note that CBC does not endorse the opinions expressed in comments. Comments on this story are moderated according to our Submission Guidelines. Comments are welcome while open. We reserve the right to close comments at any time.