Rebellion: On the frontlines of Hong Kong’s uprising | Four Corners

people of Hong Kong have taken to the streets. Famous for being orderly and law abiding…
everyday Hong Kongers are now putting themselves on the frontlines. TOM, ‘FRONTLINER’: We’re not afraid, because Hong Kong is our home. Fighting for freedom is what I am born for, and we won’t give up until our last breath. YOYO: We can be radical sometimes. We can
also be very, very peaceful, as long as our demands are heard. But one message
is that none of us will quit the fight. JOSHUA WONG, DEMOCRACY ACTIVIST: Hong Kong
is just similar as East Berlin in the last century under authoritarian rule. Now is the
time for us to fight back. Let the world know that we are the ones standing in the forefront
to confront Beijing’s suppression. JOHNSON YEUNG, DEMOCRACY ACTIVIST: I do hope
Hong Kong movement can serve as a beacon that tells mainland Chinese that we can live better than just submitting to the terror of Beijing. SOPHIE MCNEILL, REPORTER: Tonight, on Four
Corners we take you inside Hong Kong’s rebellion…as ordinary citizens across this city rise up
to reject Beijing’s control… One minute it looks like any normal Saturday
afternoon in Hong Kong… The next, protesters suddenly spill out of the train station… and start shutting down this massive intersection. They’re known as ‘Netizens’ – citizens who
connect online. This act of civil disobedience was organised on an encrypted app. TH: We are going to block them and we go SOPHIE MCNEILL, REPORTER: And then you’ll leave?
TH: Yeah and we leave just like a mob, flash mob. SOPHIE MCNEILL, REPORTER: A Flash mob?
TH: Yeah. SOPHIE MCNEILL, REPORTER: The ones building
the barricades are the ‘frontliners’ of the movement Umbrellas are used to keep their
identities secret. TOM ‘FRONTLINER’: The reason why we all come
in black clothes, is that we don’t want to be identified, because we’re doing civil disobedience.
So, we understand that we are breaking some of the laws, in the name of justice, and then
we also know that if we are identified by the police government or the government they
will charge us. [SUBTITLE] PROTESTER: Ok anyone disagree?
If no one disagrees please ask your other mates to come here, we will discuss further With the roundabout blocked, it won’t be long
before the police arrive… PROTESTER [SUBTITLE]: The main point is to
divide their the police’s resource. Now they come from Tai Po to here, so let’s move back
to Tai Po! PROTESTER [SUBTITLE]: We want our protesters
to hit all 18 Hong Kong districts, so the police need to standby all districts. SOPHIE MCNEILL, REPORTER: They decide it
will be easier to overwhelm the police if they split up. PROTESTER [SUBTITLE]: That’s too risky. PROTESTER [SUBTITLE]: We need to make quick
decisions, then the police can’t come in time. PROTESTER [SUBTITLE]: we can get it done in
20 minutes. Take only a few people with you, less people are more effective. PROTESTER [SUBTITLE]: we will do anything
to let us, to get our democracy to get our freedoms, by any means necessary PROTESTER [SUBTITLE]: We are Hong Kongers.
We ain’t any Mainlanders. That’s what we have to say to the whole world. With Chinese CCP
trying to take over our country or our city, we will against them for everything. Yeah.
Including our life. SOPHIE MCNEILL, REPORTER: So the protest leaders
have just shouted out that the riot police are coming so they’ve told all the crowds
to get on the train and to leave this location and to move somewhere else. The riot police turn up and start firing tear gas. The forces are ready for action… but there is no one to arrest. The protesters have melted away. The only ones left here are annoyed residents
– and it’s the police they’re angry with. PROTESTER [SUBTITLE]: You bastards! Leave
faster you motherfucker. Move faster. You motherfucker, you coward. You bully the good people. PROTESTER [SUBTITLE]: I support the protester
yeah. I think they have no other way to do. This is a peaceful protest. They asking for
what they want. They, they, they, they all think about Hong Kong’s future. But the government
is nonsense. SOPHIE MCNEILL, REPORTER: This is just the
first stop of the night. Defying bans from police, separate groups hit different locations
across the city. Ten kilometres away, the protesters pop up
here, on Nathan road, one of Hong Kong’s busiest shopping districts. They have to keep moving. Passers-by help the protesters avoid the police. WOMAN IN CAR [SUBTITLE]: You can’t go through
from Tsim Sha Tsui because they are marching in that direction. ‘TOM’, FRONTLINER [SUBTITLE]: We just disappear,
and then we’re here. We go to here. And that’s the decision that we made at that moment at
the roundabout. SOPHIE MCNEILL, REPORTER: Protesters use pseudonyms to protect their identities. 24-year-old engineer, ‘Tom’ spends his days
in a suit working on Hong Kong Island… At night, he is one of the movement’s frontliners. ‘TOM’, FRONTLINER [SUBTITLE]: I just run.
I’m a fast runner, so, I’m fine. SOPHIE MCNEILL, REPORTER: Are you scared about
being arrested? ‘TOM’, FRONTLINER [SUBTITLE]: Well, I’m more
scared about losing the freedom, to be honest. So, getting arrested isn’t that scary compared
to losing freedom to China. The protests that have exploded onto these
streets for the last 3 months have grown out of years of frustration and fears over the steady loss of freedoms for Hong Kongers. LOUISA LIM, AUTHOR AND JOURNALIST: Hong Kongers enjoy all kinds of freedoms that really aren’t possible on the mainland. The independent
judiciary, the independent civil service, also freedom of the press, freedom of, uh, expression,
these are things that Hong Kongers have traditionally enjoyed, although in recent years those, uh,
freedoms have been shrinking. This is not the first time Hong Kongers have
taken to the streets … in 2014 the umbrella movement emerged, demanding fully democratic
elections in Hong Kong. JOHNSON YEUNG, DEMOCRACY ACTIVIST: Hong Kongers was always understood as economic animals who care about their gain, who cares
about their own money and not caring the others. That was not the case in the Umbrella Movement. KEVIN LAM, LAWYER: After the Umbrella Movement,
they started limiting who can or can’t run for office. They started prosecuting a lot
of people for taking part in protests, that sort of thing. I think that’s when the world
really started taking notice JOSHUA WONG, LEADER UMBRELLA MOVEMENT: Under the hard-line leadership of President Xi, lawmakers were unseated and kicked out of office.
Activists, including me, were in prison and jailed for several years. It’s really impressive by Hong Kong people after the crackdown on human rights, after loss of political leader
being locked up in prison, they still do not step backwards. SOPHIE MCNEILL, REPORTER: So earlier this year when Chief executive Carrie
Lam proposed a new law which could see Hong Kongers extradited to the mainland to face
Beijing-style justice, the people rose up. In June, an estimated 2 million marched against
the bill – the largest protest in the city’s history. “Gotham”, a high school student, joined the movement. ‘GOTHAM’ [SUBTITLE]: I feel very proud to
be one of the two million protesters. So many Hong Kongers came out for their freedom. Even
though we face many struggles, we are not afraid. We will face the problem, not run
away from it. SOPHIE MCNEILL, REPORTER: The government suspended the bill but refused to officially withdraw it … further infuriating many Hong Kongers. YOYO: When two million came out, and the government
still refused to directly address or respond to the people, we realised that, “Hey, it’s
the government who refused to answer the people, and it’s a structural problem that can only
be solved by democracy.” SOPHIE MCNEILL, REPORTER: On July 1st… the
22nd anniversary of the island’s handover from the United Kingdom to China, protesters stormed the LegCo, Hong Kong’s government chambers. MP Fernando Cheung tried to stop protesters breaking in. FERNANDO CHEUNG, DEMOCRACY MP: When
I saw the crowd try to storm into the LegCo, trying to break the glass door, I thought,
no, that shouldn’t happen. Because any type of violence like that, even though they were
not directed to any person, it may make the movement lose its momentum and public support.
Hong Kong is a very peaceful society. They wanted to sacrifice themselves to bring
changes. They wanted to be arrested. So it was really saddening to see a lot of young
people not seeing any way out. SOPHIE MCNEILL, REPORTER: The protesters took
over the house and read out their demands to the government… BRAIN LEUNG, PROTESTER: Carrie Lam step down.
No extradition bill. Release all arrested protesters. LOUISA LIM, AUTHOR AND JOURNALIST: I went
inside the chamber but I was also outside the chamber, and outside the building. For someone like me who grew up in Hong Kong, that was a really shocking moment. KEVIN LAM, LAWYER: You saw that they were
very specific about what they were vandalizing. They were all symbols of political authority
that’s been acting in an egregious manner. Then you saw the way they put up signs saying,
“Don’t vandalise library books. Don’t vandalise antiques. We’re not thieves. Please pay for
your drinks” and at that point, I think that melted the resistance of a lot of moderate
pro-democracy supporters. FERNANDO CHEUNG, DEMOCRACY MP: To my surprise,
the public support was still very much there even after they stormed into the LegCo building. This slogan of not being divisive and that we stay together, whether we are the peaceful
ones or the more radical ones, we stay together in the movement, seems to be working. LOUISA LIM, AUTHOR & JOURNALIST: There was
one pillar inside the building, and the words that were spray painted on it in Chinese were,
um, “You have taught us that peaceful action is not effective.” And I think many people believe that. SOPHIE MCNEILL, REPORTER: The movement added a key demand to their platform – universal suffrage – democracy for Hong Kong. LOUISA LIM, AUTHOR & JOURNALIST: What started
off as a relatively targeted, relatively simple protest has- has really exploded into something
much, much bigger. OLDER WOMAN: Hong Kongers we should show our
bravery! We don’t need to be afraid. We need to tell this communist government,
even if you send mainland police or secret police, Hong Kong people will not break down!! SOPHIE MCNEILL, REPORTER: In many ways, Hong
Kong now resembles a city in open rebellion… From a march for the elderly… to a protest by the city’s lawyers…. the medical community, and a civil servants strike. Citizens across society have banded together
to join the movement. FERNANDO CHEUNG, DEMOCRACY MP: We have people
really all over the different sectors in Hong Kong participating and supporting this movement. In one arrest, the police arrested 40 some people. The youngest being 13, the oldest
62, and in between people from all walks of life. We have an airplane pilot, we have a
nurse, we have teachers, we have social worker, we have many professionals. KEEP IT UP! HONG KONGERS! SOPHIE MCNEILL, REPORTER: While almost daily
peaceful protests continue, black clad ‘frontliners’ can appear at any time, ready for running
battles with the police… The movement has no formal leadership…. Protestors vote online to decide what action
to take. TOM ‘FRONTLINER’ [SUBTITLE]: We use polling
system when we cast vote, so that everyone can get a chance to participate in it. And
I think it shows a way how a democratic society works by voting and it can be a peaceful way
to work out everything. YOYO: Anyone with an account of LIHKG, the
online forum that a lot of us use, or read, they will be people giving their ideas, and
they can respond by supporting or turning down, or commenting how to improve that. SOPHIE MCNEILL, REPORTER: As the protests
have rolled on, authorities have restricted the sale of gas masks, goggles, helmets and
hard hats… both in stores and online. So a popup shop called ‘National Calamity
hardware’ was set up to fill the gap. SELLER ON MEGAPHONE: All filters are sold
out! Helmets are $50. Man asks: Do you have helmets? Helmets sold out!” SELLER ON MEGAPHONE: This is the final helmet,
there is one helmet left final one. $50. SELLER ON MEGAPHONE: 35.57 Any students here?
Are there still bottles? Bottles out! TOM ‘FRONTLINER’ [SUBTITLE]: He will announce
his location on Facebook and other Telegram channel, the store will only set up for two
or three hours. They also give a great discount to students or those who are in financial
difficulties. SOPHIE MCNEILL, REPORTER: ‘Tom’ is joining
the frontliners in tonight’s action… Barricades are being set up right in the city centre. TOM ‘FRONTLINER’ [SUBTITLE]: We will try to
defend it, as we can, but if we can’t then, in order to avoid arrest and injury, we would
just back off. They’re doing in this in hope of stopping
police charging us when that happens. SOPHIE MCNEILL, REPORTER: And what’s down
there? TOM ‘FRONTLINER’ [SUBTITLE]: Police headquarter.
It’s about 200 metres away from us now. SOPHIE MCNEILL, REPORTER: Protestors use lasers
to distract police officers and disrupt what they fear are facial recognition cameras. The protesters are now starting to move back as we can see the police in the distance and it looks like they are coming down straight towards us. Bricks and Molotov cocktails are among the arsenal used by frontliners. As the police advance, protesters head to the metro. PROTESTORS [SUBTITLE]: Our next destination
is Causeway Bay. Move! Let’s move from here first! SOPHIE MCNEILL, REPORTER: Tear gas fired near
the entrance has begun to seep in here. The protesters begin to disperse in different
directions at astonishing speed – adhering to the slogan of their movement which is ‘Be
Water’ – to be formless and shapeless. TOM ‘FRONTLINER’ [SUBTITLE]: And this way
of being flexible is the true meaning of “be water”. When they hit us, we just disperse.
We disappear. We don’t get hurt. We escape or retreat together and then we get at another
place to continue to protest. DATE: Sunday, 11 August SOPHIE MCNEILL, REPORTER: After weeks of protests…
tonight, police change their tactics… A young man is jumped by undercover police
dressed as frontliners. PROTESTER: Even my front tooth has fallen
off. I’m sorry, its OK, I understand. Don’t do this I beg you. SOPHIE MCNEILL, REPORTER: At another location…
a young woman is hit in the eye. In the metro, police fire tear gas canisters
only metres from protesters’ heads and then push them down the escalator and beat them. KEVIN YAM, LAWYER: I thought Sunday night
was a major, major, major miscalculation on the part of the police. The police actions that night were completely unnecessary, and it just raised the temperature
all over again. SOPHIE MCNEILL, REPORTER: As news spreads
of the violent arrests, residents come down from their apartments… and join the frontliners….
cursing the police. PROTESTERS: Reclaim Hong Kong! Revolution in our times SOPHIE MCNEILL, REPORTER: In another neighbourhood, locals surround a police van. PROTESTERS: “Don’t let them go”; “Release
him!”; “Your whole family will die! Fuck you!” “Hong Kong police know the law, break the law”. SOPHIE MCNEILL, REPORTER: The crowds have
all started to cheer because the police are now retreating… GRAFFITI TRANSLATION: We will seek revenge! LOUISA LIM, AUTHOR & JOURNALIST: Hong Kong’s
police force used to be thought of as the finest police force in Asia, and people were
generally quite proud of the police force. But in recent weeks we’ve really seen this
sort of total loss of trust in the police. In some cases, Triads, so local gangs, have
been used to beat up protesters, and the police have not intervened. They feel that
institution of the police force is no longer necessarily safeguarding public order, it’s
doing political work. SOPHIE MCNEILL, REPORTER: A popular uprising like this is Beijing’s worst nightmare. They have been rolling out a steady fear campaign… massing troops and tanks on the border with Hong Kong… and showcasing their ‘riot control’
techniques. A fresh contingent of mainland troops has been sent to the PLA garrison that is permanently stationed on the island… Pro-Beijing politicians are trying to downplay the chances of PLA soldiers being deployed
on Hong Kong’s streets. HOLDEN CHOW PRO GOVERNMENT MP: I don’t think
the PLA would come in to deal with the situation here because I trust the Hong Kong Police
and the Hong Kong SAR government. The difficulty the government is facing right now is they
see the demand from the people. But you know, in the entire movement there simply are no
leaders. And unlike any other civil rights movement, if there are leaders in the movement,
the government can engage with them and have dialogue and negotiate. SOPHIE MCNEILL, REPORTER: The reason there
are no leaders is because the government you support has put them all in jail. HOLDEN CHOW PRO GOVERNMENT MP: Well – SOPHIE MCNEILL, REPORTER: It’s true. You can
see, anyone who emerges as a leader of the pro-democracy camp ends up in jail. HOLDEN CHOW PRO GOVERNMENT MP: Well, you know,
for any person who has committed an act against the law – because we are a city with the rule
of law and we trust that the court would provide them with the proper judgment. SOPHIE MCNEILL, REPORTER: Fearful of Beijing’s
long arm, these frontliners are dismantling new ‘smart’ lamp posts which they fear could
be used by the central government to surveil them. PROTESTER [SUBTITLE]: We don’t want such surveillance lamp post anymore. We don’t wish to be monitor wherever we go or whatever we do.” DATE: Monday 12 August SOPHIE MCNEILL, REPORTER: Furious at police
brutality, the protesters make a bold new move … and decide to close down Hong Kong’s
international airport. PROTESTERS: SHAME ON HONG KONG POLICE! SOPHIE MCNEILL, REPORTER: Among them is university
graduate… Yoyo. YOYO: Because we just know that peaceful rally
doesn’t work anymore, or it doesn’t have any effect apart from showing solidarity with
each other. We’re exploring different ways to urge the government and
also gathering more pressure on the government to respond to our demands. YOYO: None of our five demands have been met.
And, so we basically want to tell people what we are fighting for, and by using a more
peaceful attempt to protest, we want to spread our messages, to people from all over the
world, including visitors from mainland China SOPHIE MCNEILL, REPORTER: By late afternoon
they have shut down one of the world’s busiest airports. Donation have poured in to support the
blockade… food, water… even money for train tickets. ‘Gotham’ is back at the protests. While he
was born in Hong Kong his parents are from mainland china… and they don’t support him
being here. ‘GOTHAM’: My parents are, are in the China
side, and when I come out to protesting, and they will just like, uh, they feel disgusting,
about what I do. ‘GOTHAM’: I think my parents are like scientists
who in the Galileo era believed that the earth was flat, those people have fallen asleep,
you can’t wake them up. If you discuss with them, they become more angry. It is suffocating
to live under the Communist Party’s rule. Living in a place with no freedom and
no rights, including human rights, I think frankly I would rather die. DATE: Tuesday 13th August SOPHIE MCNEILL, REPORTER: Tensions build as
the airport blockade enters its second day… Protestors chant ‘sorry’ at frustrated passengers AIRPORT ANNOUNCEMENT: All passengers are advised
to leave the terminal buildings as soon as possible. PROTESTER: Please, don’t do this. ANGRY PASSENGER: Please, don’t make me angry. PROTESTER: We don’t want chaotic situation! Protesters begin to argue amongst themselves
over how aggressive their tactics should be. PROTESTER [SUBTITLE]: You said I shouldn’t
disturb people! Then I shouldn’t even come out then! I t really affects me too. Why do
you think we had to come here? SOPHIE MCNEILL, REPORTER: People here are
paranoid after police infiltrated their protests. They surround someone they suspect is an undercover
cop. The man is tied up. After discovering he has mainland Chinese ID, some protesters start attacking him. SOPHIE MCNEILL, REPORTER: They’ve surrounded
him and they’re holding him and it’s not clear what they are gonna do with him next. The whole ordeal is being livestreamed on
local media… The man passes out. Paramedics are stopped from evacuating him. With serious concerns for his life, police are sent in. SOPHIE MCNEILL, REPORTER: So crowds have now
surrounded these police who have come into the airport to try and save this man, they
are trying to get him out but the crowd are not letting them take the stretcher out. Protesters swarm outside to confront the police. Reinforcements arrive. A bystander at the airport, Richard Chan, rushes to put himself between the protesters and the police. RICHARD CHAN [SUBTITLE]: I was standing in
the middle in the hope of stopping the further confrontation between the two groups. I believed
that the police would not do anything to me. In addition to my clothing and my age as an uncle, I believed the police would not use much violence. SOPHIE MCNEILL, REPORTER: But Richard is pepper sprayed. RICHARD CHAN [SUBTITLE]: I came here to try
and keep the peace. SOPHIE MCNEILL, REPORTER: Back inside, the crowd spots another man they suspect of being a Chinese spy. PROTESTER [SUBTITLE]: if it’s true let’s beat
the hell out of him MAN: Don’t hit me! Don’t hit me! MAN: Please help me … Look at them.
Look at what they’ve done. SOPHIE MCNEILL, REPORTER: He begs for help
and asks me to keep filming. MAN: It’s OK, it’s OK, it’s OK. Record this! Record this! PROTESTER: Don’t hit him! MAN: Record this! I am innocent. But he is pulled away from our camera and
beaten before paramedics are finally allowed to take him away… He turns out to be a reporter working for Global Times, a communist state media publication. As the night ends, many in the movement believe
the protesters have damaged their cause. FERNANDO CHEUNG, DEMOCRACY MP: Hatred breeds
hatred, and this is what we see. We’ve seen violence escalated on both sides. What you’ve seen
tonight at the airport is not a representation of the campaign itself. We do not condone
violence, we want to fight against violence. SOPHIE MCNEILL, REPORTER: The day after, the movement holds a vote… the majority agree that they should apologise. TOM ‘FRONTLINER’ [SUBTITLE]: I would say the
protesters, including me, committed a mistake. Receiving medical treatment is human right
and it should always be allowed even though maybe he is our enemy and I think the protesters
have learned from their mistakes properly and it’s not going to happen again. SOPHIE MCNEILL, REPORTER: Democracy supporters
call for a return to non-violent tactics. RICHARD CHAN [SUBTITLE]: If there is a very
peaceful protest in the coming Sunday, we are able to tell the government that we are
still very peaceful and pressure the government. YOYO: We can be radical sometimes. We can
also be very, very peaceful, as long as our demands are heard. But one message
is that none of us will quit the fight. We have to keep fighting. There’s no … this
is our end game. This is now or never. SOPHIE MCNEILL, REPORTER: In the pouring rain,
more than a million Hong Kongers show their support for the movement. JOSHUA WONG, DEMOCRACY ACTIVIST: No one can
imagine Beijing would let Hong Kong people have democracy. At the same time, no one imagined
Hong Kong with two out of seven million people join the protest. Hong Kong people always
love to create miracles and be the change that we want to see. PROTESTERS SING “DO YOU HEAR THE PEOPLE SING?” FROM “LES MISERABLES”. FERNANDO CHEUNG, DEMOCRACY MP: So I would
imagine and I would dream that one day we would be looking at Beijing, the rest of China,
going through the same thing. It could be difficult, it could be violent. I certainly
hope not. But the fight in Kong Kong would be a very good example of what would happen
in the rest of China. JOHNSON YEUNG, DEMOCRACY ACTIVIST: I do hope
Hong Kong movement can serve as a beacon that We can live better than just submitting to the terror of Beijing. SOPHIE MCNEILL, REPORTER: Nearly 1000 Hong
Kongers have been arrested in the past 3 months… many could face years in jail. LOUISA LIM: The real issue is that despite millions of people taking to the streets over three months and
despite this return to peaceful protests, the government hasn’t budged at all. It hasn’t
made any concessions at all. RICHARD CHAN [SUBTITLE]: It seems that our
voices are still not being heard. That’s really heartbreaking. SOPHIE MCNEILL, REPORTER: On Friday authorities began rounding up several high-profile democracy activists. Joshua Wong was among those arrested and charged. As the situation remains deadlocked… Hong
Kong’s streets have once again returned to violence. KEVIN YAM, LAWYER: I’m very worried. I can never tell whether they’re brave or crazy brave. Crazy in the sense that they basically see no future, no hope. They think that this is the last stand and that if they don’t fight this one out to the bitter
end, that’s it. DATE: Saturday 31 August SOPHIE MCNEILL, REPORTER: On Saturday night
protesters defied city-wide bans and took to the streets once again. As Hong Kongers refused to disperse, the police
response was unprecedented and brutal. LOUISA LIM, AUTHOR & JOURNALIST: We’re seeing
more and more violence being used, we’re seeing these threats of intervention from Beijing,
it’s really, really hard to see any way out. I think for Hong Kongers, all of this
is unimaginable. Nobody thought that we would now be in this kind of situation where there’s basically pitched battles on the street every, every weekend. Its inexplicable. TOM ‘FRONTLINER’ [SUBTITLE]: We have the same
goal, we are united and what we are facing is enormous because the Chinese government have
many resources to control us. But we’re not afraid because Hong Kong is our home. This is what we only have. And I feel that in this situation fighting for freedom is what I am
born for, and we won’t give up until our last breath. GRAFFITI SUBTITLE: It was you who taught us
peaceful protests don’t work.