Editor’s Note: This story is a first hand account from the inside of the Hong Kong airport from our Assistant Sports Editor
Hong Kong International Airport shut down fully August 12, with no inbound or outbound flights because of 12 weeks of massive protests by residents of Hong Kong.
That evening, I was supposed to fly home to Jakarta, but instead I experienced a full-on protest.
Protesters are speaking out against the passing of an extradition bill that would broaden the list of countries where alleged offenders may be sent beyond those with which Hong Kong has mutual extradition agreements — most notably Mainland China.
Hong Kong, formerly a British colony, reverted to to China in 1997, but it has its own currency, political structure and judicial system with a more democratic makeup than Mainland China. The protestors fear that this bill is a way for Beijing to encroach on their rights.
They dress themselves in black in every protest, but that afternoon I realized they also were wearing cotton eye-patches with illustrated bloodstains, a reference to a woman who was reportedly injured by a police officer.
I saw pictures held by protesters of a woman with blood on one of her eyes. On the eve of Aug. 12 a riot broke out, and there were clashes between protesters and police throughout Hong Kong island and the Kowloon peninsula. In one incident a police officer accidentally shot a female nurse at work in the eye with a rubber bullet.
The incident ignited the rage of young Hong Kongers, who called it an act of police brutality. Protesters said police shot rubber bullets at point-blank range and tear gas grenades indoors.
I talked to a young boy dressed in black, who introduced himself as a 16-year-old high school student. He said they will keep coming to the airport until the government takes action. He added that the protesters want the world to know what Hong Kong is facing.
That afternoon many airline passengers were confused because no airport staff were working in the terminal for international flights. I saw passengers with families and little children, as well passengers who looked like they were on an urgent business trip.
I was evacuated, along with all the other passengers, to Terminal Two where there were fewer protesters. When walking to the terminal, I waded through a sea of people, all dressed in black and chanting “Hong Kong” over and over.
Although the day was full of inconvenience, it was illuminating to experience a major international event firsthand. The protesters were also apologetic to the passengers and offered food to us from the evening until midnight.
Word of us being stranded in the airport reached the Indonesian Consulate General in Hong Kong, who sent officials to pick us up and let us spend the night in the consulate.
I left Hong Kong on the afternoon of Aug. 13 with a compensation flight ticket from the airline to fly to Jakarta.