HONG KONG: Hundreds of Hong Kong pro-democracy activists rallied on Friday outside the British Consulate, urging the city’s former colonial ruler to emulate the US and take concrete actions to support their cause, as police ended a blockade of a university campus after 12 days.

Waving British flags, the activists urged Britain to ensure that Hong Kong political dissidents do not suffer the same fate as Simon Cheng, a former British Consulate employee in the city who says he was detained and tortured by Chinese secret police.

The rally came a day after US President Donald Trump signed into law two bills to support democracy and human rights in the semi-autonomous Chinese territory.

The UK should enforce similar laws and should have done even more to support the protest movement, said a masked rally organizer who identified herself only as Dawn. Activists handed a petition to a British Consulate official before leaving.

Beijing denies torturing Cheng and says he was held for soliciting prostitution during a business trip to mainland China in August. Cheng says he agreed to confess to avoid harsher charges. He says he was hooded, beaten and chained to a metal frame as Chinese secret police sought information on activists involved in the protests and on Britain’s purported role.

Cheng has left the consulate and is in hiding.

Violence in Asia’s top financial hub has abated since a stunning victory by the pro-democracy camp in Nov 24 local elections, seen as a sharp rebuke to the city’s embattled leader, Carrie Lam.

Protesters are planning more rallies this weekend to keep up their pressure on Lam, who has refused to offer any new concessions to their demands, including greater democracy and an independent probe into alleged police brutality.

At a lunchtime rally Friday, hundreds of people chanted slogans and carried posters telling Lam that it’s time to step down. Protesters disrupted traffic in at least two places but dispersed after police issued warnings.

On Thursday night, thousands joined a large rally to thank America, on its Thanksgiving Day holiday, and to call on other countries to join the US in supporting the protest movement, now in its sixth month.

One of the new US laws prescribes sanctions on officials found guilty of human rights abuses and requires an annual review of a special trade status for Hong Kong. The other bans the export of certain nonlethal munitions to Hong Kong police.

China has warned of strong countermeasures and Hong Kong’s government has slammed the US move as unwarranted meddling in its affairs.

Published in Dawn, November 30th, 2019