Thousands of civil servants and protesters poured into Hong Kong’s Chater Garden in the heart of the financial district on Friday evening to protest the city’s mishandling of weeks of protests, signaling deep divisions within the government.
The gathering took place in spite of warnings from the government that its 180,000 civil servants must stay politically neutral, although it later said they could attend in a “personal capacity”.
The protest followed weeks of demonstrations in Hong Kong against a controversial bill that would allow for the extradition of criminal suspects to China.
This is the first time government employees have come out en masse.
Hong Kong’s government has alienated many otherwise apolitical residents as weeks of protests have come to increasingly violent ends, with riot police facing off against mostly young protesters in their 20s.
Hong Kong Chief Executive Carrie Lam has all but disappeared from public view in recent weeks after apologising to protesters and promising to suspend the bill, but she has declined to withdraw it permanently.
“I don’t believe the government is properly operating. I think we are becoming a police state,” said a protester named Tony who works for the police department.
Another protester, a civil engineer who preferred to remain anonymous, said that working conditions had become “hellish”.
“I think it’s only the police they are drunk on their own power; other civil servants with a sense of dignity would not have done such a thing to their own people,” the protester added.
Separately this week an anonymous letter from Justice Department employees condemned mass arrests at a protest on Sunday that saw 44 people charged with rioting.