More than 1,000 people filled the space of two football pitches in a Hong Kong park on Friday, showing support for independence from China after candidates running on a self-rule platform were barred from upcoming elections.
Hong Kong's independence movement, mostly dismissed as a fringe movement, usually draws some 100-200 supporters. It saw a surge in public support after six candidates who advocated independence from China were barred by the Electoral Affairs Commission from taking part in the city's district council elections in September.
The move was largely condemned as political screening by a body that is meant to be politically neutral.
"It's unfair," said Mar Kin-ho, a 27-year-old environmental engineer who called the disqualifications arbitrary. "We can't keep following their rules."
Mar said he came to the rally seeking an alternative future, as he believed the Chinese government was intensifying its clampdown on any opposition.
Hong Kong residents have shown distrust of the Chinese government and the city's administrators, with many judging government interests to be fundamentally opposed to the welfare of the city's residents.
Edward Leung, a member of the pro-independence Hong Kong Indigenous party, was banned Tuesday from running in September elections despite signing a declaration that he would not advocate for a split from China.
No candidates had been required to sign such a pledge before this electoral season.
The electoral commission ultimately declared Leung insincere but then allowed several other pro-independence candidates who had not signed the pledge to run.
"Right now this is a colonial government for China," said TK Ma, an associate creative director with an advertising agency in thecity, who also supports independence. "They will do whatever ittakes to protect the interests of China."
The democratic party's Emily Lau wrote to the UN Human Rights Council asking them to take urgent action on the disturbing development, the South China Morning Post reported Friday.
China recently released a video painting Hong Kong's activists as anarchists bent on bringing down the communist government. China has sought to crush the rhetoric of independence in the city time and time again, but the act of banning candidates appears to have fanned the flames.
The activists' goal is not just to have democracy, but to actively be able to rule Hong Kong, said Chan Ho-ting, a group spokesman, speaking to a crowd in Tamar Park.
"Hong Kong independence is inevitable," he said.