by Brian Hioe
Photo Credit: Demosisto/Facebook
ATTACKS BY police on demonstrators took place in Yuen Long in Hong Kong yesterday, with police using tear gas and firing rubber bullets and sponge grenades at demonstrators. Eleven were arrested, with twenty-three injured, including two in serious condition. Some reports suggest that up to seven may be in serious condition, however.
According to organizers, 288,000 participated in the demonstration in Yuen Long yesterday. The demonstration was against the attacks on protestors by individuals thought to be triad members that had taken place in Yuen Long last week, these attacks coming on the heels of police violence against protesters. The demonstration was also against suspected police collusion with triads in the attacks.
Last week, police responded forty minutes late to attacks on demonstrators in the Yuen Long MRT and shut their doors in the face of demonstrators calling on them to take action. Video footage later emerged of police chatting in a friendly manner with triad members and minimal arrests of triad members took place. As such, police are generally thought to have colluded with triad members, who may have even been hired by the Hong Kong government, or mobilized due to ties with pro-Beijing lawmakers, most notably Junius Ho.
This week’s demonstration is significant because of the high numbers it drew despite being banned by the police. Police refused to approve the demonstration ahead of time, meaning that demonstrators could potentially face up to five years in jail for “unlawful assembly.” Evidently, police banning demonstrations will have limited effectiveness going forward despite the risks. Eleven have already been arrested on charges of “unlawful assembly”.
Because of the police ban, a number of Internet memes joked that the demonstration would instead take place under the auspices of performing an anime-inspired resurrection ceremony for the recently deceased former Chinese premier Li Peng, widely viewed as responsible for the Tiananmen Square Massacre, “International Wife Cake Day,” or playing Pokemon Go.
Police also refused to approve a demonstration set to take place today at the Sun Yat Sen Memorial Park in Sheung Wan which was also against police and triad brutality, although the permit for a demonstration set to take place today in Chater Garden in Central was approved. The Sheung Wan demonstration is also expected to see a large turnout today, with demonstrators calling on each other to participate in the Sheung Wan demonstration as they retreated yesterday.
Image widely circulated online showing men in white, thought to be triad members, preparing to attack in a restaurant
The police announced a dispersion operation in Yuen Long around 5 PM yesterday. Among the notable incidents of violence which took place included police firing tear gas and rubber bullets at journalists, attacking a social worker even after they produced their ID, and beating a protester that was already injured bloody in the Yuen Long West Rail Station, leaving bloodstains on the floor of the station.
Many have pointed to the strong visual parallels between police actions this week and triad actions last week in terms of attacking protesters in Yuen Long MRT and train stations, even against demonstrators that were simply attempting to leave. To this extent, though there was no coordinated attacks on demonstrators by triads this week, triads were sighted throughout the day. It was originally feared that triad members might attack in the late night hours after demonstrators were worn down from clashes with police.
An image widely circulated online shows men wearing white thought to be triad members gathering in a restaurant, preparing for an attack, and footage has emerged of purported triad members applauding police. One man was arrested yesterday for attacking demonstrators with a knife, but it is unclear if he was a triad member. There are also at least two incidents in which a number of blunt instruments were found in cars by demonstrators, these cars thought to belong to triad members, or possibly even China’s Liaison Offfice in Hong Kong.
In the meantime, the situation in Hong Kong appears to be as without resolution as ever, protests having long since become a part of everyday life in Hong Kong, and each weekend usually seeing a demonstration that brings with it clashes with the police.
Demonstrations have long since expanded beyond the scope of simply calling on the Hong Kong government to fully withdraw the Beijing-backed extradition bill, but toward broader calls for democracy and accountability from the Hong Kong government. Yet with no response from the Hong Kong government, it may be that the government still intends to prolong events as long as possible, in order that fatigue eventually sets in. With the Chinese Ministry of Defense stating earlier this week that the People’s Liberation Army could be mobilized in Hong Kong at the request of the Hong Kong government, the threat of Chinese military suppression may be becoming an increasingly real one.
Demonstration on Friday in Hong Kong International Airport. Photo credit: League of Social Democrats/Facebook
To this extent, new protest tactics may be needed going forward. For example, a demonstration targeting Hong Kong International Airport on Friday saw the arrivals hall of the airport temporarily occupied by over 1,000 protesters, who called on arriving passengers to support the cause of democracy in Hong Kong. If demonstrators had genuinely occupied Hong Kong International Airport, disrupting air traffic, the pressure on the Hong Kong government and China to acquiesce to the demands of protesters would have likely been higher. It is possible that targeting logistical choke points in Hong Kong which stand to affect China could be a path forward, instead of simply continuing to hold weekly protests.