by Brian Hioe
Photo Credit: Uafechusi/WikiCommons
PROTESTS IN Hong Kong took a turn toward the playful on Wednesday, with protesters pointing hundreds, perhaps thousands of laser pointers at the Hong Kong Space Museum in what was billed as a session of “star gazing”. As the night went on, the protest eventually became a dance party.
Demonstrators were protesting actions by the Hong Kong police in previous days after Hong Kong Baptist University student union president Keith Fong was arrested by police on Tuesday night. Police made the accusation that ten laser pointers found in Fong’s back were, in fact, weapons.
Video of the dance party that the Space Museum protest eventually became. Film credit: United Social Press
Protesters have in past weeks taken to aiming laser pointers at police in order to distract or blind them, as well as to avoid their faces being identified by police. Police have, interestingly, adopted similar tactics to prevent from being identified, such as aiming bright flashlights at journalists and protesters, something that has been criticized by the Hong Kong Journalists Association. The sheer amount of laser pointers used at protests, with clouds of tear gas serving as a conducting medium, has made for a strange, science-fiction movie-like sight at times.
In the wake of Fong’s arrest on Tuesday night, demonstrations took place outside a police station in Sham Shui Po, following the now-familiar protest script of nighttime clashes with the police. Protesters were also demonstrating that 800 tear gas canisters were fired during Monday’s general strike, with close to the same amount of tear gas used during a single day than during the entire protests to date, in which over 1,000 tear gas canisters were fired.
Police violence in Hong Kong is escalating at an alarming pace, with a demonstration in June previously seeing more tear gas canisters fired in one day than during the entire 79-day Umbrella Movement in 2014. One also notes the alleged sexual assault of a female demonstrator on Sunday after a female demonstrator was stripped over her pants and underwear by police and not allowed to put them back on, an act that has been criticized by Amnesty International.
Wednesday’s laser protest took place after police justified their charges against Fong with the claim that he was carrying weapons with the intention of assaulting police, police holding a press conference in which they aimed laser pointers at a piece of paper, which produced some smoke after ten seconds. However, as has been noted, protesters generally have not aimed lasers at police at such close proximity as to burn. Police also may have tampered with evidence in holding the press conference, seeing as the laser pointers were originally found without batteries.
Stands News live stream of the Space Museum demonstration. Film credit: Stand News
Police began holding daily press conferences beginning on August 5th, in order to assert their own narrative of events during protests. But the strategy seems to have backfired. The press conference on Wednesday instead led to the demonstration that night being organized with little notice. The demonstration was held to coincide with a laser show organized by the Hong Kong Tourism Board and, during the demonstrations, participants pointed hundreds of laser pointers at the Hong Kong Space Museum, trees, and a piece of paper held up by a demonstrator, chanting ‘Refund!” because none of these objects burned.
Indeed, accusations by the Hong Kong police that demonstrators are carrying weapons have become increasingly broad in past weeks, with police claiming that the protective gear used by demonstrators to defend themselves from police batons, rubber bullets, and tear gas are weapons, and justifying arresting demonstrators on this basis. Such charges are not new. During the 2014 Umbrella Movement, a female demonstrator was convicted on charges that she had assaulted an officer with her breasts, a claim that led to much derision at the time.
The protest seems to have been successful, with Keith Fong released by police Thursday evening after more than 48 hours in custody.
Protesters have taken proactive steps to counter the Hong Kong government and police’s attempts to depict them as violent and irrational in their actions, with daily press conference having begun to be held in the past week, organized through the online forum LIHKG. In these press conferences, demonstrators are usually masked and anonymous, in order to avoid the appearance of there being leaders to the current movement.
Nevertheless, worrying signs are afoot, with the sharp escalation of rhetoric by the Chinese government. The Chinese government termed the demonstrations in Hong Kong a “color revolution” for the first time this week, again claiming that foreign actors are manipulating present events, pointing to the increasing popularity of jailed localist Edward Leung’s slogan “Reclaim Hong Kong, revolution of our times” in demonstrations to claim that the present protests are a “color revolution” with separatist aims. The Chinese government is also incensed by statements of support for the demonstrations in Hong Kong from American politicians including Democratic speaker of the house Nancy Pelosi and Republican senator Marco Rubio.
Notably, pan-Democratic lawmakers have attempted to downplay claims that the slogan “Revolution of our times” calls for separatism, as observed in comments by Kwok Ka-ki of the Civic Party and Helena Wong of the Democratic Party.
Stand News live stream of the ongoing protest in Hong Kong International Airport. Film credit: Stand News
Hong Kong members of the National People’s Congress and the Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference will be heading to Shenzhen to hold meetings this week, likely to consult with senior members of the Chinese government. Pro-Beijing Regina Ip has also suggested that demonstrators are aided by foreign agents, claiming that students and young people otherwise never could have organized on their own.
Further demonstrations are to take place this weekend, including marches in Island East, Sham Shui Po, and Tai Po, a student strike next week, as well as an occupation of Hong Kong International Airport that began earlier today. With the potential for disruption to international air travel to and from Hong Kong, the Hong Kong government took security measures in the airport ahead of time against demonstrators and all indications are that the protest, which is ongoing as of press time, will be a large one.
Unsurprisingly, with the participation the demonstrations by airline workers, including air traffic controllers, ground staff, and cabin crew,, the pro-Beijing camp has ramped up rhetoric against airline workers, claiming that they could potentially hijack planes and carry out a 9/11-style terrorist attack in Hong Kong. It is to be seen what the results of the demonstration will be.