by Brian Hioe
Photo Credit: Brian Hioe
INTENSIVE PROTESTS took place across Hong Kong today, marking the 70th anniversary of the founding of the People’s Republic of China, also known as Chinese National Day. Police violence took place on a scale likely unprecedented in demonstrations to date, with one protester shot with a live round, making him the first demonstrator shot with live ammunition during demonstrations in Hong Kong over the past eighteen weeks.
Police refused to issue a letter of no objection to a planned march called for today by the Civil Human Rights Front. The Civil Human Rights Front has organized the largest demonstrations during the past few months of protest in Hong Kong, including demonstrations that have involved millions of participants. As such, smaller demonstrations instead took place across Hong Kong today.
Police began firing tear gas in the mid-afternoon, firing tear gas at demonstrators starting in Wong Tai Sin, Sha Tin, and Tsuen Wan, and at demonstrators who marched from Causeway Bay to demonstrate outside of Central Government Headquarters. The use of tear gas was also heavy in residential and commercial districts in Wan Chai.
Water cannon vehicles sprayed blue-colored liquid at demonstrators outside of Central Government Headquarters, forcing demonstrators to disperse in several different directions. Apart from also attacking demonstrators with batons, riot shields, at one point police began searching individuals sitting in the bleachers in Southorn Playground, claiming that there were “rioters” among them.
Demonstrators responded to police actions by building barricades, tearing up bricks from streets to do so in some cases, and throwing objects at police officers. Molotov cocktails were thrown at police stations in Tsim Sha Tsui and Mong Kok, government offices in Cheung Sha Wan, the Tai Wan MTR station, and other locations.
Pro-Beijing lawmaker Junius Ho’s offices in Tsuen Wan were also vandalized. Ho is thought to have ties to the gangsters that have intermittently attacked demonstrators during the past months of protests, inclusive of an attack on a funeral-themed protest by the League of Social Democrats earlier today by forty to fifty individuals. The offices of Legislative Council member Priscilla Leung, Wong Tai Sin district council members, Ho Ho-man, Lai Wing Ho, and Yuen Kwok Keung and Lai Wing Ho and Sham Shui Po district council member Chan Wai Ming were also vandalized.
Indeed, much of the demonstration today was funeral-themed. Protesters scattered ghost money across city streets, which were also heavily graffitied, particularly outside of MTR stations. Posters pasted onto walls included not only protest artwork but the personal information of police officers. Fires were set directly on city streets, usually by lighting garbage on fire.
As the day went on, MTR stations across Hong Kong were shut down in order to prevent demonstrators from being able to use the MTR to evade police or to move between demonstrations. By night, large tracts of Hong Kong were without MTR service, although some buses were still operational. A total of 47 stations were closed.
What has especially been shocking, however, was that an eighteen-year-old male demonstrator was shot in the chest with a live round by police in the afternoon today. This makes him the first demonstrator to have been shot with a live round during demonstrations to date, although Hong Kong police have suggested that they might begin firing on protesters in the past. Some reports state that the bullet was three centimeters from his heart and that this demonstrator currently requires artificial respiration. The injured demonstrator is currently in critical condition, but it is already known that police plan on arresting him on charges of rioting, which could lead to a jail sentence of up to ten years.
Police later defended their actions in a press conference at 11:45 PM, stating that a police officer had fired because he felt his life was threatened. Police previously claimed that demonstrators would be planning possibly suicidal terrorist attacks for National Day.
It is thought that up to six live rounds may have been fired by police during demonstrations. Over sixty were injured, with two in critical condition. There were also several incidents of vehicles driving into crowds of protesters that took place during the day. The situation became sufficiently dangerous that media outlets including RTHK, SCMP, and other outlets reportedly began withdrawing reporters, an event which has not happened before in demonstrations to date.
Despite much pageantry held by the Chinese government in Beijing today, the spectacle of violence in Hong Kong will no doubt be widely reported on internationally. It was previously feared that the Chinese government would potentially intervene with military force in order to ensure an end to protests in Hong Kong before National Day. Some believe that China has quietly increased the number of troops it has stationed in Hong Kong or has quietly deployed members of the People’s Armed Police mixed in among Hong Kong police.
However, what will happen next in Hong Kong is unknown. Certainly, protests in Hong Kong do not seem likely to end anytime soon. Yet with police having fired a live round at a demonstrator for the first time, this will no doubt lead to further outrage from members of the Hong Kong public, much as outrage previously ensued after a female medic was shot in the eye by demonstrators in August and after an Indonesian journalist was shot in the eye several days ago. Other protest actions are likely to be planned in the near future.