by Brian Hioe
Photo Credit: Telegram
TENSIONS RUN HIGH in Hong Kong tonight, with police having completely surrounded the Hong Kong Polytechnic University (HKPU) and sealed off all exits. However, students, protestors, and reporters are all among those trapped inside, with some believing that the police intend to escalate its ongoing siege of the university to the level of deadly force.
Police have been firing tear gas canisters and rubber bullets at protestors at HKPU since morning. It is known that police are also equipped with live rounds and reports currently circulate that police are also carrying submachine guns. Some reports suggest that the police commander on-site brought AR-15s and MP5s to HKPU in defiance of an order from the Assistant Commissioner of Police.
STP Media reporting on a police officer shouting at demonstrators that he hoped for a repeat of the Tiananmen Square Massacre. Photo credit: STP Media/Facebook
If true, this would seem to confirm that Hong Kong police are lashing out against university campuses as retribution more than anything else, with attacks on universities including the Hong Kong Baptist University (HKBU) and City University of Hong Kong last week. This also suggests that, at this point, Hong Kong police commanders may not actually be able to control the actions of their subordinates. This would further suggest that the command structure of the Hong Kong Police Force has broken down to some extent. A police officer carrying an automatic was recorded shouting at a civilian that he hoped for a repeat of the Tiananmen Square Massacre at 11 PM.
A water cannon vehicle was also deployed at HKPU, marking another incident in which police deployed a water cannon on a university campus after last week’s deployment of a water cannon vehicle at the CUHK campus. Police have confirmed that among the vehicles deployed are vehicles equipped with sound cannon equipment and that sound cannons were fired during the afternoon, making this the first use of such crowd control equipment during the protests to date.
It is believed that police are attempting to track who is currently on campus using the HKPU wi-fi network. Police have also taken to blasting songs at protestors, playing songs from Beyond, Jackie Chan, and the theme songs of Taiwanese and Hong Kong television dramas, claiming that this will calm down protestors. In truth, though, police may be hoping to deliberately taunt protestors, as taunting behavior from police toward demonstrators to be on the rise lately.
In turn, demonstrators have thrown Molotov cocktails, bricks, fired arrows at police. At one point a police officer was hit by an arrow in the thigh, resulting in a relatively minor injury—this was nonetheless reported on by a number of international media outlets as though it were a severe injury. Shortly before 9 PM, an armored police vehicle was set on fire, making this one of the few times in the protests over the last six months that a police vehicle was set on fire. However, the fire was quickly extinguished.
Two footbridges connecting HKPU with the Hung Hum MTR station were burnt down. Fortifications had been built up on the HKPU campus by demonstrators earlier this week, though this saw relatively sparse coverage in English. Clashes with police took place on Saturday.
Armored police vehicle set ablaze after being hit by Molotov cocktails. Film credit: Demosisto/Facebook
Police issued a warning at midnight that they will respond with lethal force, in firing live rounds if protestors continue to resist. The police made similar announcements regarding the use of lethal force earlier in the afternoon. Police violence tonight has already resulted in a reporter suffering a cerebral hemorrhage after being struck by a water cannon, despite wearing a protective helmet at the time. Police confirmed during a press briefing that they had opened fire on a white car that crashed into police around 10 PM.
According to the Hong Kong Journalists’ Association (HKJA), police are arresting anyone that leaves the university campus, including medics and journalists, unless they can provide press passes or other forms of documentation. Otherwise, they would be arrested on charges of rioting, which can carry up to ten years in jail in Hong Kong.
However, in addition to the fact that attacks on medics and journalists have already taken place from Hong Kong police, it has become a frequent claim of police that protestors have been disguising themselves as journalists and medics, which makes it likely that police may arrest journalists and medics anyway.
Indeed, there are some reports of police arresting medics after claiming that they could leave, photos currently circulate online of first aiders by the Hong Kong Coliseum who seem to have been arrested by police, and there are also reports of police firing at individuals as they were leaving through the Ycore campus exit. Among those trapped inside HKPU is a Reuters team that has stated that it intends to stay until the end of the situation, regardless of the outcome, suggesting that police are willing to shrug off the attention of the international media. Some of those currently trapped inside HKPU stated that they have written their wills, possibly anticipating the worst. The HKJA has asked journalists currently on the HKPU campus to forward their names to the organization.
In the meantime, demonstrators are attempting forms of direct action in the area around HKPU to try and redirect police attention away from those trapped within HKPU. Similarly, there have been calls for protests in other parts of Hong Kong to try and distract police. Reportedly, thousands are demonstrating in Tsim Sha Tsui in order to try and carry this out.
The Civil Human Rights Front, which has coordinated the largest of the protests to date in Hong Kong, issued a public statement calling for a de-escalation of the situation. It is also known that there are individuals driving to HKPU to try and aid protestors.
Ongoing Stand News livestream. Film credit: Stand News/Facebook
Fears are that police will carry out a massacre at HKPU take place in wake of a siege of the CUHK campus in Sha Tin by riot police last Tuesday, with police firing what some believe to be over 2,000 canisters of tear gas. In the wake of the siege, demonstrators began building fortifications and setting up siege defenses, including catapults.
However, demonstrators withdrew from CUHK earlier this week, likely with the view that fortifying CUHK was too escalatory a move. To this extent, because many of the demonstrators on CUHK fortifying the campus were not students, this led to tensions on—campus and the university administration planned to call the police.
After the withdrawal, People’s Liberation Army (PLA) troops garrisoned in Hong Kong went to the HKBU campus to clear debris from the previous clashes with police. PLA soldiers apparently were not ordered to do this by the Hong Kong government, suggesting that this was a deliberate move by Beijing intended to reemphasize that its authority overrules the Hong Kong government. For its part, state-run media claims that PLA troops did this of their own accord when out of uniform, after spotting Hongkongers clearing debris around HKBU on their own.
Whether the situation at HKPU deescalates or takes a turn for the worse remains to be seen. This will become more clear as the night goes on.