by Brian Hioe

Photo Credit: Studio Incendo/Flickr/CC

A WAVE OF violence took place in Hong Kong over the weekend, perhaps marking the end of a relatively quiet period for the protests that have rocked Hong Kong for the past year.

Although protests have taken place in Hong Kong for the last year, as originally sparked by an extradition bill that would have allowed Hongkongers to be extradited to China to face charges, protests had been relatively quiet in past months, due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. But key movement anniversaries still saw protests, the Hong Kong government continued with arrests of protest participants, and the Hong Kong government began to use measures to prevent the spread of COVID-19 as a pretext for cracking down on protests.

Pro-democracy lawmakers Ray Chan and Claudia Mo being attacked in the Hong Kong Legislative Council

But with the pandemic seemingly under control in Hong Kong, protests gradually began to resume in Hong Kong, with the resumption of protest fixtures such as lunchtime protests. Demonstrations over the past weekend, too, saw the resumption of the longstanding pattern of clashes between police and protesters breaking out at night during weekends. Polling had previously suggested that protests would resume once the pandemic passed.

Demonstrations were triggered after clashes in the Hong Kong Legislative Council (LegCo) on Friday. On Friday, pro-Beijing lawmaker Starry Lee, forcibly occupied the podium in LegCo in order to clear 14 bills along with her political allies, an event which led to physical clashes between pro-Beijing and pro-democracy lawmakers.

Eleven pro-democracy lawmakers were forcibly evicted from the LegCo chambers by pro-Beijing lawmakers and LegCo security cards, with pro-democracy lawmakers Ray Chan being tackled by pro-Beijing lawmaker Kwok Wai-keung, and Claudia Mo nearly hit by a placard. Pro-democracy Eddie Chu attempted to scale a wall to get closer to the podium, but was dragged down by security guards. Chan was subsequently sent to the ER and found to have suffered a slipped disc.

The bills that Lee was able to pass did not include a controversial bill criminalizing insulting the Chinese national anthem, the March of the Volunteers. But Lee’s actions are seen as strengthening the pro-Beijing camp’s position to pass the bill. Overall, the event resembles regular clashes within the Taiwanese legislature for the podium between the DPP and KMT, as well as KMT legislator Chang Ching-chung’s use of a megaphone to pass the controversial CSSTA trade agreement in the series of events that set off the 2014 Sunflower Movement.

Thirteen-year-old student journalist surrounded by police in the Harbour City mall

Protests subsequently broke out that night in Mong Kok over the incident in LegCo, while at the same time, commemorations for the six-month anniversary of the death of protester Alex Chow Tsz-lok took place in Pacific Place in Admiralty and on the campus of the Hong Kong University of Science and Technology. Chow died from a fall from a car park in Tseung Kwan O during a protest. Many believe that this took place because Chow was being chased by the police at the time. Before the LegCo incident, one also notes assaults on pro-democracy demonstrators had taken place that morning by Lennon Walls in Kwun Tong and Wong Tai Sin.

On Saturday, demonstrations for crowds to assemble and sing protest songs took place in shopping malls such as Hollywood Plaza and the Tai Po Mega City. In a separate incident that was not directly related to the protests, a southeast Asian man seems to have been beaten to death by police on Saturday night. Police claim that the man was drunk on Nathan Road in Kowloon, that they used “appropriate force” to subdue him, and that heroin was found on him, but the man was pronounced dead at 5:45 PM at the Queen Elizabeth Hospital.

The incident is one of several incidents involving Hong Kong police over the past week that were not directly connected to the protests but which were angering of the public. This included four police officers being arrested on drug charges, two officers arrested on gambling charges, and eight officers arrested for assaulting homeless individuals.

With reports of protests that were set to take place on Sunday afternoon, police conducted raids on shopping malls such as Cityplaza, Harbour City, TMTPlaza, and Tsuen Wan Plaza, and the vicinity of the Star Ferry by Tsim Sha Tsui, with crowds that had gathered exchanging insults with police in Harbour City and Tsuen Wan Plaza. Police fired pepper balls in the MOKO shopping mall. A thirteen-year-old student reporter was surrounded by police and insulted in the Harbour City Mall, with further reports of a possible demonstrator in Tsim Sha Tsui arrested for only holding a flag.

Riot police applying force to pro-democracy lawmaker Ray Kwong’s neck

Protests broke out again in Mong Kok. In particular, police pepper-sprayed detained a number of journalists around midnight, handcuffing them with zip ties. Lawmaker Ray Kwong was pepper-sprayed, arrested and pressed to the ground by riot police, with a police officer photographed pressing his knee onto Kwong’s neck. Kwong’s assistant also pepper-sprayed, passing out afterward. A riot police officer was photographed aiming a rifle at a student reporter from the City University of Hong Kong and a female Apple Daily reporter was placed in a chokehold by police and taken away in an ambulance. Former Scholarism spokesperson Wong Ji-yuet was surrounded by police, who attempted to force her to unlock her phone, and made sexually harassing comments to her.

It remains to be seen as to whether the COVID-19 pandemic has fully receded in Hong Kong, with large crowds over the weekend causing concerns as to whether this could lead to another wave of the pandemic. However, as the wave of violence that has taken place over the weekend goes to show, police violence against demonstrators continues in the midst of the pandemic. If the COVID-19 situation remains stable, one generally expects regular weekend clashes between demonstrators and police to resume going forward.

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