'Hong Kong is becoming a police dictatorship'

Police wear masks while a mask ban is imposed on civilians in Hong Kong. Photo: Etan Liam/Flickr.

Hong Kong police unleashed a new wave of violence against protesters on November 11, killing one and injuring others. Green Left’s Pip Hinman asked student activist Wlam*, who is currently studying in Australia, about the democracy movement and where things are headed. (*Wlam is a pseudonym to protect his identity.) 

The movement for democracy in Hong Hong, which started as a protest movement against Chief Executive Carrie Lam’s extradition bill, seems to have been successful in winning that concession. It is now highlighting five demands. What are they and why are they important?

First, we want an independent commission of inquiry into the police use of force during the protests. Civil society groups say the level of violence on June 12 was completely unjustified.

The police were carrying out stop-and-search operations without probable cause, even on those walking by. Some failed to display their identification number or warrant card, despite the Police General Orders requiring them to do so. The existing watchdog, the Independent Police Complaints Council, also lacks independence.

Secondly, we are demanding the government retract its categorisation of the June 12 protest as a “riot”. It was not.

Third, we want the arrested protesters released and exonerated. The arrests are politically motivated, especially as the police also arrested people at hospitals by accessing their confidential medical data.

Fourth, we want Carrie Lam to resign and universal suffrage for Legislative Council and Chief Executive elections. Currently, the Chief Executive is selected by a 1200-member Election Committee and 30 of the 70 Legislative Council seats are filled by representatives from different sectors of the economy. The root of our problems lies with the absence of universal suffrage and a government which has not been endorsed by Hong Kong citizens.

Fifth, we wanted the extradition bill completely withdrawn, which it was on October 23. But as our campaign is “Five demands. Not one less”, we are still working on the other four.

Why, after several months of peaceful protests, have the police turned so violent?

The violent crackdown came after protesters became angry at the police’ continuous abuse, particularly following the July 21 incident in Yuen Long metro station (the “7.21 Incident”).

More than 100 men in white T-shirts (the “White Tees”), who are allegedly triads, gathered at Yuen Long and attacked passengers in the lobby, on the platform and in the cabins using bamboo sticks and baseball bats.

That night, some 20,000 calls were made to the police call centre about the attack. However, they arrived at the scene more than one hour after the first report. The White Tees were gone by then.

Later that night, the police found the White Tees had gathered at a village nearby, still with their weapons. But the police still took no action.

People condemned the police because they could have stopped the attack. Chief of security Lee Ka Chiu described the number of emergency calls that night as an “abuse” of the service. People kept calling the hotline because the police failed to attend the scene.

Despite evidence which shows that protesters and passers-by — “Yellow faction”, were attacked by people who oppose the protests — “Blue faction”, the police let the Blue faction leave.

Senior police did say they would bring the attackers to justice, but the mass arrests of the Yellow faction shows the police bias. 

Hong Kong is becoming a police dictatorship. Because senior police are not taking action against police wrongdoing, the protesters’ hatred towards the police, and the entire government, has been growing.

Lam, who often praises the police for “controlling” the “riots”, has refused to set up an independent committee to investigate the police abuse of power. She has said nothing about the Blue’s attacks on the Yellow.

At the 7.21 Incident, the Blue were mainly triads and Fujian gangs, with some Mainlanders. The triads allegedly joined the attack for money, or under instruction from an unknown player.

The Fujian gangs claimed that the Yellow was destroying the stability of Hong Kong and were defying the “One Country-Two Systems” rule. They support police violence against the Yellow.

This is why the Blue attacked the Yellow and the police turned a blind eye.

Initially, the Blue beat up the Yellow and police did not intervene.  But as the violence has became more intense, the Yellow has started to fight back in self-defence.

There have been incidents, often seen on footage, where the Blue provoked and attacked the Yellow and, as the latter fought back, the Blue, protected by police, left the scene.

Recently, a taxi driver allegedly intentionally drove into a big crowd at a protest and hit a few protesters, fracturing one person’s legs. The taxi driver was then beaten up by the Yellow.

Now, the injured protesters have been charged with “illegal assembly” and some with “assault causing bodily harm”. But the taxi driver has not been charged, even for careless driving. Rumour has it that the driver received a substantial sum of money afterwards.

The Hong Kong democracy movement has involved up to 25% of the total population. Apart from students, are workers and their unions joining in too?

The current Hong Kong movement, also known as the “Water Revolution”, is characterised by its fluidity — like water. It is also described as something which “blossoms everywhere”.

Contrary to the Umbrella Movement of 2014, from June this year, when the movement started until now, the movement has not been led by one political figure.

Its fluidity can be attributed to social media, including Facebook, Telegram, Twitter, as well as online discussion forums.

Messages and updates are being spread rapidly and this has helped coordinate an appeal for support for local protests in short spaces of time, even hours.

While major protests are often organised by pan-democratic parties, waves of movement-related events, strikes by unions and community assemblies, documentary road-shows and real news reports in neighbourhoods, are being initiated in different districts all the time. Those taking these initiatives are diverse in terms of age, occupation and educational background.

Students and younger protesters are undoubtedly playing an important part — especially keeping up the movement’s momentum. They are at the frontlines.

Other parts of society are being moved to join in: among them there are the “Silvery-hair group”, the educated senior citizens who often help mediate between the police and young protesters to protect the latter from being attacked or arrested; the “Black-tie group”, professionals including lawyers who march with the democracy movement in their formal attire; and the “White-coat group”, who are mainly medics and health-care professionals.

Other sectors supporting the movement include high school, parent, religious, ethnic minorities groups as well as teacher and social worker unions.

Social media has significantly helped the mobilisations and the Hong Kong government sees that as a game-changing threat.

Under the guise of being against violence, the government has demanded the High Court grant it an interim injunction order to stop the promotion, encouragement and incitement of the use or threat of violence by an internet-based platform.

The order prohibits the general public from disseminating, circulating, publishing or re-publishing on any internet-based platform or medium (including, but not limited to, LIHKG, one of the heated online discussion forums for the movement and Telegram) any material or information that promotes, encourages or incites the use or threat of violence.

It is trying to stop people from promoting the protests. Not only does this inevitably undermine the judiciary’s independence from the executive it also, for the first time, threatens our basic right to freedom of speech on the social media.

What are the implications of the shrinking political autonomy for the people of Hong Kong?

The growing interference from the People’s Republic of China (PRC) has been responsible for this. There are two major implications: one is that those who are not in favour of, or departs from, the PRC, will be silenced; the second is that the government’s future policy will be to prioritise Hong Kong’s integration into the supreme PRC development framework, even while the people of Hong Kong disagree.

The authoritarianism of PRC leaves no room for disobedience. The “disobedient”, including the pro-democracy and radical democracy camps, will be silenced.

Screened elections, surveillance, threats, deceitful convictions, as well as targeted attacks are tactics the PRC has deployed in Hong Kong and in mainland China in its attempt to “harmonise the disordered society”.

Only the select few can be a part of the government. Policy decisions will lie with those who favour the PRC’s rules.

Having a certain independence from the PRC has given Hong Kong’s government an advantage over other cities in China. It has also given confidence to international corporations to invest in Hong Kong.

If this changes, corporations may not be so willing to invest, because the supreme PRC development framework demands a high degree of control.

Furthermore, the PRC’s macroeconomic mindset often overlooks the microscopic condition. It could destroy the well-built system in Hong Kong, making it no different to other cities in China.

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