Protest in Hong Kong: Monsoon of Their Discontent

has called for an investigation into alleged police mistreatment of participants and journalists at July 1st protests in Hong Kong.

Journalists have alleged that police at the scene unnecessarily used pepper spray against reporters covering the march. The Journalists’ Association chairwoman, Mak Yin-ting, complained in a letter sent to Police Commissioner Andy Tsang Wai-hung, news reports said, that police used pepper spray against at least 19 journalists, including three reporters who were sprayed directly in the face and eyes. The journalists’ group is demanding a police investigation. “At a time when freedom of speech and assembly and the rights of a free press are under serious attack by Chinese security forces just over the border, it’s essential for the government to demonstrate a strong commitment to the defense of those same rights and freedoms in ,” [Human Rights Watch’s Asia advocacy director, Sophie] Richardson said ….

Human rights lawyers and civil society activists in Hong Kong have in recent years expressed increasing concern about a perceived lower official tolerance for dissent in the territory. Such concerns have been exacerbated by Hong Kong immigration authorities’ denial of entry to high-profile critics of China’s human rights record including the 1989 student protest leader Wang Dan. In its most recent annual report, released on July 11, the Hong Kong Journalists Association noted that “The trend for the government, and in particular the police, to take a harsher line against protesters has continued in [2011].”

The Economist puts the July 1st protest in context:

On July 1st 2003 half a million people took to the streets of Hong Kong, forced the government to give up on a reviled law and ended the career of the territory’s chief executive, . This is not a moment, but the kettle is boiling again. On July 1st throngs of angry Hong Kong people rallied between Victoria Park and the government buildings in Central—more than 200,000, according to organisers—shouting, singing, whistling and waving banners demanding democratic rights, great and small. It was the largest popular demonstration on Chinese territory in several years. The people of Hong Kong, so often quiescent, are angry again: at their local government and at meddling by the national authorities in faraway Beijing.

On the next business day, July 4th, the government blinked, postponing a controversial revision to Hong Kong’s electoral law, which would have banned by-elections for vacated seats in the Legislative Council (). The government had wanted to do this to prevent its opponents from repeating a stunt from last year, when they engineered by-elections to improvise a kind of straw poll on democracy itself ….

The delay may cool passions, but not for long. The underlying issue of suffrage in Hong Kong is becoming more divisive as the tenure of Yam-kuen, the current chief executive, draws to a close. This July marks the start of Mr Tsang’s last year in office. In 2012 a carefully selected committee of 1,200 members—0.017% of the population—will choose his replacement.