Police Clash With Protesters in HK (Updating)

As Hong Kong’s annual Lunar New Year street parade was coming to a close, violent clashes between police and protesters broke out in the Mong Kok area of the Yau Tsim Mong district at around 10:00 p.m. on Monday. The clash reportedly began as hawkers protested new city-wide regulations against street-food vending.

This post will be updated regularly, with the latest entries at the top.

8:14:51 PM PST, Feb 10, 2016

Most recent coverage of the Mong Kok incident report that 100 were injured and 64 arrested, and that more arrests could be made later. Among those arrested was Scholarism member and student activist Derek Lam Shun-hin, detained while attempting to board a flight to Taiwan. Radio Free Asia’s Lin Jing reports:

A member of a student activist group was arrested at the city’s airport on Wednesday morning before boarding a flight to Taiwan because of suspected involvement in violent clashes between police and protesters on the Lunar New Year, the group said in a statement.

Scholarism said member Derek Lam Shun-hin, 22, spent only four hours on Monday night in the city’s gritty, working-class district of Mong Kok where the occurred, and did not take part in any violent clashes or attacks on police officers. [Source]

The South China Morning Post’s Earnest Kao and Chris Lau report from a Kowloon courtroom today, where a hearing began for 38 allegedly involved in the violence, all charged with single counts of rioting:

A Kowloon City courtroom was packed just minutes after it opened its doors on Thursday morning, as 38 defendants charged in connection with the Mong Kok riot are expected to make their first court appearances.

[…] Among the crowd [of over 100 spectators filling the court’s public gallery seats], there were activists, including Scholarism convenor Joshua Wong Chi-fung, University of Hong Kong’s student union president Billy Fung Jing-en, and founder of now-defunct political group Student Front Alvin Cheng Kam-mun.

[…] Meanwhile, 16 people between the ages of 14 to 33 were released on bail pending further investigation, while another 10 remain detained for further enquiries.

According to the police, rioting is a serious offence that carries a maximum sentence of 10 years’ imprisonment. [Source]

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7:54:44 PM PST, Feb 10, 2016

In his official statement yesterday, Hong Kong chief executive CY Leung classified the incident as a riot, and defended the response of police. The South China Morning Post’s Nikki Sun, Allen Au-yeung, and Eddie Lee report that Mong Kok retailers and car owner whose property was affected by the violence may be denied claims due to the classification:

Owners of shops and vehicles damaged during Monday’s violence in Mong Kok were unlikely to be able to make insurance claims as authorities declared the incident a “riot”, said an insurer.

However, people who were hurt during the clashes should still be able to claim medical insurance provided they did not join in the violence, said insurance sector lawmaker Chan Kin-por.

[…] While some property policies cover riots and civil disorder, most owners do not take such coverage and car insurance rarely offers such an indemnity. […] [Source]

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7:48:30 PM PST, Feb 10, 2016

A multimedia report from the South China Morning Post documents the struggle for survival facing Hong Kong’s hawkers, anticipating that if policies don’t change the trade could be forced into extinction within the next 50 years:

Hong Kong hawking – an age-old practice of selling cheap food and wares from stalls and street carts – is going the way of horse-drawn carts and century-old buildings. Worried about hygiene, safety and street congestion, city officials took steps in the 1970s to limit the practice. Those rules – a ban on new licences and severe limits on their transfer – has shrunk the number of legal hawkers from 50,000 in 1974 to about 6,000 today, city records show. Last year, the city started a programme to buy back licences, further shrinking the numbers.

With many licence holders in their 60s, and no new licences or policy changes to foster this form of commerce, hawking – and all its tourist charms and economic benefits for the lower classes – could die out in 50 years if current policies don’t change, says Yip Po-lam, convener of a grassroots concern group for hawkers.

Perhaps realising this, the city has begun exploring changes to their policies, said an official of the Food and Health Bureau, who asked to remain anonymous. A department spokesman said the government recognised the cultural significance of hawking and is not trying to kill it off. […] [Source]

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5:30:58 PM PST, Feb 9, 2016

For images of the clash in Mong Kok, see a collection of Reuters staff photography. For a roundup of political cartoons inspired by the incident, see CDT’s recently compiled Drawing the News gallery.

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1:45:25 PM PST, Feb 9, 2016

At Tech in Asia, C. Custer notes that the violence in Hong Kong has been well-covered by state-owned Chinese media, and that censors are taking a “light touch” approach to regulating social media discussion of the event:

News of the conflict is not being censored in mainland China. In fact, quite the contrary: the riots have been prominently covered by most of China’s state-owned media outlets. But discussion of the riots hasn’t been totally free on Sina Weibo; Hong Kong University’s Weiboscope tool reveals that a small number of posts related to the riots have been censored.

A lot of what’s getting deleted by censors is related to the gunshots that Hong Kong police reportedly fired. Weibo posts suggesting those shots were fired at protesters are being deleted, which is understandable given that there’s no evidence that happened. But retweets correcting those posts and clarifying that the shots fired were warning shots have also been censored, as have posts that say the police aimed guns at rioters, but did not fire. Additionally, comments that are overly critical of mainland Chinese policies seem to be getting censored. This one, for example, saying China’s one country, two systems policy has failed got hit with the banhammer. [Source]

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12:59:18 PM PST, Feb 9, 2016

One of the first arrested was Edward Leung Tin-kei, a member of the localist group Hong Kong Indigenous, the organization that initial media reports credited with attracting supporters prepared for violence. The South China Morning Post’s Jennifer Ngo profiles the group and examines their role in the violent clash:

The group is fielding a candidate in the Legislative Council by-election scheduled in three weeks, with the candidate Edward Leung Tin-kei, seen at the forefront of last night’s protest, shouting into a loudspeaker, before he was arrested according to a Facebook post by the group at 2.16am.

Although there could well have been other groups that joined forces with the group as the night unfolded, attention is now on Leung and his group.

Hong Kong Indigenous, formed in January by mainly post-’90s-born Hongkongers, gained prominence during sometimes violent protests against cross-border parallel traders in Yuen Long, Tung Mun and Sha Tin.

[…] Together with other localist groups such as Civic Passion and Hong Kong Localism Power and National Independent Party ­– involved in a suspected bomb planted in a rubbish bin outside the Legislative Council last year ­– Hong Kong Indigenous had gained popularity in recent years, in parallel with a growing desire in Hong Kong to curb Beijing’s rising influence in the city. […] [Source]

While the protests that led into violence saw the regulation of street-food vendors as a catalyst, Stephen Moss explains how “there’s more to the #FishballRevolution than just snacks.” From The Guardian:

But why are young political activists willing to go to the wall for fishballs? “China has had really wonderful street food for at least 800 years, and it is part of the culture of Hong Kong,” says Chinese food expert Fuchsia Dunlop, author of Shark’s Fin and Sichuan Pepper: A Sweet-Sour Memoir of Eating in China. “It’s affordable and it’s fun. The street stalls are very much part of Hong Kong culture, but they’ve been disappearing as part of the process of redevelopment and urban renewal.”

[…] The battle against gentrification has been added to the stew of protests against a government that, while officially autonomous, is reliant on Beijing. On Hong Kong island to the south, that battle has already been lost, with office blocks and swish apartments replacing the old way of life. But Mong Kok, with its narrow, congested streets and famous markets, has so far resisted the bulldozers.

“Street food is always a bit chaotic,” says Dunlop. “In mainland China, a lot of lively, unregulated street life has been swept away in the drive to modernise cities.” She points to the irony of Chinadisrespecting its street food tradition at the same time as street food is becoming increasingly popular in the west. The stalls are an especially potent symbol in Hong Kong. “It has an incredibly foodie culture,” says Dunlop. “Everybody talks about food all the time, and it’s refreshingly unsnobby. Even very rich people will go everywhere – from very smart, expensive restaurants to little street stalls that do one thing particularly well.” [Source]

More on the political anxiety underlying both yesterday’s “Fishball Revolution” and the 2014 “Umbrella Movement” from Quartz’s Richard Macauley and Heather Timmons:

[…T]he violence appears to be borne out of a deep-seated mistrust about the direction Hong Kong is headed, under the leadership of a government that too often looks like it listens to Beijing more than its own people.

[…] Hong Kong’s “Umbrella Movement” shut down the center of town for months in 2014, ending without the government giving any ground on the voting rules that sparked the protests in the first place. But anger at the Beijing-backed government has simmered below the surface. Mong Kok was the site of a parallel protest in 2014 that expanded beyond students to retirees and blue-collar workers concerned about the Communist Party’s reach into Hong Kong.

Since then, Beijing’s grip on the city has only tightened. Once thought impossible, some Hong Kong residents were recently abducted from Hong Kong soil by mainland Chinese authorities, to be brought in for questioning across the border. Their “crime” was operating a bookstore that dealt in gossipy titles full of stories about China’s top leaders. […] [Source]

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12:43:46 PM PST, Feb 9, 2016

Reuters, via the Straits Times, cites Hong Kong police commissioner Lo Wai Chung with statistics on arrests and injuries during the violence that are significantly higher than reported in initial coverage:

Fifty-four people were arrested following a bloody clash on Tuesday (Feb 9) in which riot police fired warning shots to disperse an angry crowd when authorities tried to move illegal from a working-class Hong Kong district.

[…] Nearly 90 police sustained injuries ranging from fractured bones to lacerations and bruises and 54 protesters were arrested, he said.

[…] Hong Kong Chief Executive Leung Chun Ying told reporters at a hastily called news conference that the city’s government strongly condemned the violence.

Secretary for Security Lai Tung Kwok said police were investigating “indications” that the clashes had been organised. When asked about the warning shots, he said police had taken all necessary actions. [Source]

Coverage from the BBC cites a police official with an even higher number of arrested:

Police said dozens of officers and four journalists were among those hurt.

Nine women and 52 men have been arrested, all aged between 15 and 70. They are suspected of offences including unlawful assembly, assaulting police and possession of offensive weapons. [Source]

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6:34:45 PM PST, Feb 8, 2016
With the standoff now reportedly over, police officials have said that 24 were arrested amid the clash, and that 48 officers were injured by thrown objects.

At Reuters, Clare Baldwin reports on the violence that unfolded in Hong Kong:

Riot police used batons and pepper spray early on Tuesday to disperse crowds after clashes erupted when authorities tried to move illegal street vendors from a working-class district, the worst street violence since pro-democracy protests in late 2014.

Protesters hurled bricks at police as scuffles broke out, while other demonstrators set fire to rubbish bins in the streets of Mong Kok, a gritty neighborhood just across the harbor from the heart of the Asian financial center.

[…] The clashes broke out after police moved in to clear “hawkers”, or illegal vendors who sell local delicacies, trinkets and household goods from makeshift streetside stalls.

The hawkers, long a common sight on Hong Kong’s bustling streets, quickly attracted a strong social media following under the hashtag #FishballRevolution.

[…] Street tensions appeared to have eased off, but radical protesters and “localists” demanding greater Hong Kong autonomy have vowed to keep fighting even as China shows signs of tightening its grip. [Source]

At the AP, Kelvin Chan reports that the standoff in Mong Kok shows lingering tension from the 2014 pro-democracy protest movement:

The violence is the worst in Hong Kong since pro-democracy protests rocked the city in 2014, leaving a growing trust gap between the public and authorities.

[…] The hawkers were backed by activists who objected to the crackdown over concerns that Hong Kong’s local culture is disappearing as Beijing tightens its hold on the semiautonomous city.

The latest scuffles underscore how tensions remain unresolved more than a year after the end of pro-democracy protests that gripped the city. Mong Kok, a popular and densely populated shopping and entertainment district, was one of the neighborhoods where activists occupied streets for about 11 weeks in late 2014, capturing world headlines with their demands for greater electoral freedom. [Source]

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6:07:48 PM PST, Feb 8, 2016
Twitter users report that the clash is over, and that Mong Kok station has reopened:

RTHK reports that while the streets are now clear, some areas of Mong Kok are still under police lockdown. Also on Twitter are reports of journalist harassment and injury amid the clash:

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3:15:31 PM PST, Feb 8, 2016

The hashtag #FishballRevolution (#魚蛋革命) is being used to cover the ongoing event on Twitter:

VICE reports that police used pepper spray against protesters who were throwing bottles and pots, and notes that other political groups took advantage of the unrest to call their supporters to the scene:

The festivities took a turn for the worst around 10pm, when police donned riot gear in a bid to clear hawkers selling their wares along a main thoroughfare. The crowd lobbed glass bottles and ceramic pots at law enforcement, who responded with pepper spray. Dramatic video footage shot by bystanders shows skirmishes between law enforcement and hawkers on the streets of Mong Kok, a busy residential and commercial part of Hong Kong.

[…] Police spokesperson Stephen Yu Wai-kit told reporters that police only intervened because Food and Environmental Health officers had been unsuccessful in their efforts to shut down the hawkers in Mong Kok.

[…] The unrest provided a window of opportunity for another group trying to make their message heard. Hours after the unrest began, Hong Kong Indigenous, a radical localist political group, announced on Facebook that Edward Leung Tin-kei, their candidate for the upcoming Legislative Council by-elections, would be marching in the Mong Kok night market, and called on supporters to join.

The post urged people who planned to join the march to bring eye masks, face masks, and protective gear. Tin-kei was arrested at around 2am. [Source]