Hong Kong authorities reported 230 arrests on Sunday as small pro-democracy protests broke out in several shopping districts in the city. Democratic lawmaker Roy Kwong was among those arrested, and was later hospitalized after being pushed to the ground and restrained by police. The demonstrations and arrests come after Hong Kong late last month extended disease control restrictions that included a public ban on gatherings, and amid increasing concerns that ongoing pandemic response measures could be used as cover for the further repression of pro-democracy activism. Reuters’ Clare Jim and Jesse Pang report:
Hundreds of riot police were deployed to disperse the protesters on Sunday, with some members of the media caught up in the chaos that evoked memories of the sometimes violent unrest that rocked the global financial hub last year.
Police said the arrested were aged between 12 and 65 and their offences included unlawful assembly, assaulting a police officer and failing to produce proof of identity.
[…]Footage [live-streamed from Mong Kok of police pushing back reporters and activists showed protesters being subdued on the ground, scuffles and people bleeding.
Police fired pepper spray at journalists and activists, and conducted stop and search operations on members of the public and media.
[…] Police in riot gear told protesters they were staging an illegal assembly and violating anti-virus measures that bar gatherings of more than eight people. [Source]
this is the moment lawmaker Roy Kwong is subdued.
He was pushed forcefully to the ground, and riot police rushed to press his head onto the floor with their knees. pic.twitter.com/sTJ1KaYxoP
— LO Kin-hei 羅健熙 (@lokinhei) May 10, 2020
Last month, 15 prominent pro-democracy figures were arrested amid a constitutional dispute over a claim by Beijing’s Liaison Office that it isn’t subject to a bar on interference by mainland government departments, as laid out in the Basic Law. The recent round of arrests comes as the Hong Kong pro-democracy movement eyes several important dates on the horizon: the annual commemoration of the June 4, 1989 crackdown on Tiananmen protesters in the mainland, a series of days in June marking a year since significant events in the 2019 protest movement, and the annual July 1 pro-democracy protest marking the day of the 1997 return of Hong Kong to China.
Al Jazeera’s coverage of the weekend arrests notes calls for independence and the resignation of Chief Executive Carrie Lam coming from protesters, and other signs that the city’s 2019 pro-democracy movement may be regrouping:
Authorities had banned an application for a march on Sunday, so small groups of masked protesters instead played a game of cat-and-mouse with police in different shopping centres, a tactic used frequently last year.
[…] “This is just a warm-up, our protest movement needs to start again,” a university student who gave his name as “B” told AFP news agency.
“It’s a sign that the movement is coming back to life, we all need to wake up now.”
[…] On Wednesday, China’s Hong Kong affairs office condemned protesters as a “political virus”, warning the territory would never be calm until the demonstrators were removed.
Plans to pass a law banning insulting China’s national anthem sparked scuffles in the city’s legislature on Friday. [Source]
At the South China Morning Post, Sum Lok-kei and Clifford Lo focus in on the poor treatment of media professionals covering the weekend demonstrations:
The Hong Kong Journalists Association (HKJA), meanwhile, has alleged that police had abused and insulted reporters covering the protests, while the Hong Kong News Executives’ Association (HKNEA) expressed “extreme regret” over the violent handling of media members.
“[There was] verbal abuse, and in some cases, reporters suffered from being pepper sprayed and were denied immediate treatment,” HKJA chairman Chris Yeung Kin-hing said on Monday, adding some reporters had their bags searched and were told to turn off their cameras, a violation of internal police guidelines on facilitating news reporting.
[…] On Monday, Ming Pao, a Chinese-language newspaper in Hong Kong, also joined the fray, issuing a strong condemnation of police for “violently interfering with lawful reporting” by two of its reporters in Mong Kok, and demanding an explanation from the force.
It said its employees and other reporters had been cornered by police, who did not provide a path to exit the scene. Despite following police orders to crouch, reporters were still hit with pepper spray, the paper said. [Source]
#HongKongPolice has asked a large amount of #HongKong journalists to fall on their knees, asking mainstream media to group together & other web-based or student press to stay elsewhere in #MongKok. The reporters are asked to stop rolling their live streams #HongKongProtests pic.twitter.com/alKFoVujzz
— Damon Pang (@damon_pang) May 10, 2020
The arrests came ahead of the release of the Hong Kong Journalists Association Press Freedom Index 2019, which showed a sharp decline in press conditions:
Hong Kong press freedom has dropped to a record low, according to the newly released Hong Kong Journalists Association Press Freedom Index 2019. The decline is the sharpest since the survey was launched in 2013. Both the public and reporters expressed concern over the threatened personal safety of reporters when covering news, and difficulties encountered by reporters when gathering information.
HKJA points out that during the social turmoil in the past year, journalists have tried their best to report the truth, but have been obstructed and interfered with by police and people with different viewpoints. The “Survey on the violence against journalists when covering public order events” found that as many as 65% of the interviewed journalists said that they had been subjected to verbal or/and physical violence during their work.
It is worth noting that press freedom in Hong Kong has continued to deteriorate in recent years, mainly due to invisible pressure from Beijing, media owners, etc., which is not easily noticeable to the public. However, the police and people’s violence against reporters in front of live cameras mirrored the reality of press freedom being suppressed which in turn attracted public attention. […] [Source]
In December, the Committee to Protect Journalists released a report on Beijing’s efforts to undermine press freedom in Hong Kong and Taiwan.
Amid signs of a resurgence of last year’s movement–which began in protest of a now withdrawn extradition bill that many worried would result in Beijing’s persecution of political dissidents–the Hong Kong government this week announced it would prioritize a controversial bill that pro-democracy lawmakers warn will lead to further unrest. The proposed bill would criminalize “insulting the national anthem”–a public practice Hong Kong residents have adopted in recent years–and is similar to a Chinese law passed in 2017. The AFP reports:
On Tuesday Hong Kong’s leader Carrie Lam — a pro-Beijing appointee — said the national anthem bill would now be “given priority”.
But opposition figures said such a move would inflame anger in a city still splintered by divisions after last year’s protests.
“We urge her (Lam) to revisit the whole thing and learn a lesson and hopefully to rethink and reconsider whether it is a suitable time to discuss these very sensitive political matters at this moment,” pro-democracy lawmaker Tanya Chan told reporters at a gathering by opposition lawmakers.
[…] Beijing wants Hong Kong, which maintains certain liberties unseen on the mainland, to pass a similar law — particularly after the city’s football fans started routinely booing it at matches.
The current draft would ban distorting, disrespecting and insulting the national anthem with up to three years in jail and fines for offenders. [Source]
If you want to boo the Chinese national anthem at a football match in HK without being jailed for up to 3 years, the next few weeks may be your last chance… https://t.co/3S6wKCu9u5
— Antony Dapiran (@antd) May 12, 2020
Pandemic priority. https://t.co/Z2L9EMiNwj
— Emily Rauhala (@emilyrauhala) May 12, 2020
Carrie Lam also this week pledged to overhaul Hong Kong’s education system, accusing its dominant liberal studies curriculum of “poisoning” students and fueling protests. At The Guardian, Helen Davidson reports:
Lam described the current secondary school programme as a “chicken coop without a roof” and said her government would soon unveil its plans. She reportedly said students needed protection from being “poisoned” and fed “false and biased information”.
“In terms of handling the subject of liberal studies in the future, we will definitely make things clear to the public within this year,” she told the pro-government Ta Kung Pao newspaper in an interview published on Monday.
Lam has record low approval ratings as leader and is under increasing pressure from Beijing authorities frustrated with the pro-democracy protests which have besieged the city since June. [Source]
The South China Morning Post’s Chan Ho-him reports further on Lam’s comments, and on immediate pushback from some lawmakers and the city’s largest teachers’ union:
Education sector lawmaker Ip Kin-yuen disagreed with Lam’s “chicken coop” comments, saying most teachers and principals were dedicated and professional.
“This is an insult to the education sector. I strongly urge Lam to retract her comments and apologise to teachers,” said Ip, vice-president of the 100,000-member pro-democracy Professional Teachers’ Union.
Lau Kam-fai, president of Hong Kong Liberal Studies Teachers’ Association, said the subject already had procedures to keep an eye on content, including discussions and review of teaching materials among teachers.
[…] “I don’t believe liberal studies has [incited pupils] to join protests … students are taught to listen to different opinions and show respect and tolerance to others.”
Wong Kwan-yu, president of the pro-establishment Hong Kong Federation of Education Workers and a Hong Kong delegate to the National People’s Congress, believed teachers were not to blame for discussing politics during liberal studies lessons. [Source]