09 January 2021

HKCT Review 2020: January to March 2020

HKCT Review 2020: January to March 2020


29 Feb 2020 (6 months' anniversary of 31-Aug incident in Prince Edward Station)-
The police stepped on the body of an arrestee in Mong Kok, a humiliating gesture. (Apple Daily)

The anti-ELAB protests which started in 2019 continued into early 2020. Although the protests and other social movements reduced greatly in size and frequency, facilitated by the social distancing measures prompted by the coronavirus pandemic, the political situation in Hong Kong remained tense. In addition to regular protests on certain occasions to commemorate the deaths of prominent activists or significant political events in 2019, there were isolated protests demanding a full border closure in view of the COVID-19 outbreak in Hong Kong, including a historic 5-day strike of thousands of medical workers. Police brutality against protesters, reporters as well as persons in public office, and their abuse of power remained a pressing issue, as reported in the US Human Rights Council's 2019 Report for Hong Kong. Especially after the implementation of social distancing measures, there were several occasions where police arbitrarily used the so-called gathering ban to restrict citizens' right to political participation, and no applications for public demonstrations or assemblies were approved (but at least there were still people coming to the streets).

Major political events

The annual mass demonstration organised by the Civil Human Rights Front on New Year's Day, the first since the outbreak of the anti-ELAB movement, was allegedly attended by 1.03 million participants, while police put turnout at around 60,000 people. Both numbers recorded the highest turnout in the past years (https://www.facebook.com/hkcolumn/posts/2536688489881868). The demonstration was cut short, after police had demanded that the demonstration be dispersed in 30 minutes and started deploying tear gas and water cannons against protesters. A total of 400 people were arrested. 

On 4 January, the State Council removed the incumbent Director of the Liaison Office of the Central People's Government in the HKSAR, Wang Zhimin, and replaced him with Luo Huining, who had no previous experience of Hong Kong or Macau, and was later also appointed Deputy Director of the State Council's Hong Kong and Macau Affairs Office in February (https://www.facebook.com/hkcolumn/posts/2539420002942050). On the same day, the Office's Director Zhang Xiaoming was also replaced by Xia Baolong (https://www.facebook.com/hkcolumn/posts/2574001672817216).

On 8 January, 2 months after 22yo student Alex Chow's death at the carpark of Sheung Tak Estate in Tseung Kwan O, over 100 citizens gathered there to mourn his death. Some chanted new slogans such as "evict the commies, reclaim Hong Kong" and "death to the entire [Communist] Party" (https://www.facebook.com/hkcolumn/posts/2543406902543360). The event ended with protesters blocking roads in the area and police using pepper spray in the housing estate and arresting 2 men (https://www.facebook.com/hkcolumn/posts/2543549069195810).

On 11 January, a 15yo female activist was arrested for "criminal damage", after she and a dozen of activists had been displaying and putting up anti-ELAB propaganda outside the British Consulate-General when police arrived (https://www.facebook.com/hkcolumn/posts/2546250785592305). A discussion was sparked on whether the police had violated diplomatic protocols for operating within the consulate's area. The UK Foreign Office later confirmed that the consulate had invited the Hong Kong police to disperse the crowd (https://www.facebook.com/hkcolumn/posts/2549749725242411).

On 19 January, an assembly for "global sanction"
was organised in Chater Garden in Central, which was attended by 150,000 people according to the organiser (police said 11,680) and was aborted after 1.5 hours when police ordered the rally be dispersed and fired tear gas. At least 30 people, including the organiser's spokesperson Ventus Lau, were arrested (https://www.facebook.com/hkcolumn/posts/2554201488130568); Lau was later charged with inciting people to take part in an unlawful assembly and refusing to follow police orders. Another 7 people were arrested later on 12 March, including a 13yo boy, who was suspected of attacking police officers during the protest (https://www.facebook.com/hkcolumn/posts/2597134017170648).

On 21 January, 6 months after the 21 July Yuen Long Attack, protesters staged sit-ins in various MTR stations (https://www.facebook.com/hkcolumn/posts/2555650561318994), while some democratic district councillors held an assembly at Yuen Long Station with around 150 participants (https://www.facebook.com/hkcolumn/posts/2555664387984278). The protests were later dispersed by riot police with a few arrests, who used pepper spray without restrain, for instance, against a blind lawyer (https://www.facebook.com/hkcolumn/posts/2555814394635944). On the same day, 8 victims of the 21 July attack filed a lawsuit against the Commissioner of Police (https://www.facebook.com/hkcolumn/posts/2555667161317334). A similar protest took place at Prince Edward MTR Station on 31 January, 5 months after the 31 August incident. Citizens left flowers outside the station and mourned suspected victims in the attack. Masked protesters gathered outside Mong Kok Police Station and blocked nearby roads (https://www.facebook.com/hkcolumn/posts/2563757257174991). They were later dispersed by riot police and some were arrested.

On 8 February, 3 months after student Alex Chow was certified, many citizens left flowers and offerings again near the carpark in Tseung Kwan O where he had fallen. Some residents also gathered in the area in opposition to a clinic being designated to treat COVID-19 patients. Riot police fired tear gas at people who had gathered, and pepper-sprayed some who had attempted to block roads in the area (https://www.facebook.com/hkcolumn/posts/2570251299858920). Close to 120 people were arrested on suspicion of illegal assembly in the operation, the youngest being 13yo (https://www.facebook.com/hkcolumn/posts/2570747923142591). On the night of 28 February, riot police dismantled one of the shrines citizens had set up for Chow at the carpark, leaving behind a scene of destruction (https://www.facebook.com/hkcolumn/posts/2587850241432359).

On 23 February, netizens called for a march in Tuen Mun Park to "reclaim" the park from mainland dancing aunties (dama). Over 100 people gathered in the park, and clashes broke out with riot police, leading to multiple rounds of pepper spray deployed (https://www.facebook.com/hkcolumn/posts/2582430281974355).


On 29 February, 6 months after the 31 August incident in Prince Edward MTR Station, citizens again left flowers at the station exit, and police kept clearing them. Some protesters gathered near Mong Kok Police Station, occupying roads nearby. Police later deployed tear gas and pepper spray to disperse the crowd, including passers-by and reporters, and started arresting protesters. Protesters reacted by throwing petrol bombs, setting road barricades on fire (https://www.facebook.com/hkcolumn/posts/2587631244787592). A policeman was singled out by protesters, and pulled out his pistol in the open street (https://www.facebook.com/hkcolumn/posts/2587761654774551). The police then enhanced the use of violence and fired more tear gas and pepperballs, causing many people to feel unwell (https://www.facebook.com/hkcolumn/posts/2587714001445983).

On 7 March, around 150 citizens placed flowers and lit candles outside Pacific Place in Admiralty to mourn the death of the protester Leung Ling-kit on his birthday, who fell to his death on 15 June 2019 after protesting against the ELAB on top of the shopping centre. People also chanted slogans, partly aiming at the police, who unusually stood silent close by without escalating the situation (https://www.facebook.com/hkcolumn/posts/2593312940886089).

On 8 March, 4 months after student Alex Chow's death, hundreds of people gathered again in Tseung Kwan O near the carpark where he had fallen to pay tribute. Police conducted a mass interception and search at MTR stations, and arrested dozens of people, including district councillors, on charges like unlawful assembly, zip-tying their hands and making them sit on the ground before taking them away (https://www.facebook.com/hkcolumn/posts/2594204937463556). 1 man lost his consciousness after being subdued by police, who refused to let a volunteer first-aider attend to him before an ambulance arrived (https://www.facebook.com/hkcolumn/posts/2594087107475339). Another man was filmed surrounded by 7 police officers and asked to apologise to them one by one (https://www.facebook.com/hkcolumn/posts/2595053334045383).

On 12 March, 9 months after the 12 June incident where police bombarded protesters with intense tear gas and pepper spray outside the Legislative Council Complex where the ELAB was being discussed for second reading, video screenings were organised across the territory, including Yuen Long, Tin Shui Wai and Mong Kok, while riot police were standing by and intercepting people. Some protesters blocked roads after the screening. The police dispersed the crowd and arrested at least 6 people (https://www.facebook.com/hkcolumn/posts/2597408623809854).


On 21 March, 8 months after the 21 July attack, protesters staged a demonstration in Yuen Long again. Riot police fired tear gas, after petrol bombs had allegedly been thrown, and pepper-sprayed reporters repeatedly (https://www.facebook.com/hkcolumn/posts/2606412616242788). 61 people were arrested, including the chairman of Yuen Long District Council (https://www.facebook.com/hkcolumn/posts/2604935103057206). Netizens also called for silent sit-ins in Causeway Bay MTR Station, but due to heavy police presence around the station, protesters staged a sit-in at Times Square instead. A man tried to argue with the riot police, and was immediately subdued and arrested. The police also pepper-sprayed people standing around in order to cordon off the shopping centre (https://www.facebook.com/hkcolumn/posts/2604853096398740).

On 22 March, 2 activists witnessed a young man being beaten up by a dozen of pro-Article 23 citizens suspectedly related to pro-Beijing lawmaker Junius Ho at Fan Ling MTR Station, tried to intervene and were also beaten up. Police only arrived after the assailants had left. They suffered injuries and had to be sent to hospital (https://www.facebook.com/hkcolumn/posts/2605727739644609). On the same day, netizens called for mourning Christy Chan, a 15yo swimmer who had been found dead in the sea 6 months ago suspiciously, in Sheung Tak, Tseung Kwan O with a heavy riot police presence (https://www.facebook.com/hkcolumn/posts/2605638346320215).

On 31 March, 7 months after the 31 August incident in Prince Edward MTR Station, a large group of riot police stood by around the station since afternoon and forbade citizens to offer flowers (https://www.facebook.com/hkcolumn/posts/2613401982210518). As more people gathered, police started to search them, and subdued using pepper spray and arrested dozens for breaching the gathering ban or participating in an unlawful assembly (https://www.facebook.com/hkcolumn/posts/2613481035535946). Some complained that the gathering ban became a tool for the police to further suppress citizens' exercise of political rights (https://www.facebook.com/hkcolumn/posts/2613585062192210).

Oppression of pro-democracy figures and activists

On 25 January, the first day of Lunar New Year, People Power's vice-chairman Tam Tak-chi (Fast Beat) was arrested at his home for "inciting others to participate in an unlawful assembly", after he had called on citizens to participate in an earlier protest rejected by the police (https://www.facebook.com/hkcolumn/posts/2558718774345506).

On 28 February, police arrested the founder of Next Media, Jimmy Lai, the chairman of the†Hong Kong Alliance in Support of Patriotic Democratic Movements of China, Lee Cheuk-yan, and the former chairperson of the Democratic Party, Yeung Sum, and charged them with illegal assembly over a protest on 31 August 2019 (https://www.facebook.com/hkcolumn/posts/2586643231553060). Lai was also charged with intimidation of a journalist in 2017; in September he was eventually acquitted for this but DOJ seeks to appeal (https://www.facebook.com/hkcolumn/posts/2753832304834151).

On 6 March, the former spokesperson of Hong Kong Indigenous, Edward Leung, who had been sentenced to 6 years in prison for participating in the 2016 Mong Kok civil unrest, was transferred to a prison cell of maximum security for most serious offenders, after Correctional Services Department had reportedly discovered hints at a prison break in letters addressed to Leung (https://www.facebook.com/hkcolumn/posts/2592441434306573).

On 12 March, district councillor Andy Lao's staff member and girlfriend was arrested and detained, after they had been assaulted by a group of 30 led by a "blue-ribbon" (pro-police) representative in their office. While most of the assailants were still at large, police searched Lao's home, and arrested his girlfriend for wounding, who had been one of the victims in the attack (https://www.facebook.com/hkcolumn/posts/2597131910504192). The government said the 2 councillors involved displayed insulting notices in their joint ward office and they should remove them (https://www.info.gov.hk/gia/general/202003/17/P2020031700332.htm).

On 26 March, the 60yo chairwoman of the Central and Western District Council and member of the Democratic Party, Cheng Lai-king, was arrested for "seditious intent". She was suspected of violating an interim injunction order of the High Court banning doxxing of police officers, after she had shared a Facebook post which contained a police officer's personal information (https://www.facebook.com/hkcolumn/posts/2608983472652369). Cheng also presided a District Council meeting in January attended by Commissioner of Police Chris Tang, who was condemned at the meeting for police brutality and walked out as a demonstration.

International

On 4 February, the US Congress nominated Hong Kong's pro-democracy movement for the 2020 Nobel Peace Prize (https://www.facebook.com/hkcolumn/posts/2567044063512977).

On 11 March, the US Human Rights Council published the 2019 Report on Human Rights Practices in Hong Kong with a huge focus on police brutality against protesters and persons in custody since the outbreak of the anti-ELAB protests in June 2019 (https://www.facebook.com/hkcolumn/posts/2596903043860412).

On 17 March, the US Heritage Foundation published the 2020 Economic Freedom Index, in which Hong Kong lost the leading position it had held for 25 years to Singapore. According to the report, the massive demonstrations impeded economic activity and heightened fears of mainland interference, and Hong Kong's growing affiliation with mainland China was seen as a liability in its traditionally open and market-driven economy (https://www.facebook.com/hkcolumn/posts/2601456083405108). The government claimed that Contrary to the Foundation's concern, such integration with the Mainland through trade, tourism and financial links will not erode Hong Kong's freedoms (https://www.info.gov.hk/gia/general/202003/17/P2020031700546.htm).


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