Occupy Hong Kong Day 6: I am scared and confused

Some of you may have already read or seen the news that the protests today in Mong Kok and Causeway Bay were violent. Family and friends – I woke up late again to the sound of pouring rain, and once I read the news, I knew I wasn’t going anywhere beyond my neighborhood. All of the information I’m posting here is what I’ve gathered from online sources and television (also watched online).

The morning was decently quiet, though there have been conflicts among the demonstrators over whether to occupy certain roads or to move/keep barricades. People were again questioning the authority of others to act as “organizers” or “leaders” of a movement they claim is a “leaderless” one. It seems like more people were also arguing with the protesters about how they’ve disrupted their ability to get to work, or to be allowed to work.

A few articles throughout the day were published on the violence displayed by the police that past Sunday – but the true chaos erupted in the early afternoon. Around noon and 2pm, people began trying to remove barricades in Mong Kok and Causeway Bay, leading to what the South China Morning Post called a “quarrel,” “scuffles,” and “minor clashes,” until things got out of hand. Here’s a basic recap of what happened (excerpts are from SCMP coverage, morning and night):

2.35pm: Scenes of chaos in Mongkok as anti-occupy protesters forcibly remove tents and barriers, got into brawls with Occupy activists.

4.25pm: Chaotic scenes persist in Mong Kok despite the establishment of a police cordon around the sit-in stage at the junction of Argyle Street and Nathan Road.

4.30pm: Anti-Occupy activists in Causeway Bay tell a foreign protester to “go back to his own country”.

[To which another Tweeter replied, “and you go back to China !”]

(From Apple Daily, translated by Hong Kong Democracy Now)【Breaking 16:30】A massive crowd with blue ribbons (anti-umbrella movement) is provoking the peaceful protesters in Causeway Bay. A female student was knocked down and escorted away by a policewoman. During the conflict, people heard ” you think you have big boobs?” ” you should have expected sexual assault when you come out to protest”

大批戴上藍絲帶人士在銅鑼灣挑釁集會者,其後有女學生被撞跌,由女警攙扶離場,其間有人叫囂「以為自己好大波」、「出得來示威就預左俾人非禮」。

4.50pm: Pro-Bejing supporters are making their presence felt in Causeway Bay, which has witnessed stand-offs and tense scenes throughout the day between the two camps.

5.15pm: Police are evacuating demonstrators from the Occupy site in Mong Kok after street fights broke out when a group of some 400 anti-Occupy protesters attacked the original demonstrators. Police are struggling to maintain order.

5.45pm: Causeway Bay: Three men are shouting loudly at protesters, using vulgar language and insulting students. They threatened one female protester who was holding a megaphone and told her aggresively to shut up. A woman is screaming “clear the area”. Police are trying to mediate the conflict Students are calm but concerned.

6.05pm: The site of the Mong Kok protest site descended into violence as several hundred anti-Occupy Central demonstrators broke through police lines and started smashing up protest tents and attacking students. A group of mostly male anti-Occupy protesters appeared to be taking commands from a middle-aged Putonghua-speaking woman wearing a face mask and using a loud hailer, at the junction of Argyle Street and Nathan Road. The thin line of police separating opposing sides was stretched to breaking point, and finally gave way shortly after 5pm. Soon after more police arrived as the tense stand-off continued.

6.15pm: Causeway Bay: About 100 protesters remain at the crossroads in front of the Sogo shopping mall. A worker in the area, Ann Yang, 50, decided to come down to help the students. Anti-Occupy protesters are trying to scare the protesters away. Protesters are asking them to leave and an altercation is taking place. At a junction between Nathan Rd and Argyle Rd in Mong Kok, the crowds of anti-Occupy protesters have grown much bigger than the original few hundred. But the number of policemen struggling to keep the two camps apart doesn’t seem to have grown much. Occupy protesters say they are worried for their personal safety and don’t understand why more police reinforcements haven’t been deployed.

6:45pm Mong Kok: Thousands of people, for and against the Occupy movement, are involved in a tense stand-off in Mong Kok, with physical and verbal clashes happening in every corner of the protest area. Anti-Occupy protesters continue to hurl insults at the Occupy protesters. “Go home you idiots!” some chanted.

7.20pm Mong Kok: [After appeals for help from pro-Occupy demonstrators] The influx of Occupy Central supporters has turned their opponents into a minority, at least on Nathan Road north of Argyle Street.

7.30pm Causeway Bay: “An organised group of around 20 men wearing masks broke through Hennessy Road and reached Jardine’s Bazaar and began removing barricades there.”

7.40pm Causeway Bay: Protesters grow angry because police didn’t make arrests after scuffles with the masked men. One woman shouts “Why didn’t you do anything?” while the crowd chants “Shame on you” at the police.

8.00pm Mong Kok: Anti-Occupy protesters again try to break through a human chain formed by police. They throw bottles into the crowd of Occupy protesters.

8.45pm Mong Kok: Fighting breaks out soon after a group of masked young men arrive at the main occupied junction in Mong Kok. Taking advantage of the scene with only about ten officers present, the masked men kick Occupy protesters, who fall to the ground.

10.25pm Mong Kok: Fighting breaks out but police failed to intervene for the first 10 minutes. Instead they formed a line about 20 metres away from the fracas, watching from a distance while guarding the main occupied road junction in Mong Kok. The two parties were eventually separated by bystanders. Police have ignored repeated calls for officers to intervene.

10.55pm Hong Kong The Federation of Students announce they will officially call off its meeting with Chief Secretary Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor after the police and government turned a blind eye to attacks on protesters by suspected triad and pro-Beijing groups.

12.50am Mong Kok: Wesley Ng, 21, said he witnessed police release a man who allegedly attacked protesters.

From the tone of the first few posts, the fights didn’t seem too bad… Photos on Twitter also didn’t quite hit the mark on just how horrible things had been – until I watched the broadcasts on TV and the videos on Facebook. It was horrific.

The fear and threat against those perceived as foreigners and spies has increased dramatically; it’s now being expressed toward journalists as well. At least four incidents of being assaulted were caught on film, and numerous other incidents of being harassed. As mentioned earlier, there were numerous reports of sexual threats, harassment, and assault. From Channel News Asia:

There were widespread allegations of sexual assault in the densely-packed crowds, with three girls wearing plastic rain ponchos seen being bundled into a police van in tears after apparently being assaulted at the Causeway Bay protest.

People were fighting, shoving and punching each other, flipping one another off. What hurt the most, I think, was seeing people use umbrellas – the symbol of peace that had been globally embraced by supporters of Hong Kong demonstrators – to attack and beat one another.

hurt student supporterThey moved the man in this video (extended clip here, where you can see a group of men stalking toward the crowd and pulling apart barricades before the beating happens) to the MTR station, where he was interviewed by journalists. He described being kicked and beaten by anti-Occupy Central protesters, and emphasized that he still supported the students.

In the SCMP video, you can see closed umbrellas being used again as a weapon, and then a crowd of people standing on top of the MTR exit. When Henry passed through Mong Kok on his way home late Friday night, he told me tons of people were still tightly packed there. In Mong Kok, as opposed to Admiralty, there aren’t any raised walkways for people to observe, chant slogans, or retreat; the only raised ground were those exits. In the same SCMP video, you can see foreign media being escorted out of the area to jeers and flipped fingers – “Hey, hey, hey, stupid! Stupid! ****! Come on! Come on! Come on!”

The video also reports that at least two men were arrested – but many other people say that they were quickly released and not charged. Another SCMP video follows up on this, noting in the description that “Hong Kong police maintain order, but not arresting nor questioning some provokers.” In the video, subtitles say, “[…] the masked men disappear in diff directions. Police do not pursue nor question them.”

Everyone has been getting angry with the police’s behavior – even journalists are turning into occupiers in protest. From a Coconuts Hong Kong reporter:

A handful of journalists followed the police after the commotion was over, and got extremely angry with the police as they claimed that they had used unnecessarily used excessive amounts force on journalists when pushing them back.  The journalists started yelling at the police, getting in their faces while police escorted the alleged offending officer to a waiting police van. Journalists tried to stop a second police van from leaving.

SCMP also writes in this article:

Despite the chaos in Causeway Bay and Mong Kok, officers did not display banners warning people to stop or be subjected to force. This was in stark contrast to the way they had dealt with Occupy protesters on Sunday, when riot police were deployed and pepper spray and tear gas used. […]

Patrick Ko Tat-bun, convenor of the pro-Beijing Voice of Loving Hong Kong, said the anti-Occupy activists did nothing wrong in charging the police cordon. “They were only enforcing the law on the police’s behalf.”

On Facebook, a map of the clashes (“抗爭地圖”) was being shared. People are saying that the attacks are coming from the Triads and that – as demonstrated by police inaction – they are in cahoots with the government. The NY Times article states,

The Mong Kok area is notorious for organized gangs known as triads that extort payments from the many small businesses there, or in some cases own the businesses. Some of the protesters suggested that the attackers were connected to them.

Asked if he was a member of such a group, one man who joined in tearing down the tents, Steve Lin, 48, said, “I’m not a triad. I’m a Hong Konger.”

I didn’t know this – but a lot of people believe that CY Leung was elected in part by the support of the Triads. This article says,

In 2012, a scandal broke when it emerged that the aides of then candidate for Hong Kong Chief Executive Leung Chun Ying tried to seek support for him at a dinner organised by Heung Yee Kuk, the rural council. Also at the dinner was a former Wo Shing Wo triad leader.

This “dual identity”, says Ms Kwok, poses the biggest challenge in rooting out triads in Hong Kong. “They may get involved in politics but what is the hat they are wearing when lunching with officials or local councillors? You cannot tell,” she says. “The deeper they hide, the more difficult it is to control.”

But I’m still so confused. I don’t understand what it means when people in the media and on Twitter and Facebook say that these people starting fights were “pro-Beijing” – it’s like people are jumping to assumptions. People say that the anti-Occupy fighters spoke “國語,” Mandarin, and this is a sign they were from the mainland – but anyone can learn to speak Mandarin, so it could simply have been a mask. Some of the people who clashed with the pro-Occupy people claimed they were angry local residents. But you could also be anti-Occupy and pro-democracy (meaning that you oppose Occupy’s methods but support their goal).

"Evidence" of being paid?

“Evidence” of being paid?

There are allegations on the street and online that they were paid to destroy the occupations – but then who paid them, the Hong Kong government? the Beijing government? the Triads? The Huffington Post UK photo essay I linked to earlier has one photo of a guy “pointing at himself after being accused of being a pro-Beijing agitator” – like I said, accusations and discord are being thrown everywhere.

Others have said they saw people with tattoos and unusual haircuts, which marked them as gang members. But if the Triads are involved, whose interests are they fighting for? Are they supported by local business owners angry that their stores are closed and their profits are low? Are they supported by the Hong Kong government, which many people increasingly believe due to rumors that CY Leung’s election was supported by the Triads? Or are they supported by the Beijing government?

Most people – including Occupy Central and student leaders – seem to agree that these attacks were coordinated and planned. Whatever caused this to happen, it’s hurting the demonstrations badly. I’m not sure that they’ll be able to recover from this. Some say they’ll be stronger after this – one demonstrator hoisted himself out of the chaos and rallied the crowd in chanting, “保學生!” (“Protect the students!”)

It’s entirely possible that the attacks were from angry local residents, or from coordination between the Triads and the police or government(s)… Nonetheless, now that there’s been violence on the streets, the police have a justification to clear out the demonstrations. One could read this as proof that the government collaborated with the Triads to win themselves a reason to clear out the protesters. From tonight’s SCMP live feed, that clearance – with more pepper spray and force – seems like it’s happening right now. I’m just in disbelief. I can’t believe this is happening.


Articles and Statements

These mostly come from English-language news media, but it’s the easiest for me to read and therefore the fastest to keep up with.

  • Al Jazeera: “Hong Kong police ‘stood by’ as rally attacked” [link]
  • Amnesty International: “Hong Kong: Women and girls attacked as police fail to protect peaceful protesters” [link]
  • Apple Daily, translated by Hong Kong Democracy Now: “10月3日我看到的旺角” (“What I saw in Mong Kong on Oct 3rd”) [Chinese] [English]
  • Channel News Asia: “Hong Kong student protesters call off talks with govt” [link]
  • CNN: “Protest group ditches talks with Hong Kong government; calls for more protest” [link]
  • Coconuts HK: “Clashes in Causeway Bay and Mong Kok” [link]
  • Coconuts HK: “Opposing Masses in Mong Kok” (photo essay) [link]
  • Foreign Policy’s Tea Leaf Nation: “Are Hong Kong’s Protesters Getting Bamboozled?” [link]
  • Huffington Post UK: “Hong Kong Pictures Show Rage Meeting Defiance As Ugly Clashes Break Out Over Pro-Democracy Protests” (photo essay) [link]
  • New York Times: “Protest Camps in Hong Kong Come Under Assault” [link]
  • Occupy Central press release
  • Quartz: “Pro-Beijing groups are systematically attacking protests in Hong Kong” [link]
  • Reuters: “Hong Kong protesters face backlash, threaten to abandon talks” [link]
  • SCMP on People’s Daily coverage: “Hong Kong protesters are ‘challenging highest state authority and will fail’ – People’s Daily” [link]
  • SCMP: “After angry mobs turn on protesters, students call off talks” [link]
  • SCMP: “Leung must do the job he was picked to do: speak up for Hong Kong people” [link] – Opinion compares British governors’ response to local issues vs CY Leung’s
  • SCMP: “The far too thin blue line: Occupy accuses police of double standards” [link]
  • The Guardian: “Hong Kong protesters beaten and bloodied as thugs attack sit-in” [link]
  • The Guardian: “Violent clashes break out in Hong Kong after counter-protesters storm sit-in” [link]
  • The Guardian’s live feed
  • The Washington Post: “Hong Kong protesters scuffle with opponents of pro-democracy campaign” [link]
  • Time: “Anti-Occupy Mob Trashes Hong Kong Protest Site” [link]
Twitter

(Click to see the extended conversations)

In the above video, when you see the police and protesters arguing around a taxi, the protesters yell, “冇恥!” (“Shameless!”) and “落車!” (“Get out of the car!”).

I’m horrified.

Facebook
  • “Evidence” that people were paid to attack the protest sites posted to the Facebook page of the Silent Majority, Robert Chow’s anti-Occupy group
  • A cartoon of how Hong Kong’s people, police, and chief executive are suiting up
  • An image from CUHK accusing the police of collaborating with Triads
  • The terrifying video of when young masked men stalk toward the crowd and begin to fight – it feels like watching a Hong Kong gangsters film, except this is real life
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