Hong Kong faced more tension last week when planned protests were thwarted by the Hong Kong Police Force on China’s National Day. The authorities reportedly deployed 6,000 officers to be on duty in attempts to quell any signs of unauthorised demonstrations.
Contrary to last year, October 1st 2019 marked the 70th anniversary of China under communist rule, as grand celebrations and ceremonies were held across Mainland China.
But in Hong Kong, it was a different story.
At the time, mass Hong Kong protests were in full swing as black-clad protesters and riot police fought through clouds of tear gas. Demonstrations often led to violent clashes, as the city’s unrest was worldwide news.
Leading up to China National Day then, there were fears the protests had gotten so intense that China's People Liberation Army (PLA) was set to intervene. Although they didn’t as some predicted, the day’s events ended in controversy as police used a live firearm for the first time during the protests, as one officer shot a young protester at close range.
One year on, that protester survived the ordeal and unrest, but Hong Kong overall hasn’t. The city continues to show its anger despite being subdued by the global pandemic and the recently implemented National Security Law. The former British colony is still in discontent over its local government, in addition to that creeping encroachment that has embalmed them from Beijing.
But despite the pushbacks residents have faced, the resilience from disgruntled Hongkongers is still very much apparent.
In June, Beijing implemented a National Security Law on Hong Kong, prohibiting secession, subversion, terrorism, and foreign collusion. Critics widely believe China has violated the ‘one country, two systems’ agreement.
China National Day is also Hong Kong’s mid-autumn festival. Families spend time with each other by playing the boardgame mah-jong and snack on local delicacies such as mooncakes. Normally, it’s a joyous occasion.
For others, it’s still an opportunity to protest.
The Civil Human Rights Front (CHRF) is a pro-democracy activist group who have been responsible for some of Hong Kong’s biggest rallies. The group wanted to arrange a march to continue its push for further freedoms, but also to show support for the 12 Hongkonger residents who fled the city by boat, only to be captured by Mainland Chinese authorities and sent to the Mainland in custody. After over 40 days, they still haven’t been heard from.
The group submitted a Letter of No Objections (LONO) to the Hong Kong police, but it was rejected. The force cited public health fears and because of the history of past demonstrations turning violent.
Knowing the typical resilience of Hong Kong protesters, whether a protest is authorised or unauthorised can mean little. If there is a plan in place, usually you’ll see some form of that plan being actioned, regardless.
Causeway Bay, a shopping district, is no stranger to protests within the city. As demonstrations had planned to begin in the afternoon, dozens of police and press waited for the day to unfold.
Tensions between press and police have increased recently as the authorities announced they wouldn’t be recognising certain media representatives unless they were Government registered or “non-local and internationally known.” Questions had been raised how this would affect press numbers, but both local and international reporters turned up ready to report the day's events.
But as police and press waited, any sight of a specific march looked unlikely. The sheer number of the police was aimed to avert groups from coming out enmasse.
Eventually, distant crowds gathered, shouting and heckling as tensions rose. Individual demonstrators held up copies of the pro-democracy newspaper Apple Daily, whilst others would be aggrieved if the police re-directed them to walk through another street. The police reacted by conducting regular stop and search operations.
To defuse numbers from gathering – only groups of four are allowed under social distancing laws – police raised warning flags, informing residents to leave the area. Yellow, blue, and purple flags were all deployed, the latter colour signifying those are violating the National Security Law.
To defuse escalations police quickly cordoned off nearby exit routes, whilst painstakingly holding residents and press for prolonged periods. This happened for several hours throughout the day, within the proximity of four streets by the SOGO shopping mall area. There was no use of pepper spray, rubber bullets, or tear gas, as the force took a more controlled approach.
At least, 80 people were arrested for ‘unauthorised assembly’ whilst some unrecognised reporters were fined for breaking gathering laws.
It wasn’t Hong Kong’s most controversial demonstration by any means, despite the potential of a large rally. With social distancing laws and the National Security Law in place, it hasn’t hindered discontent residents to voice their frustration.
Although not comparable to last year, the resistance from the pro-democracy groups will continue for the foreseeable future.
- Asia Media Centre