HONG KONG PROTEST MONITOR 11 September 2020
THE SITUATION NOW
After a relative downturn in the frequency of street-level demonstrations over recent monitoring cycles, there was a notable uptick over the previous reporting period (4-10 September), mainly driven by condemnation over the postponement of the Legislative Council elections that were slated to take place on 6 September.
Hong Kong police on Sunday (6 September) arrested almost 300 people during one of the largest demonstrations since China imposed the National Security Law (NSL) for Hong Kong at the end of June. The protests, largely concentrated in Yau Ma Tei and Mong Kok districts in the Kowloon area, led to clashes between the police and some demonstrators. Jordan Road, Nathan Road and Argyle Street, as well as Langham Place are focal points for pro-democracy rallies and marches as they can attract a significant amount of public and media attention.
One tactic that was utilised to great effect was deception by pro-democracy activists. In the run-up to the 6 September rallies, there were multiple calls to hold ‘Sing with You’ rallies at around 20 popular shopping centres. However, on the day, activists turned up at Langham Place, Mong Kok district, Kowloon. The Hong Kong police are well-versed in this tactic, but the effect of disinformation is the spread of resources to cover those potential rally sites, allowing the activists a greater degree of success in executing protests in just a select few locations. It also creates a level of unease for businesses preparing to be potentially exposed to protests and possible violence from police interdiction operations.
On Monday (7 September), a small-scale ‘Lunch with You’ rally was held at Landmark shopping centre, Central district, Hong Kong Island, to protest the arrest of activists during demonstrations the day prior. Then on Tuesday (8 September), another symbolic date event took place. This time the date marked the 10-month anniversary of the death of Chow Tsz-lok, who succumbed to head injuries in hospital after allegedly being thrown off a car park during a demonstration on 8 November 2019. Activists gathered at Popcorn Mall in Tseung Kwan O, New Territories, for a silent vigil. Police were present, but only detained one individual. Pro-democracy activists on Wednesday (9 September) held a ‘Lunch with You’ demonstration at 1300 at the HKEx platform podium, the Landmark, and Statue Square, Central district, Hong Kong Island. Activists rallied in support of freedom of speech and brought copies of the Apple Daily, owned by pro-democracy figure and media tycoon Jimmy Lai.
Also on 8 September, Hong Kong’s KMB bus union launched a strike in response to the police’s recent accusation that an employee was carrying a spanner (or a wrench) as an ‘offensive weapon’. The strike was supported by pro-democracy activists.
Geopolitics and the local implications
Swiss photographer Marc Progin went on trial on 9 September charged with public disorder, with prosecutors alleging that he enabled an assault on a person from mainland China during demonstrations in 2019. The long-time Hong Kong resident pleaded not guilty to the charge.
The trial of the Swiss photographer potentially signals a worsening operating environment for foreign journalists under the national security law, and follows instances of visa issues for foreign reporters. Expatriate personnel should anticipate such a deterioration, including potential legal action, in the coming days and months, particularly those in sensitive sectors such as journalism.
On Thursday (10 September), the CBRE Group announced the sale of the US consulate staff compound in Shouson Hill, Deep Water Bay, Hong Kong Island. The property was sold to local developer Hang Lung Properties for around HK2.6 billion (USD3.2 billion). Though the timing and optics of the sale are notable, particularly during worsening diplomatic relations with the US administration of President Donald Trump, this will have very limited bearing on the operations of the US state department in Hong Kong.
Pro-democracy activists are ramping up their calls to ban the Walt Disney movie, Mulan, which is set to be released in Hong Kong on Friday (11 September). Pro-democracy activists are actively promoting the ban of Mulan on social media under #BoycottMulan and #BanMulan banners. The movie has been criticised for its support of the Hong Kong police. Critics are also highlighting the fact that part of the movie was filmed in the Xinjiang region, where the Chinese government has been accused of committing widespread human rights abuses against the Uighur Muslim community. Flash-mob protests are possible at cinemas showing the film, including Cinema City Langham Place in Mong Kok district, Kowloon, as well stores selling Mulan merchandise.
Operational implications from COVID-19
Hong Kong’s health authorities reported a preliminary 12 new coronavirus infections, all local transmissions, on 10 September against six on Wednesday. As of Thursday, 1.4 million of the territory’s estimated 7.5 million resident population have taken part in a voluntary COVID-19 testing programme. The programme is seen as key to further easing movement and other restrictions. The continuing decline in infection rates has led to an easing in social distancing rules, notably relating to evening restaurant opening hours. The local administration also announced it is in contact with 11 countries regarding the possible opening of so-called ‘travel bubbles’, although no timetable was given. Talks have begun with Japan and Thailand, and discussions are pending with Australia, New Zealand, France, Switzerland, Germany, South Korea, Singapore, Malaysia and Vietnam. Any resumption of travel with these countries will be contingent on levels and rates of infection and containment. This marks the first time in months that the local government has raised the possibility of permitting non-residents entry into Hong Kong.
THE WEEK AHEAD
Chow Tsz-lok is believed to be the first casualty linked to pro-democracy demonstrations. Though a police investigation concluded that the police could not have pushed Chow off the Sheung Tak car park in Tseung Kwan O from which he fell to his death, the claim alleging police involvement has gained significant traction among activists. The outcome of the upcoming coroner’s inquest into the cause of Chow’s death on 16 September is likely to be closely followed by activists, who may protest if results are deemed inaccurate or biased in favour of the police.
Imagery of the protests indicates the police appeared to be under orders to show little leniency towards anyone in the vicinity of the demonstrations. In one well-publicised instance, a 12-year-old girl was tackled and pinned to the ground by police officers. The police later charged her with violating the ban on large public gatherings. In a similar incident from the 31 August demonstrations, an image was captured of a police officer knocking down an activist who was pregnant. That image has been widely circulated on social media platforms; propagandised as a symbol of police brutality.
Such events and images have in the past served to mobilise support for further protests. However, as the NSL effectively criminalises most displays or acts of dissent against the Hong Kong and Beijing governments, there is a risk that a small number of activists may seek alternative means to demonstrate their opposition to Beijing and the local administration of Chief Executive Carrie Lam.
With the stress of COVID-19-related safety measures and imposition of the NSL, the elements of the pro-democracy movement could be pushed into carrying out extreme acts of unrest and violence out of desperation. In January 2020, the police arrested 10 members of an alleged ‘radical anti-government group’ during a sting operation in Mong Kok and Sheung Shui that also resulted in the discovery of ‘powerful pipe bombs’. Police claimed that the IEDs were intended to be used against them either at public gatherings or at police stations. Since then, the police have been able to keep this particular threat largely in check.
While the threat of future activist-authored terrorist acts cannot be ruled out, more credible acts of defiance or resistance may reflect the high level of computer literacy among many of Hong Kong’s younger population, and the ability and willingness of some of them to disrupt government and commercial functions through cyberattacks and other related actions. Companies that have overtly supported the NSL and the status quo ante are at particular risk and should assess their vulnerability to such threats.
There are multiple protests planned for the upcoming week, including a repeat of the ‘Sing with You’ rallies at 20 area shopping centres, and another march along Nathan Road in Kowloon.
See details of upcoming protests below.
Saturday 12 September
1830-1930: Activists are planning to hold 20 ‘Sing with You’ rallies at the following locations:
- APM, Kwun Tong district (Hong Kong Island)
- Time Square, Causeway Bay (Hong Kong Island)
- Maritime Square, Tsing Yi (Hong Kong Island)
- City Plaza, Tai Koo Shing (Hong Kong Island)
- International Finance Center (IFC) Central (Hong Kong Island)
- New Town Plaza, Sha Tin district (Kowloon)
- TMT Plaza, Tuen Mun district (Kowloon)
- Yoho Mall, Yuen Long district (Kowloon)
- Telford Plaza, Kowloon Bay (Kowloon)
- Langham Place, Mong Kok (Kowloon)
- Hollywood Plaza, Diamond Hill (Kowloon)
- Domain Mall, Yau Tong (Kowloon)
- Treasure World of The Whampoa (Kowloon)
- Temple Mall, Wong Tai Shan (Kowloon)
- Tsuen Wan Plaza, Tsuen Wan (New Territories)
- PopCorn Mall, Tseung Kwan O (New Territories)
- MosTown, Ma On Shan (New Territories)
- +WOO, Tin Shui Wai (New Territories)
- Tai Po Mega Mall Zone C, Tai Po district (New Territories)
Note: alternative start times/cancellations are possible, and venue locations are subject to change at short notice.
Sunday 13 September
1430-1800: Activists are planning a protest march from Jordan MTR Station to Argyle Street (via Nathan Road) in Yau Ma Tei district, Kowloon.
PROTEST CHRONOLOGY 4 – 10 September
Sunday 6 September
1430: Activists marched from Jordan Road along Nathan Road to Argyle Street, Yau Ma Tei district, Kowloon, to protest against the NSL and the postponement of the Legislative Council elections.
1600: Pro-democracy activists launched a ‘Revolution Parade’ in Mong Kok district, Kowloon. Demonstrators clashed with the police, who used pepper pellets to subdue and clear the activists. Police arrested nearly 300 protesters.
1830-1930: Activists held a ‘Sing with Your’ rally at Langham Place, Mong Kok district, Kowloon. Prior to the protest, they had advertised at least 20 locations for demonstrations to occur.
Monday 7 September
1300: Activists gathered for a ‘Lunch with You’ rally at Landmark, Central district, Hong Kong Island, to protest the police arrests of pro-democracy demonstrators during protests that occurred on 6 September in Mong Kok and Yau Ma Tei districts, Kowloon.
Tuesday 8 September
2000: Activists held silent tributes across the territory to commemorate the 10-month anniversary of the death of Chow Tsz-lok, who on 8 November 2019 had succumbed to head injuries after allegedly being thrown off the Sheung Tak car park in Tseung Kwan O during by the police.
Wednesday 9 September
1300: Pro-democracy activists held a ‘Lunch with You’ demonstration at HKEx platform podium, Landmark and Statue Square, Central district, Hong Kong Island to show their support for freedom of speech.
Thursday 10 September
1300: A small group of activists gathered at Exchange Square Podium and Statue Square, Central district, Hong Kong Island for a silent protest against government suppression of freedom of speech.