HONG KONG PROTEST MONITOR 25 September 2020
THE SITUATION NOW
The recent reporting period (12-18 September) recorded relatively low overall incident volumes for street-level protests across the territory. Despite this, two important and symbolic days of protests dominated this monitoring cycle. They were related to significant dates, including those commemorating the ‘721 Yuen Long station attacks’ and the death of pro-democracy activist Chan Yin-lam, who was allegedly killed by Hong Kong police in September 2019.
Yuen Long in the New Territories was the main focal point of rallies related to the ‘721 attacks’ especially in the nearby municipality of Nam Pin Wai, where alleged participants in the violence reside. The local pro-democracy activist known as ‘David’, who is well-known for holding solo rallies, had intended to appear on Monday (21 September), but it is understood that he did not due to police threats of immediate arrest. David is allegedly planning to hold his lone protest on Friday (25 September) instead. (As of publishing this report, there have been no reports of this particular information. He intends to walk from Yuen Long MTR station to Nam Pin Wai; however, the police have warned him against the protest threatening him with immediate arrest.
Activists had gathered at Yoho Mall in Yuen Long on 21 September for a ‘Walk with You’ rally, where they chanted pro-democracy slogans and unfurled signs. Police entered the mall to investigate and intercept the participants, raising the purple flag, which warns the protesters that their protests, banners and slogans are in violation of the national security law (NSL).
File photo of Purple Flag warning protesters of violations, 2020.
At the same event, police allegedly told an online news reporter that his media outlet was not government-approved, likely due to the police’s reformed definition of ‘media representatives.’ Last week, Hong Kong Police announced plans to limit the definition of ‘media representatives’ under their protocol. Under the new definition, police will only recognise government-registered media or globally acknowledged foreign media organisations. This revised definition of media representatives notably omits news websites, which may adversely impact foreign digitally-based news outlets.
Then on Tuesday (22 September) there were a number of rallies commemorating the death of Chan Yin-lam. Gatherings occurred at the Tsueng Kwan O Footbridge, Popcorn Mall, Hong Kong Design Institute, and at an undisclosed location in Tseung Kwan O. Chan, like others who passed away during the 2019 unrest, have become important symbols for the pro-democracy movement and these anniversaries serve as useful rallying calls for mobilisations.
Also on 22 September, the Communications Authority issued a warning to public broadcaster RTHK over alleged ‘biased’ coverage against the police. The warning referred to four episodes of RTHK’s ‘Pentaprism’ programme that aired over September-November 2019 during anti-government demonstrations.
Police on Wednesday (23 September) arrested a demonstrator known as ‘Captain America,’ who had participated in protests at the Hong Kong Design Institute and Popcorn mall in Tseung Kwan O on 22 September, over an alleged breach of the NSL. Activists, including the so-called Captain America, were holding memorial services commemorating the death of Chan Yin-lam, whose corpse was found on 22 September 2019. Demonstrators accuse the Hong Kong police of murdering her for her taking part in demonstrations in 2019. The police denied these allegations.
Captain America, who has been identified as 30-year-old ‘Ma’, was also an administrator of a Telegram channel used by the pro-democracy movement to co-ordinate protests. Soon after his arrest was known, members of the channel were asked to exit the group named, ‘610,000 people are not in fear of being arrested’. The arrest of Ma may in the immediate term impede activists’ efforts to plan street-level protest activities, but activists are likely to rebound by finding alternative communication channels.
File photo of ‘Captain America’ at a protest event in 2019
On Thursday (24 September), leading pro-democracy activist Joshua Wong was arrested by the Hong Kong Police. It is understood that he was charged with violating then-new emergency laws that banned the wearing of face masks at public gatherings in 2019 and for his participation in a 5 October anti-extradition protest. He was released on a bail after a few hours of detention. Wong called on the international community to focus less on prominent activists such as him and called for the release of the 12 Hong Kongers detained in mainland China.
The rest of the period saw no significant street-level demonstrations, but the upcoming monitoring period will likely see a slight uptick in incident volume reporting compared to the recent cycle, especially as China’s national day will be observed on 1 October. There are calls to hold rallies on the day, but also in the run-up. Police, who reportedly are closely tracking developments relating to a planned demonstration on 1 October in Tsuen Wan, New Territories, are planning to deploy at least 2,500 police officers in response.
Geopolitics and the local implications
Pro-democracy activists on 22 September launched a global social media campaign with the hashtag ‘#BoycottCCP’ from 24 September to 1 October in order to demonstrate opposition towards Beijing by inspiring the boycotting of Chinese businesses, movies and television programmes, and web applications. Activists are also encouraging the posting of pro-democracy slogans on Twitter on Friday (25 September).
The cause has been taken up by five Republican US senators who sent a letter to Netflix, calling on the media company to ‘reconsider plans to adapt a Chinese science-fiction trilogy’ into a miniseries. In the UK, the centrist Liberal Democrats party also called on the government of Prime Minister Boris Johnson to sanction the leadership in the Chinese government and for the public to boycott Chinese companies such as TikTok to protest Beijing’s policies against the Uighur Muslim community in the western Xinjiang region.
Pro-democracy activists’ launching of the ‘#BoycottCCP’ social media campaign signals increasing efforts to mobilise international support and increase pressure on the Hong Kong government to abide by the democratic principles of the territory’s laws and practices. At this juncture, there is unlikely going to be any significant operational implications for foreign companies in Hong Kong in the immediate term.
China’s foreign ministry on 23 September demanded that the Hong Kong-based Foreign Correspondents Club (FCC) stop ‘meddling’ in the territory’s affairs, while also accusing it of sheltering what it called ‘black rioters’ - a reference to the clothing worn by protesters during the months of street demonstrations in 2019. The foreign ministry’s intervention followed the FCC’s criticism of a decision by the police to instruct its officers on how to deal with different categories of journalists in situations ranging from protests to media conferences. The FCC’s remit has since its creation more than 70 years ago evolved into the role of seeking to protect the interests and rights of foreign and local journalists in the territory.
The treatment of the foreign and local media in Hong Kong by the authorities in Beijing is widely viewed as an indicator of the territory’s probable trajectory under increased rule from mainland China. The latest intervention by China’s foreign ministry is in line with other pronouncements and unconfirmed media stories regarding how international entities, notably foreign-owned banks and other financial institutions in Hong Kong and on the mainland, are likely to be treated in future. Many foreign companies in Hong Kong increasingly recognise that their previous status and actions are now under greater scrutiny by Beijing, with China seemingly viewing the overseas media as a useful sector to signal its expectations and the consequences of failing to meet them. This policy is likely to become clearer in the three-month outlook.
Operational implications from COVID-19
Hong Kong’s health authorities on Sunday (20 September) reported 23 new infections, all but four imported and the highest daily number in nearly a month. At least 16 of the new imported cases were recorded on flights carrying passengers from India, leading the local aviation authorities to ban two airlines – Air India and Cathay Dragon – from respectively operating services to destinations in India and Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia until 3 October. The ban temporarily suspends repatriation flights operated by the two airlines’ respective transit services from Kuala Lumpur, affecting thousands of Hong Kong’s ethnic Indian residents seeking to return to the territory.
Since 25 July, the Hong Kong government has required travellers from countries it has designated as high-risk, including from India, Pakistan, the Philippines, Indonesia and the US, to obtain a certified negative COVID-19 test validated within 72 hours of departure and undertaken at an accredited or government-approved facility. The high number of passengers originating in India testing positive for the virus indicates this system is either unable to detect infections or has been compromised by fraud or corruption.
The recent cases can also be expected to lead the Hong Kong authorities to seek firmer guarantees from other governments as part of any programme to open so-called ‘travel bubbles’ with foreign countries. Talks have begun with Japan and Thailand on permitting limited travel, and discussions are reportedly pending with Australia, New Zealand, France, Switzerland, Germany, South Korea, Singapore, Malaysia and Vietnam. However, a recent surge in cases in Europe, particularly in France and Britain, is certain to compel local authorities to revise their plans to resume travel to the continent until the infection rates decline.
Chief Executive Carrie Lam on 22 September announced a prolonging of COVID-19-related curbs for a further week amid continued signs of ‘hidden’ COVID-19 transmission.
On 24 September, the Centre for Health Protection (CHR) announced that there were seven new confirmed coronavirus (COVID-19) cases. Four of the cases were local citizens who had contracted the disease from abroad, including one from the UK and three from the Philippines. The CHR has now registered single-digit cases for the past four consecutive days, bringing the cumulative total to 5,057 since the outbreak began in January.
THE WEEK AHEAD
Chief Executive Carrie Lam on 22 September said that Hong Kong had no legal basis to demand that any special rights be granted to the 12 Hong Kongers detained in mainland China on 23 August after they fled the territory by boat while reportedly trying to travel to Taiwan and will have to face the legal system there.
On 20 September, the relatives of the detainees at a news conference outside the Hong Kong Police headquarters demanded that the Hong Kong government check on their condition and make sure that family-appointed lawyers rather than Chinese government-appointed lawyers can meet them. The development comes after Chief Executive Carrie Lam on 15 September rejected the label of the detainees as being ‘democratic activists being oppressed.’ Activists are encouraging the signing of a global petition demanding the immediate return of the detainees from mainland China.
The demands by several of the detainees’ relatives will potentially incite demonstrations in solidarity with their cause. Protest activities are likely over the next monitoring period, especially on 1 October, which is China’s national day. Anticipate localised travel disruption and strong police interdiction operations, including roadblocks, traffic diversions and crowd dispersal operations.
Activists calls on social media platforms to mobilise on 1 October have been gathering momentum over the reporting period. Police, who reportedly are closely tracking developments relating to a planned demonstration on 1 October in Tsuen Wan, New Territories, are planning to deploy at least 2,500 police officers in response. A large police deployment is likely to disrupt travel and elevate security and safety risks to people and businesses in the vicinity. While Tsuen Wan has been identified as a protest location, the Civil Human Rights Front (CHRF) has been trying to get a rally on Chater Road, Central district, Hong Kong Island, approved by the police.
The organisation has submitted a ‘Letter of No Objection’, which is likely to get rejected A denial does not necessarily mean it will dissuade the CHRF and its supporters from mobilising, but it certainly elevates the risk of arrest and trial under the enforcement of the NSL.
See details of upcoming protests below.
Friday 25 September
1300: Activists are planning a ‘Lunch with You’ protest at Statue Square, Central district, Hong Kong Island. Participants will read copies of the Apple Daily to protest suppression of media freedoms.
1500: The locally known student activist known as ‘David’ will hold a protest at Exit B at Yuen Long Station, Yuen Long city, New Territories. David will also walk to nearby Nam Pin Wai to carry out another protest. The police warned that if he enters Nam Pin Wai, then he would be arrested on charges of ‘public disorder’ and ‘breaching the peace’. Anticipate a relatively large police presence.
Saturday 26 September
1830-1930: Activists are planning to hold 20 ‘Sing with You’ rallies at the following locations:
- APM, Kwun Tong district (Hong Kong Island)
- Times 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 district (Hong Kong Island)
- New Town Plaza, Sha Tin district (Kowloon)
- Tai Po 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. This event is intended to recur every Saturday.
Monday 28 September
1830: Pro-democracy activists are planning a ‘You Shop and Play’ rally at Pacific Place, Queensway, Admiralty, Hong Kong Island. Activists will hold up their mobile phones and tablets and display clips commemorating the six-year anniversary of the beginning of the 2014 umbrella movement.
Thursday 1 October
1430: Activists plan on holding a ‘Day of Grief’ rally in Tsuen Wan, New Territories. The protest day coincides with celebrations for Chinese National Day.
TBC: Activists plan on holding a ‘101 Mid-Autumn Festival Event’. Details on location, time and activity are not available at time of compiling this situation report.
1400: The Civil Human Rights Front (CHRF) intend to hold a protest march and rally dubbed, ‘Never Forget the Anti-Communist Hero, Release the Twelve’. CHRF has applied for a ‘Letter of No Objection’ with the Hong Kong Police to get approval for this event. Participants have been asked to gather at East Point Road, Causeway Bay, where they will then march to Chater Road (Pedestrian Precinct), Central district, Hong Kong Island.
PROTEST CHRONOLOGY 18 – 24 September
Monday 21 September
1500: The lone activist known as ‘David’ planned on holding a rally at Nam Pin Wai, Yuen Long, New Territories, but reportedly did not show up due to police warnings of arrest. He and other activists intended to protest the ‘721 attacks’ as it is understood that a number of Nam Pin Wai locals were part of the mob involved in the violence against anti-extradition activists and non-activists on 21 July 2019.
1830-2200: Activists gathered at Yoho Mall, Yuen Long, New Territories, for a ‘Walk with You’ rally that was aimed at commemorating the 14-month anniversary of the ‘721 attacks’.
Tuesday 22 September
1600: Activists held a memorial service at the Tseung Kwan O Footbridge, New Territories to commemorate the death of Chan Yin-lam, who was killed in September 2019 allegedly by the Hong Kong police.
1830: Activists held a ‘Sing with You’ rally at Popcorn Mall at Tseung Kwan O MTR Station, Tseung Kwan O, New Territories.
1900: Activists held a memorial rally at the Main Entrance of the Hong Kong Design Institute, Tseung Kwan O, New Territories. The rally was held to commemorate the death of Chan Yin-lam.
2200: Activists held a memorial rally at Tsueng Kwan O, New Territories, to commemorate the 22 September 2019 death of Chan Yin-lam.