HONG KONG PROTEST MONITOR 13 March 2020
THE SITUATION NOW
Political protests and rallies against government measures to counter the COVID-19 outbreak occurred over the past weekend. While both the number of demonstrations and levels of violence declined from the previous week, large number of arrests were made, reflecting strengthened police efforts and a more robust ‘zero tolerance’ policing strategy.
In the evening of Saturday 7 March 2020, a group of pro-democracy activists rallied outside Pacific Place in Admiralty to commemorate the birthday of Marco Leung who died on 15 June 2019. Leung reportedly fell from a high platform at the mall where he had strung up banners relating to the anti-extradition bill movement on 12 June 2019. Riot police were present watching the gathering but did not deploy kinetic tactics.
In the afternoon of Sunday 8 March 2020, police utilised pepper spray to disperse a crowd that had gathered in Tai Po District, New Territories to protest against the government’s decision to designate the Tai Po Jockey Club clinic as a COVID-19 quarantine centre. Protesters allegedly threw debris onto nearby On Chee and On Cheung roads, and threw objects towards police officers, who made at least nine arrests. Most of the crowd dispersed by 1600, while a small group remained on On Pong Road and Tai Wo Road until 2000. No further violence was reported but police made further arrests.
The same day two memorials were held to commemorate Chow Tsz-lok who died on 8 November 2019 from a head injury sustained during a confrontation with police on 4 November 2019. In Kwun Tong Promenade, Kwun Tong, New Kowloon, around 70 protesters laid white flowers and lit candles. Elsewhere, hundreds of activists rallied near Sheung Tak carpark, Tseung Kwan O, New Territories and were met by approximately 300 riot police who cordoned the intersection of Tong Ming Street and Tong Chun Street and made numerous arrests.
Confrontations flared up later with debris thrown on to the roads and police warning that the gathering was an illegal assembly. The stand-off lasted into the early morning of Monday 9 March 2020 but neither police nor protesters engaged in extreme tactics. The rally ended in around 40 arrests. Prior to the Tseung Kwan O assembly, police seized helmets, umbrellas, glass bottles, lighters and petrol bombs from the Sheung Tak carpark. It is likely radical activists had planned to utilise this materiel during the protest.
Police pointed pepper spray to the crowd during Tseung Kwan O gathering, 8 March 2020
Also on Sunday 8 March 2020, police arrested 17 people and seized 2.6 tonnes of chemicals linked to a series of recent incidents involving improvised explosive devices (IEDs). Police officers from the force’s organised crime bureau found three IEDs, each containing 1.5 kg of explosives and three remote-control devices, during a series of raids throughout the territory. The police believe the suspects are linked to a small explosion at a medical centre on 27 January 2020, an IED found on a mass transit rail (MTR) train near a border checkpoint with China on 28 January 2020 and two IEDs found at a northern New Territories MTR station on 2 February 2020.
On Monday 9 March 2020, a small rally that mostly involving members of the Aviation Industry Union occurred at Tuen Mun Park Entrance and Tuen Mun MTR Station to protest against the government’s response to the coronavirus crisis.
On Wednesday 11 March 2020, police conducted a series of raids and made ten arrests for suspicion of illegal assembly and wounding with intent. Among the arrested, seven allegedly attacked officers during a protest in Central on 19 January 2020 and three were accused of beating a pro-Beijing demonstrator during a lunchtime rally in Causeway Bay on 21 February 2020.
Thursday 12 March 2020 marked the nine-month anniversary of the first violent clashes between protesters and police over the anti-extradition bill movement on 12 June 2019. During lunchtime, dozens of people protested around IFC mall in Central. In the evening, people gathered in multiple districts including Yuen Long, Tuen Mun, Mong Kok and Kowloon Bay to watch a documentary referred to as Battle against Tyranny, which recorded key protest-related events occurring over the nine months. Around 2000, riot police reportedly appeared at Soy Street and Sai Yeung Choi Street South in Mong Kok to intercept people but made no arrests. A fire was set on Shantung Street.
THE WEEK AHEAD
At the time of writing no protests are planned over the coming week. However, the political protests that occurred last week reflected that the pro-democracy momentum continues to be significant. On Wednesday 11 March 2020, the United States Department of State published its 2019 Country Reports on Human Rights Practices, in which it accused of Hong Kong police of brutality, referring to the Prince Edward event on 31 August 2019 and the Yuen Long attack on 21 July 2019. The Hong Kong government rejected the criticism and praised police for taking proper actions during unprecedented violence. The US report will be welcomed by pro-democracy activists and will be perceived as vindicating anti-police sentiment. We warn of the continued likelihood of spontaneous and localised ‘flash-mob’ style rallies that have the potential to exhibit significant violence.
The police have yet to ascribe a motive for the IED incidents, although they are highly likely to be linked to anti-government protests. The volume and composition of seized chemicals, which include gun powder, nitrate mixture, sulphur, magnesium powder and sodium, suggest the group possessed the skills to construct viable and potentially powerful IEDs, as well as the financial resources and industrial contacts to assemble such a large quantity of materiel.
These arrests and seizures mark a radical change in the apparent capabilities and intent of at least some activists. It is currently not possible to assess whether the arrests have neutralised the threat from this group or whether other members remain active. On Monday 9 March 2020, the Hong Kong police force announced it would conduct counter-terrorism drills with other government departments; the exercises would focus on ‘home-grown terrorism’. We advise that companies in Hong Kong reassess existing security provisions for staff, properties, assets and operations and consider whether further measures may be necessary to mitigate the potential threat posed by extremist groups.
While the charges against any suspects arrested over last week has yet to be tested in court, police believe some share close connections with groups of radical activists self-identifying as ‘the valiant’ or ‘braves’ who seek to confront the police and employ extreme tactics during protests. Local media reported that since 7 January 2020 some ‘valiant’ groups have decided to end their actions due to increased police pressure and internal divisions. However, online activity indicates some newly established groups remain active and are increasing membership. Violent confrontations between police and extremist activists are likely to continue for the foreseeable future.
No significant activity reported.
PROTEST CHRONOLOGY 28 FEBRUARY – 5 MARCH 2020
Friday 6 March
2045 hrs: A black-clad man reportedly throw petrol bomb at Tsuen Wan MTR carpark. He had a physical confrontation with a police officer but fled. No one was arrested. The case is under investigation.
Saturday 7 March
1900 – 2100: A group of people gathered outside Pacific mall in Admiralty to mark the birthday of Marco Leung who died on 15 June 2019. Riot police were present. No violence was reported.
Sunday 8 March
1400 – 2030: At around 1400, protesters started to rally in New Territories’ Tai Po district to protest against designating Tai Po Jockey Club Clinic as a COVID-19 quarantine centre. Activists first rallied at Tin Hua Temple, Fung Shui Square and marched towards Tai Po Centre. Some activists reportedly set debris on On Chee Road and on Chueng Road and threw objects to the police officers, who fired pepper spray and made at least nine arrests.
Around 2000, some activists returned to the region’s On Pong Road and Tai Wo Road. Police dispersed the crowd and made dozens of arrests. No other violence reported.
1900 – 2000: Around 70 people attended a memorial gathering for Chow at Kwun Tong Promenade, Kwun Tong, New Kowloon.
1900 – 0100: A large crowd rallied near Sheung Tak Estate in Tseung Kwan O, New Territories to commemorate the death of Chow. Riot police cordoned the intersection of Tong Ming Street and Tong Chun Street and intercepted protesters. Police and protesters had verbal disputes and police made around 40 arrests.
Monday 9 March
1600: Around 30 people from the Aviation Industry Union gathered at Tuen Mun Park Entrance and Tuen Mun MTR Station Exit in New Territories to protest against the government’s response to the coronavirus crisis. No violence was reported.
Thursday 12 March
1300: Lunchtime rally outside IFC in Central. Protesters gathered to mark the nine- month anniversary of the first violent clashes between protesters and police over the anti-extradition bill movement on 12 June 2019 and to protest against the government’s response to the coronavirus crisis. No violence was reported.
1930: People gathered in multiple districts such as Yuen Long, Tuen Mun, Mong Kok and Kowloon Bay to watch a documentary referred as Battle against Tyranny. Around 2000, riot police reportedly appeared at Soy Street and Sai Yeung Choi Street South in Mong Kok to intercept people but made no arrests. A fire was set on Shantung Street.