HONG KONG PROTEST MONITOR 24 April 2020
THE SITUATION NOW
In the past week Hong Kong has seen several improvised explosive device (IED) incidents, elevating ongoing security and law enforcement concerns. Meanwhile, an anniversary demonstration in Yuen Long occurred despite COVID-19 related lockdown orders and ended in police pepper spraying activists.
Police searched and questioned activists in Yuen Long, New Territories, 21 April 2020
On Saturday 18 April, Hong Kong police arrested 15 prominent pro-democracy activists and charged them with ‘organising and participating in unlawful assemblies’ relating to events dating back to 2019. Police stated more arrests were possible after those detained were ordered to appear before the court on 18 May. Among those arrested were Democratic Party founder and barrister Martin Lee, publishing tycoon Jimmy Lai and former lawmaker and barrister Margaret Ng.
In response, a small group of members and supporters from the Labour Party, League of Social Democrats, Hong Kong Confederation of Trade Unions and other pro-democracy political groups demonstrated outside the Cheung Sha Wan Police Station in Kowloon throughout the afternoon. They later encountered several pro-establishment activists who gathered to show support for police. The two factions exchanged verbal abuse but violence was not reported.
On Monday 20 April, a small improvised explosive device (IED) addressed to Police Commissioner Deng Bingqiang was delivered to the force’s headquarter in Hong Kong island’s Wan Chai district. The device emitted some smoke in an office while staff attempted to open the package but was rendered safe without causing injury or damage. According to police, the IED could have injured anyone within 3 feet (1 metre) should it have exploded. The incident follows recent deliveries of non-hazardous, but suspicious, white powder to police headquarters and offices of the social welfare department. We expect similar incidents targeting government personnel and facilities to continue.
Also on Monday, the Kwai Tsing Police Department in New Territories arrested a 38-year-old officer on charges of perverting the course of justice. The officer is accused of involvement in the planting of petrol bombs around the Kwai Chung police station on 13 April.
Protesters staged a sit-in at Yoho Mall in Yuen Long, New Territories, 21 April 2020
In the evening of Tuesday 21 April, around 50 pro-democracy activists staged a sit-in protest inside Yoho Mall in Yuen Long district, New Territories to mark the nine-month anniversary of the attack by suspected organised criminal groups (‘triads’) on members of the public in Yuen Long on 21 July 2019. By around 2100, riot police dispersed the activists but held them outside on Yau San Street, Fung Cheung Road and in the vicinity of Jianle Street Playground where they questioned them. Other activists on the footbridge reportedly verbally abused officers and were pepper sprayed.
On Wednesday 22 April, police officers from the Organized Crime and Triad Investigation Branch arrested a man in Sau Mau Ping in Kwun Tong District in Kowloon on charges of conspiracy to cause bodily harm. Equipment used to make explosive devices was found in his house. It was reported some material was similar to that discovered in two 10-kg IEDs found at Hong Kong Huaren College in Wan Chai in December 2019. Police claim that the IEDs were capable of being detonated remotely by a mobile phone, and that they potentially had a blast area of 50-100 metres.
On Friday 24 April, dozens of protesters attended the ‘Lunch with You’ rally at IFC, Central. They shouted anti-government slogans, sang protest-related songs and then dispersed peacefully around 1400.
THE WEEK AHEAD
While there is no clear evidence that these IED incidents are linked to any pro-democracy activist groups, this is the most likely scenario. To date, IEDs deployed or discovered in Hong Kong have been of relatively crude design and have not caused serious harm or damage. The number of radical activists prepared to engage in such tactics is likely extremely small and at least 17 people have been detained to date for alleged involvement in the manufacture of viable IEDs.
However, it is reasonable to assume the sophistication of remaining actors prepared to deploy such devices will improve over time, presenting serious safety and security risks for businesses and personnel caught in the immediate vicinity of a detonation. Of particular concern is the potential for prominent police and government officials to be targeted at their private residences, which would also present significant risk to the general public.
At the time of publishing, activists are scheduling a mourning event on Thursday 30 April, the eight-month anniversary of 31 August 2019 clashes in which police allegedly attacked passengers indiscriminately at Prince Edward Mass Transit Railway (MTR) station in Mong Kok, Kowloon. Despite COVID-19 containment measures that have effectively banned public gatherings, hardcore activists are clearly willing to defy these rules in the hope of picking up the protest momentum. Demonstrations have occurred around Prince Edward MTR station and extended to nearby Prince Edward Road, Nathan Road and other major roads in Mong Kok region on the 31st of every month and are likely to continue, but we warn ‘flash- mob’ style protests may also occur throughout the territory, presenting a risk of localised violence.
The arrests of 15 high-profile pro-democracy activists are widely seen locally and internationally as reflecting China’s determination to impose its own standards of political compliance on Hong Kong, regardless of the territory’s semi-autonomous status. The timing of the arrests has also been perceived as using the COVID-19 pandemic’s legal and social strictures of social distancing and self-isolation to prevent, or at least mute, protests over the police action. China will also have factored in the condemnation of the arrests by the US and British government and has already emphasised the detentions are in line with ensuring that the rule of law applies to all those accused of transgressions. The immediate economic impact is likely to be minimal, however, due to COVID-19-related restrictions and obstacles to trade and commerce. Nevertheless, many foreign and local companies will view China’s growing and overt interference in Hong Kong with mounting concern while assessing the implications for their future operations and interests in the territory.
Thursday 30 April
The ‘831 Prince Eward Attack Mourning’ is scheduled at Prince Edward Station Exit B. Time remains unconfirmed.
PROTEST CHRONOLOGY 18 APRIL – 24 APRIL
Saturday 18 April
1400: Members and supporters from pro-democracy political parties and groups rallied outside the Cheung Sha Wan Police Station, Kowloon to protest against the arrest of high-profile pro-democracy activists. Around 1600, around eight pro-establishment activists arrived to show support for the police. The two sides engage in heated verbal disputes but no violent clashes were reported.
Tuesday 21 April
1900: Around 50 demonstrators staged a sit-in protest inside Yoho Mall in Yuen Long, New Territories. By around 2100, riot police reportedly intercepted activists on Yau San Street, Fung Cheung Road and in the vicintiy of Jiale Street Playground. Police pepper sprayed activists who verbally abused officers.
Friday 24 April
1300: ‘Lunch with You’ rally at IFC Mall, Central.