HONG KONG PROTEST MONITOR 7 February 2020
The coronavirus outbreak ended most protest activity as most Hong Kong residents seek to protect themselves from the disease. A few instances of anti-government ‘flash-mob’ style unrest did occur, but at a far reduced level than in previous weeks.
On the evening of Friday 31 January protesters gathered at the Prince Edward mass transit rail (MTR) station in Kowloon to mark the five-month anniversary of the 31 August clashes when police allegedly indiscriminately attacked passengers at the station. At around 2100 some activists occupied parts of Prince Edward Road West and Nathan Road and set up barricades. Police dispersed protesters without resorting to extreme force.
On the evening of Saturday 1 February police used pepper spray to disperse a crowd that had gathered at the large Mei Foo private housing estate in Lai Chi Kok, Kowloon, to protest against the government’s decision to use a nearby building as a quarantine centre for potential coronavirus patients. The crowd blocked roads with debris and sprayed graffiti demanding the closure of the border with mainland China.
Around 300 people returned to Mei Foo on the afternoon of Sunday 2 February. The protest against the quarantine centre continued late into the night when people dispersed throughout the estate and challenged the police. No violence was reported but the police made several arrests.
Also on Sunday 2 February two improvised explosive devices (IED) were found on a train at Lo Wu MTR station close to the border with mainland China. One caught fire after being moved from the train but caused no casualties and very minor damage, while the other was defused. Police claimed the incident was part of what they termed an ‘ongoing bomb campaign’ and a ‘big step toward terrorism.’ The IED was the second to be discovered during the week.
In the early morning of Monday 3 February an attempt was made to disrupt MTR and light rail services in the New Territories after debris was found on the East Rail Line near Tai Wo MTR station. Shortly afterwards, petrol bombs were thrown onto train tracks near Ping Shan Light Rail station, while a ticket machine at Tin Yuet Light Rail station was set on fire. Traffic cones and other debris were later found on the Tsuen Wan line near the Kwai Hing MTR station.
On Monday 3 February, around 3,000 public sector health workers began a week-long strike to demand the immediate closure of Hong Kong’s border with mainland China in order to stem the spread of the coronavirus. That lunchtime dozens of people staged a rally in and around the IFC Mall, Central, to demand the government close the border with the mainland to prevent travellers from entering Hong Kong. Protesters and police officers exchanged verbal abuse but there was no violence.
Healthcare workers on strike, 5 February 2020On Tuesday 4 February several black-clad protesters reportedly threw at least one petrol bomb into a car park in Sham Shui Po, Kowloon; no damage was reported. A small lunchtime rally in the Landmark Mall, Central, passed off without incident. That evening a crowd gathered in Tin Shui Wai, New Territories, to demand the government shut the nearby Shenzhen Bay Port border checkpoint with China as part of its measures to stem the spread of the coronavirus. Bricks were reportedly thrown outside Tin Shui Shopping Centre, prompting the police to fire multiple rounds of tear gas and rubber bullets to disperse the crowd. Other smaller gatherings were reported at multiple locations including Mong Kok, Kowloon, and Sha Tin and Tseung Kwan O in the New Territories, with minor incidents recorded.
THE WEEK AHEAD
The present lull in mass pro-democracy and anti-government protests is set to continue for as long as the coronavirus outbreak persists and deters people from attending large gatherings. The number of street level confrontations between activists and the police will also be greatly reduced and muted. However, there is an increased likelihood that protests over the placement of quarantine centres and demands to further reduce cross-border travel with China, already much reduced, will continue.
There is also a heightened threat from IEDs, seemingly linked to what is likely to be a small group of anti-police and anti-China activists. Limited ‘flash mob’ type protests are also likely to continue without warning. Both continue to pose a threat to the wider public.
Saturday 8 February marks the three-month anniversary of the death of Chow Tsz-Iok who died following clashes between protesters and police on 4 November 2019. Chow, a second-year student at the University of Science and Technology (HKUST), reportedly fell from the third floor from a car park while trying to avoid either the police or tear gas. He suffered serious injuries and died on 8 November. Protesters calling for a memorial to commemorate him have not scheduled any activities for the day, but we warn ‘flash-mob’ style or small-scale rallies may occur, notably in Tseung Kwan O, New Territories.
Anti-government sentiment has been fuelled by the local administration’s allegedly ineffective management of the coronavirus outbreak. By 0900 Friday 7 February the coronavirus was recorded to have infected 24 people and led to the death of another in Hong Kong. The local government announced on 5 February that all people arriving in Hong Kong from mainland China will be required to undergo 14 days of quarantine, effective from Saturday 8 February. Nevertheless we assess that the local administration is unlikely to close the border entirely, not least because of the need to import food supplies and facilitate other freight movements. This failure to meet the demands of those who want the border totally shut down may provoke further unrest. Anti-mainland sentiment also appears to gaining new momentum amid the health crisis, further widening the gap between rival pro- and anti-China groups.
Wednesday 12 February
A ‘Lunch with you’ rally is scheduled at Lai Chi Kok MTR station Exit C, New Kowloon, from 1300 to 1400.
PROTEST CHRONOLOGY 31 JANUARY – 6 FEBRUARY
Friday 31 January
In the evening activists gathered at Prince Edward MTR station in Kowloon. Some protesters reportedly built barricades on Prince Edward Road West and Nathan Road. Police dispersed the crowd around 2200 and made several arrests.
Saturday 1 February
In the evening a crowd gathered in Mei Foo in Lai Chi Kok, Kowloon, to protest against the government’s plan to turn a nearby building into a quarantine centre for coronavirus patients. Protesters blocked streets and sprayed graffiti. Police used pepper spray to disperse the crowd and made arrests.
Sunday 2 February
In the evening a crowd of around 200 people gathered in Mei Foo, Lai Chi Kok, Kowloon, to continue a protest against turning a building into a quarantine centre. No violence was reported.
Monday 3 February
A small rally was held in and around the IFC Mall, Central during lunchtime to demand the government to close the border with mainland China.
Tuesday 4 February
A small rally was held at the Landmark Mall, Central during lunchtime to demand the government to close the border with mainland China.
In the evening, protesters gathered at Tin Shui Shopping Centre in Tin Shui Wai. Police fired tear gas and rubber bullets to disperse the crowd. In Tseung Kwan O, protesters blocked parts of Tong Ming Street and set debris alight. In Mong Kok, protesters piled debris at the intersection of Nathan Road and Shantung Street.
Thursday 6 February
At around 2000 people marched at various locations around Hong Kong, including Mei Foo Sun Chuen, Mei Foo MTR station, Lai Chi Kok Park, Mount Sterling Mall and Kennedy Town, to protest against coronavirus quarantine centres being located in their districts.