HONG KONG PROTEST MONITOR 8 May 2020
THE SITUATION NOW
There is a considerable amount of anticipation and anxiety over a resurgence of anti-government protests in light of the administration of Chief Executive Carrie Lam relaxing restrictions on public gatherings from Friday (8 May). People will now be allowed to assemble in groups of eight instead of four as stipulated under the previous public health directive. While this, coupled with the police’s strict enforcement of coronavirus (COVID-19) related containment measures, are still limiting the outbreak of large-scale demonstrations, it is a concession welcomed by the anti-government activist movements that have largely been relegated to smaller public protests and ramped up online propaganda campaigns.
The monitoring period began on Labour Day (1 May) with a series of anti-government protests organised by pro-democracy activists and trade unions, with the largest occurring at the New Town Plaza shopping mall in Sha Tin (New Territories). There were repeated calls for ‘flash-mob’ protests in Causeway Bay, Kwun Tong, Mong Kok, Sai Ying Pun and Tai Po, prompting the police to fan out across the territory.
These protests, however, were replaced by registration and propaganda booths set up by trade unions, including the Construction Site Workers General Union and Confederation of Trade Unions, among others. Both had booths in Mong Kok and Kwun Tong, respectively. Similar booths were set up in Tai Po, Sai Ying Pun and Causeway Bay, among other locations. Unions and opposition political parties also gathered at the International Finance Centre (IFC) in Central district, and the Admiralty Centre. Police cordoned off these booths while enforcing social distancing rules. No violence was reported.
At New Town Plaza shopping mall, there was a large “Sing With You” protest gathering with more than 100 activists engaged in a ‘singalong’ with onlooking mall patrons. Around 100 riot police deployed, cordoning off the main atrium to disperse the protesters. There was one reported incident of a police officer using pepper spray on journalists and city councillor Leticia Wong. Several people were briefly detained and issued with citations and fines for violating social distancing rules.
Riot police cordon off the atrium of New Town Plaza in Sha Tin, Hong Kong, on Labour Day/Felix Wong
More worrying, however, have been occasional instances of improvised explosive device (IED)-related developments. On Saturday (2 May), the Hong Kong police reported the discovery of what they described as explosive substances, dangerous chemicals, modified mobile phones, circuit boards and a pressure cooker in an abandoned building in eastern Kowloon district. The police linked some of the materials to chemicals recorded as missing from the territory’s Polytechnic University during unrest in late 2019. There was no indication of any attempt to detonate an IED using the materials. While the police have yet to classify the find, the discovery is the 11th instance of IED-related incidents or discoveries reported since pro-democracy and anti-government protests began almost one year ago. No injuries have been recorded as a result of any IED incidents, but at least 17 people have been arrested and remain under investigation for their alleged involvement with the assembly, procurement, or storage of illegal explosive materials.
The latest discovery of explosive materials was made in an abandoned school, a location which the police admit they have used for training purposes, while stating this did not include the use of explosives. While there are certain to be elements among Hong Kong’s more radical activists who may advocate the use of terrorist-style violence including IEDs or other devices or weapons, no independent evidence has yet been presented or tested in court to assess the validity of the threat. Further, the police are now widely mistrusted due to what is perceived to be their political bias and conduct during the protests, with many openly doubting their claims regarding the discovery of explosive or IED materials.
THE WEEK AHEAD
China's Hong Kong and Macau Affairs (HKMA) office on Wednesday (6 May) warned that the Beijing government would not tolerate what it termed the ‘political virus’ of violent protest in the territory while urging the local administration to ‘take real action’ against activists. The warning came as the number of protests in Hong Kong has begun to increase as public fears over - and restrictions intended to contain the impact of - the COVID-19 pandemic on the territory ease. The HKMA’s language was notably assertive, stating at one point that those in public office ‘must, according to law, take real action to squash evil with righteousness.’
The HKMA’s latest warning comes a few days ahead of a planned protests on Friday (8 May), Saturday (9 May) and Sunday (10 May) in multiple locations. See list below. It remains uncertain if these demonstrations will go ahead, especially if there is a police ban. It is evident that activists will skirt around or defy social distancing rules to hold protests, either organised or in the form of ad hoc ‘flash mob’ variants. However, there is no doubt Beijing has informed the Hong Kong government that there can be no return to the level and scale of violent protests the onset of COVID-19 effectively ended in late 2019 and early 2020.
The few small and generally peaceful demonstrations held in recent weeks were quickly overwhelmed by large numbers of police, and this pattern is certain to continue. It is uncertain whether activists will adopt new and potentially more confrontational tactics as their mass base declines, but companies operating in Hong Kong should ensure their security and operational contingency planning reflects this possibility.
Friday 8 May
Any time: ‘Flash mob’ protests are planned to take place in 18 districts across the territory to commemorate the half-year memorial of Chow Tzk Lok, who passed away days after falling from the Sheung Tak Estate car park in Tseung Kwan O on 4 November 2019.
1300: ‘Lunch With You’ gathering at Central District, Hong Kong island. Activists will conduct a ‘singalong’ and share COVID-19 related safety advice.
1800: Student activists will hold a memorial outside the Jockey Club Hall, Hong Kong University of Science and Technology (HKUST), New Territories. Only HKUST students are allowed to participate.
1900-2030: Chow Tsz Lok’s half-year memorial meeting in Kwun Tong Promenade, Kowloon.
2000: Chow Tsz Lok’s half-year memorial gatherings are planned for outside the main entrance of Tuen Mun Town Hall, Tuen Mun, New Territories, at the Yuen Long West Rail Station, New Territories and at the Tin Chung Court Amphitheatre, Tin Shui Wai, New Territories.
Saturday 9 May
1600-1800: “Let’s learn from the past” – Epidemic Prevention Seminar, held by the ‘Silver-Haired’ protest organisation in Chater Garden, Hong Kong.
1900: ‘Sing With You’ protests planned to take place at the Tai Po Mega Mall (Zone C), New Territories and Hollywood Plaza, Diamond Hill in Kowloon.
Sunday 10 May
1400: “Everyone should be awake, Carrie Lam step down” rally and march from the Tsim Sha Tsui Clock Tower in Kowloon to the junction of Nathan Road and Argyle Street, Kowloon.
PROTEST CHRONOLOGY 2 MAY – 7 MAY
Tuesday 5 May
1800: Around 100 activists gathered at the Tuen Mun Town Plaza, Tuen Mun, New Territories.
Wednesday 6 May
1900-2000: Around 30 pro-democracy activists clad in black attire held a ‘siege with you’ protest inside the atrium of the Kingswood Ginza (+ WOO) Phase 2 Jiahu shopping mall, Tin Shui Wai, New Territories.