Hong Kong has witnessed a further week of protests in defiance of the passing of the emergency regulation to ban masks.
The Government’s attempts to split the radical activists away from the mainstream have so far failed, because once again they have totally underestimated people’s angry reaction to the use of emergency powers.
The use of such powers has touched on a raw nerve – the thin end of the wedge that is perceived by many as leading to curfews, the use of detention without trial and even the transporting of detainees across the border.
The government’s concerted efforts to accuse the protesters as mindless looters and vandals are unsuccessful also because the police force’s brutality and clumsy attempts to cover up. Two recent cases have highlighted the community’s deep concerns about “Asia’s Finest”:
A 15 year old girl was discovered naked and dead in Hong Kong harbour, several days after her parents reported her as missing. The police declared within hours that there are no suspicious circumstances and had her body cremated. The girl is a strong competitive swimmer and is unlikely to have drowned. There is no police attempt to investigate why she was found naked.
Over the past weeks, there have been many complaints by female protesters against the police of sexual assault after being arrested. This highly suspicious case has put the authorities on the back foot.
A staff driver of one of the local Now TV network companies was shot in the back of his head by a beanbag round, near Mongkok police station. After he fell down, the police rushed to hogtie him even though he declared several times that he is a media worker, not a protester. He was hauled inside Mongkok police station and badly beaten up before being sent to a hospital over two hours later.
Journalists have been harassed by the police for weeks, being attacked and shoved aside. Last week, a female journalist who works for a local Indonesian language newspaper was hit by a rubber bullet and has permanently lost the sight of her right eye.
Physical attacks on police have escalated, including a throat-slashing incident and many instances of assaults against undercover police who got exposed and outnumbered. There have been more targeted attacks on Chinese banks and premises of pro-China businesses (including the catering giant Maxim’s, who hold the Starbucks franchise in Hong Kong).
More and more secondary school aged protesters are getting arrested.
On the one hand, the government has no political strategy and relies more and more on the police force to deal with protesters. On the other hand, the protest movement remains a loose coalition of different forces and there are still few signs of effective link ups with trade unions, with ethnic minority communities, and with the large number of domestic helpers and migrant workers.
Today Joshua Wong, imprisoned for his leading role in the 2014 Umbrella Movement and since courted by international politicians in the US and Europe, and a large number of pro-democracy activists have declared their candidatures for local district elections, where the pro-government parties are expected to lose many seats. Voting will be on 24 November.
In order to stand, the candidates have to declare their adherence to the Basic Law and to state their opposition to independence for Hong Kong. The activists are prepared to play according to these rules in order to score victories on the electoral front.
Tomorrow the legislative council (Legco) reconvenes, to receive the Chief Executive’s annual policy address – widely expected to be focused on securing more land for public housing and other interim measures to alleviate poverty. Legco is also expected to rubber stamp the government’s introduction of emergency powers, since there is an in-built pro-establishment majority.
So the conflict is set to continue, both on the streets and soon through the ballot boxes. The district council elections will be an important opportunity for the left to campaign for social justice, for policies to reverse decades of pro-business neo-liberal policies that have impoverished the vast majority of working class people, for bringing the government and the police force to account and the realisation of the protest movements demands.
It will be an opportunity for debate within the protest movement to determine which is the way forward for Hong Kong.