Outside my dorm at the University of Hong Kong, a group of protesters are building barricades with any material they can get their hands on. These barricades, made of chairs, wires and cones, are the only protection they have from the riot police. As I walk past them to get to my hall, a student protester dressed in all black turns to me and says, “Stay safe.” I respond with a mere, “You too.” As the police become more violent, I know he’ll need it more than me.
On Nov. 14, the University of Hong Kong announced that it will be halting all on-campus classes and switching to online classes instead due to ongoing violence between police and protesters. The protests in Hong Kong began in response to the proposed amendment to the Fugitive Offenders Ordinance, which would have allowed extraditions to mainland China so local residents could be subject to Chinese jurisdiction. As an autonomous district, Hong Kong was promised a certain level of democracy until 2047, but recent developments have exposed China’s efforts in breaking that promise.
The protests, which began in March of this year, started off relatively peacefully. Organizers of the protests obtained permits as thousands of locals filled the streets. The protesters have five demands, and they are rather simple:
- Withdrawal of the extradition bill.
- Investigation into police brutality and misconduct.
- Release of the arrested protesters.
- Resignation of Carrie Lam, the chief executive of Hong Kong, and universal suffrage (China currently has control over 50% of the legislature).
- Retraction of the “riot” characterization.
Currently, only the first of the five demands has been met, while the other four have been completely disregarded.
In October, the government introduced the anti-mask law, which made it illegal for anyone to wear a face mask. This bill strips protesters of their protection against tear gas and allows the government to use facial recognition to arrest more protesters. Lam has continuously labeled the protesters as the enemy, calling them “extremely selfish” and has supported the continued police brutality. On Nov. 16, the government warned 180,000 government employees that they will face immediate suspension if they are arrested while participating in public demonstrations.
The government of Hong Kong has been actively trying to take away the freedoms of the Hong Kong people. Public demonstration permits, which are required by law for any protests or marches, are no longer issued. By not allowing Hong Kong residents to participate in marches, releasing thousands of rounds of tear gas at protesters and firing bullets at young students, the Hong Kong government is not trying to resolve the conflict. Rather, they are actively trying to break down Hong Kong residents through force and violence.
In October, the police shot an 18-year-old high school student protester and continued to arrest him after he underwent surgery to remove the bullet. Just last Friday, a 22-year-old protester fell to his death while running from tear gas. On Nov. 11, the police shot an unarmed 21-year-old student protester in the stomach. And, on the night of Nov. 13, a 15-year-old boy sustained a blow to his head by a tear gas canister and is currently in a coma.
When the government abuses its powers to such an extent, there is no option other than to retaliate. To not react at all is to allow these injustices to prevail.
On the night of Nov. 12, the police fired over 1,000 rounds of tear gas at Chinese University of Hong Kong students. Despite the vice chancellor’s initial attempts at negotiation, the police pressed on and refused to come to a compromise. There were no objects being thrown at the police when the first round of tear gas was fired. It was only after the police released this first round that the protesters threw Molotov cocktails and petrol bombs between themselves and the police as a line of defense. Throughout the night, the police forces beat, shot and arrested over 100 students. The Hong Kong Free Press reported that, in multiple videos, the riot police could be heard saying “beat the head” as they attacked protesters.
The fight for freedom is often violent and chaotic, but let’s be clear: in this case, the government and the police incited and continue to provoke the chaos. Since June, the government has arrested over 4,000 protesters of ages ranging from 11 to 83. Currently, the riot police are laying siege on the Hong Kong Polytechnic University, trapping hundreds of students inside the campus. When the government abuses its powers to such an extent, there is no option other than to retaliate. To not react at all is to allow these injustices to prevail.
The Hong Kong that I have come to love is one where office workers march peacefully during their lunch break, teachers are concerned for their students’ futures and students are currently fighting for their rights. The Hong Kong I know is resilient and kind; it is a thousand-person crowd parting for an ambulance to get through, the candlelight vigils for the injured and the volunteer-run canteen that allows protesters to eat for free.
The Hong Kong government has been abusing its powers, using excessive force and villainizing the protesters through propaganda. We cannot let this go unnoticed. We are privileged to live in a country that allows us to voice our opinions in public and gives us access to unbiased news sources. I urge you all to use that right to read the news, pay attention and stand with the people of Hong Kong as they continue to fight for the rights and freedoms that we take for granted every day.
Emma Xing thinks that if we value our rights so much, we should stand with others when they fight for theirs.