Hong Kong police violently subdued several protests in and around shopping malls Sunday targeting pro-China businesses, silencing both the protesters and journalists covering their activities.
In one particularly brutal incident, authorities pepper-sprayed a reporter from the publication Mad Dog Daily and proceeded to beat him with batons. Others in Mong Kok, the neighborhood where it occurred, recorded part of the aggression, where the unnamed reporter can be seen clearly wearing a white journalist hat to distinguish himself from journalists.
Police issued a statement Monday noting that they were aware he was a journalist, not a protester, but that he had engaged in “verbal abuse” against police that necessitated violence against him.
The Asian outlet Coconuts reported that the protesters had branded this week’s activities “Christmas shop with you” protests, designed to alert the general public about which stores in various shopping malls in the city are owned by pro-Chinese government businessmen. The protesters chanted and waved signs in front of the businesses they identified as being against the interests of the Hong Kong people. In some situations, protesters spray-painted the businesses they were protesting with graffiti and confronted shoppers who had patronized the stores or restaurants.
The Hong Kong broadcaster RTHK reported that violence broke out in a mall in the neighborhood of Sha Tin after some individuals began attempted to wrestle protesters away from the businesses to prevent them from spray-painting the storefronts. Small scuffles attracted crowds of plain-clothed, armed individuals believed to be police officers, but who did not identify themselves properly as such.
“Some police officers were seen pointing their non-lethal weapons up at protesters after some threw a bag of rubbish and water down at them. Police also said a smoke bomb went off in the bus terminal outside the mall as they retreated,” RTHK reported, quoting several bystanders complaining that they had been either verbally or physically attacked for attempting to stop the protests. Coconuts noted that the men attacking protesters and ordering them to dispel did not, according to videos recorded of the incident, identify themselves as officers.
This identification is key in light of several violent incidents involving street thugs, which protesters believe the Chinese government paid to attack them. In July, a mob of an estimated 100 people stormed a crowd walking to a rail station at the end of a peaceful protest, beating anyone wearing black with metal rods and bamboo sticks. Harrowing images surfaced of the men cornering individuals, often not in any apparent way participating in protests, in tight spots within the metro trains to beat them severely. Police later admitted some of those involved in the mob attack had ties to triads, or organized crime syndicates.
In Kowloon Bay, Coconuts reported that police pepper-sprayed a child and a reporter after raiding Telford Plaza, a shopping center the protesters had targeted because of properties owned by Maxim’s, a corporation whose ownership had reportedly criticized the protests and supported the Hong Kong government. Police arrested at least four people there, including a 15-year-old.
The police attack on the Mad Dog Daily reporter occurred outside in Mong Kok late Sunday and at least part of it was caught on video.
Source: Heng Sang University SU Editorial Board pic.twitter.com/liU5llYSSu
— 😷✋🏼HongKongNewEra (@LazyMasu) December 16, 2019
The yet-to-be-named reporter remains under arrest. According to police, he endured only “a bit of physical contact” because he had engaged in “verbal abuse.”
“His verbal abuse was very likely to cause a breach of the peace at the scene. So our officer had already given him a warning to stop his illegal or disorderly act. Unfortunately, he didn’t follow the warning,” senior police superintendent Kong Wing-cheung told reporters. “After my officer sprayed the pepper spray, he had a bit of physical contact with my officer, so my officer decided to arrest him for obstructing a police officer.”
The Hong Kong Free Press (HKFP) reported that the crowd in Mong Kok peaked at about 100 people and that violence escalated when police began firing pepper spray into the crowd, which included journalists clearly identified by their white hats.
“We express our strongest condemnation over such an irrational and barbaric act, and urge our industry to condemn the Hong Kong government and the police,” Leung Kam-cheung, editor of Mad Dog Daily, said in a statement about the reporter’s arrest.
The HKFP also identified a student journalist from Hong Kong Baptist University among those injured by police action, republishing an image the university student union posted of the student. The student, who also remains unnamed, reportedly said he did not “understand why they pointed” in the direction he was standing because “clearly there were only first-aiders and journalists left on site. It felt as though they were targeting journalists and medics.”
Police explained their behavior in a statement through the Hong Kong government.
“Protestors have gathered in the vicinity of Mong Kok last night … Some committed acts that breached public peace, including obstructing roads with bricks and spraying windscreens of buses,” the statement claimed. “Radical protestors also hurled miscellaneous objects such as glass bottles at police officers carrying out duties.”
“Police appeal to protestors to stay rational and stop all illegal violent acts,” police asserted.
Officials published a similar statement on the violence in Sha Tin, claiming “someone hurled a smoke bomb” in the middle of the ensuing chaos in the direction of individuals waiting for a public transportation bus near the mall.
“The act of hurling smoke bomb at crowded area was extremely irresponsible as it could cause chaos and stir up public fear,” the statement concluded.
The Hong Kong protest movement began in June in response to a proposed law to allow China to imprison Hong Kong residents and foreigners present in the city within the Chinese communist prison system, the “world’s top executioner” and considered one of the legal systems most likely to violate human rights around the world. The protesters have made four demands of their government: the full withdrawal of the Chinese prison bill, freedom for political prisoners, an end to calling protests “riots,” direct election of lawmakers, and an independent investigation into police brutality.