Image Credit: Studio Incendo
Cantonese politics spilled onto campus this week in the form of posters criticising police brutality during the Hong Kong pro-democracy protests. The protesters, who have been demonstrating since 9 June, have attempted to draw international attention to alleged abuses of power. The country’s China-controlled government is accused of attempting to force through a law to permit extradition to China: a move that many see as detrimental to Hong Kong’s rule of law.
The protests came to a head earlier this week as 350 thousand Hong Kongers joined a general strike. The protest targeted Hong Kong’s transport infrastructure, especially the aviation industry, where a three-day sit-in, and the loss of two thousand aviation workers has led to the cancellation of over 200 flights. The city’s underground metro, or ‘MTR’ system has also been partly paralysed at multiple points over the week.
The posters around campus have attacked the police for alleged abuses of power, including using (deadly) expired tear gas, rubber bullets, and so-called ‘beanbag rounds’; shotgun ammunition designed to knock individuals to the ground at short range. A section of text argues that it is impossible for Hong Kong to remain a “safe and stable society” whilst its police wield excessive force against protesters armed with “bottles and umbrellas”.
The posters appeared at the start of the week in many of the most visible spots on campus. A QR code in the bottom right implores the reader to scan and “help”. Although the source of the posters is not clear, Nouse contacted the Hong Kong Public Affairs and Social Services Society for comment. In a statement, they said that as a “politically neutral” society, they were unwilling to comment on events, but emphasised that they were “very concerned” regarding the political protest.
The civil rights charity Amnesty International has already been able to verify multiple abuses by police over the past month. By reviewing video footage, they say they have identified 14 incidents of unnecessary “police violence”. Man-kei Tam, Director of Amnesty International Hong Kong, issued a statement arguing security forces appeared “out of control, placing peaceful protesters who posed no threat in danger of serious injury.” Offences appear to have escalated after the initial protest in June, which many media outlets reported were largely peaceful.
Additionally, police have been accused of negligence following an attack on the MTR Yuen Long station by triads. Masked men in white reportedly attacked travellers and pro-democracy protesters indiscriminately with steel bars and other blunt objects: an act which many see as proof of the government’s negligence when it came to the safety of protesters not in favour of its proposed extradition laws.
The poster on campus echoes attempts by many Hong Kong citizens to draw international attention to their cause, in order to ensure China is held to account for alleged abuses of power. The campaign has met with success in the US: a statement from the US State Department on Thursday branded China a “thuggish regime” following its attempt to discredit protesters in the state media by publishing links to America’s top diplomat in Hong Kong. China has long accused the US of fomenting the protests for its own gain.
For its part, Britain has been relatively silent over the protests in its former colony. Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab reportedly called Hong Kong leader Carrie Lam on Friday to discuss “violent acts on both sides”, but emphasised that, in the British government’s view, "violence should not cloud the lawful actions of the majority" of peaceful protesters. The UK has been seeking an official investigation into recent events, although so far it has resisted calls from Hong Kongers and other nations to intervene, citing China’s right to govern under the ‘One country, Two systems’ principle.
Thanks to the University of York Hong Kong Public Affairs and Social Services Society for providing an accurate and detailed account of events. They are holding a conference (mainly in Cantonese) on the 17th August: more details on their Facebook page.