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Hong Kong Police's Arrest of Teen ‘Shopping’ Protesters Sparks Concern

Police officers raised a yellow flag in Mong Kok shopping district before they took arrest action.

Police officers raised a yellow flag in Mong Kok shopping district before they began arresting people. Photo from inmediahk.net

The author of this post is a volunteer editor for news site inmediahk.net, which is quoted throughout this report.

Hong Kong police have cleared all the protest sites of Occupy Central, the months-long sit-in movement demanding citizen nomination of candidates for the city's top leader. But in the shopping district of Mong Kok, protesters haven't given up, even though police say they can no longer stay. Thousands have taken to strolling through the normally congested area in a peaceful “shopping” protest

Police have tried to clamp down on the tactic by arresting participants, something Occupy Central is certainly no stranger to — since the protests began on September 27, 955 protesters and protest supporters have been arrested.

In Mong Kok, however, the arrests have taken a troubling turn. Over the weekend of December 13 and 14, officers arrested 14 minors, accusing them of participating in an illegal assembly and obstructing police in the execution of their duties.

Human rights activists worry that Hong Kong police are targeting young activists, who are more vulnerable to threats and may not be aware of their legal rights.

14-year-old student activist Cheung Chun Ho has been arrested three times since the rehearsal of the Occupy Central protests on July 2, 2014. According to an interview with citizen media platform inmediahk.net, Cheung believes that he was singled out by a police officer on November 25 during the clearance of the Mong Kok protest site. He was arrested and charged with “contempt of court” and “obstructing a police officer in the execution of his duty”:

他憶述被捕時遭近20名警員「捉實」,當中有警員更曾點名高叫:「係你啦,捉住你啦!」…他表示自己當時嗌咪是和執達主任交涉及呼籲群眾離去,後來因現場擠迫,被迫到最前的封鎖線。
在到達警署後,他曾要求致電予家人,但警方只准許他提供電話號碼後代為致電。他指警方「開大冷氣」及不斷對他冷言冷語。及後至26日凌晨4時,有警員對張表示早上會向法庭申請保護令和「把他送到男童院」。

He recalled during the arrest he was pressed down by about 20 police officers and he heard a police officer yell, “You are the right person, now we catch you!” […] He explained that he was holding the microphone and negotiating with the bailiff officer and urging others to leave the scene when he was arrested. He was push to the front line because it was too crowded.

When he arrived at the police station, he demanded to make a phone call to his family, but the police made the call for him instead. He also said the police turned the air conditioner to very low temperature and kept speaking to him with a mocking tone. At around 4 a.m., a police officer told Cheung that he would be moved to the court in the morning for a writ authorizing his being in custody and will then be “sent to a juvenile home”.

While Cheung's court case was still pending, he was arrested again on December 14 when the police sealed off a street in Mong Kok district to crack down on the “shopping” protest. The police arrested him after they checked his identity card:

在警署中,警察除登記他身分證、電話及住址等資料外,更被問及家人電話和就讀學校等個人資料,有警察更曾對他說:「你以後行街小心啲。」

At the police station, the police not only registered his identity card, telephone and address, but also questioned him about his family's contacts, school and other personal background information. A police officer warned him to “be careful when you are in streets in the future.”

Shen Wai Nam, a member from Citizen Right Observe, told inmediahk that children and teenagers might not know how to exercise their right to remain silent or would feel terrorized by the arrest. He further said that the police's actions had violated United Nation's conventions:

沈偉男指出,目前根本沒有法例禁止未成年人在晚上逛街,這行為不應被預設為不正常及違法,警察的做法或已違反《聯合國人權公約》及《兒童權利公約》,侵犯了青年的「和平集會參與權」及當捲進法律衝突時的「受保護權」。

Shen Wai Nam pointed out there is no law prohibiting minors from walking in the streets at night. The behavior should not be considered as abnormal or illegal. [Arresting them] may have violated the United Nation's Convention on Rights of the Child and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights as the police deprived the teenagers from the right to participate in peaceful assembly and the right to protection.

Those arrested since the Occupy Central movement kicked off have been accused of having access to a computer with criminal or dishonest intent, illegal assembly, instigating a crime, and obstructing a police officer in the execution of his duty.

Chiang Kang, a writer from inmediahk.net whose father is a police officer, explained why the police are so nervous about the shopping protest:

跟我的警察父親辯論時,我不斷強調示威者是多和平、多平凡的普通人,他卻說:「你地放火燒車點算?你地去佔領機場一鑊熟咁點算?」聽到他的語氣,我語塞。他們,真心地,拒絕相信這個世界上有「和平示威者」的存在。[…]
對於鳩嗚這種無定性、無目的,流動性、可變性高的活動,他們更是莫名地恐懼。於他們看來,鳩嗚比佔領的不穩定性更高。他們對於「不知道接下來會發生甚麼」的恐懼很大,所以每一次都overreact,寧願有殺錯無放過,冒著濫權的指控,務求在生事前驅散或控制,更執意態度強硬,希望殺雞警猴。[…]
警隊,甚至整個香港,過去於人權教育上是可悲地缺乏。而且由於被放到了光譜的最極端處,他們對於集會自由等與日常生活不太切身的權利,不能理解,也看不到必要性;相對地,維穩和秩序是保持社回安定的必要條件。所以他們看到的,就只有一群搞亂香港的廢青,一群犯法的危險群眾。他們不能明白眼前的示威者,不能明白社會急需的變改,以及那變改所需要的手段。
站到前線,他們完全忽視、漠視了示威者的追求和聲音。[…] 說服自己是為了一個Greater Good,然後狠狠地毆下去。他們不曾想過,自己一手一棍扑倒的,可能就是那個Greater Good。

When I debated with my police father, I kept stressing that the protesters were very peaceful and they were just ordinary people. He said, “What if you burn the car? What if you occupy the airport and shut down Hong Kong?” His tone of voice made me speechless. They refuse to believe that “peaceful protesters” really exist in this world.

As for “shopping” — a form of protest that cannot be defined and is mobile, flexible and without any specific aims — they are deeply fearful. For them, “shopping” is more unstable than an occupation. They don't know what will happen next and that fear is huge. That's why they overreact and risk the accusation of abuse of power when they take action against it. They want to disperse the people before anything happens and determine to kill the chicken to scare the monkey [a Chinese proverb meaning to make an example out of someone] […]

Hong Kong, in particular the police force, is lacking in human right education. As the city is situated next to a most extreme region [mainland China], they can't comprehend rights like the right to assembly, which seems to have nothing to do with their daily life. That's why they don't find it necessary to defend it. On the contrary, stability is necessary. In their eyes, the protesters are teenage trash, a dangerous crowd that is likely to break the law. They can't understand the protesters or the changes that society needs, as well as the means that can achieve those changes.

When they stand on the front line, they disregard the dreams and the voices of the protesters.[…] They believe they represent the Greater Good when they beat protesters. What they don't realize is that their batons are actually hitting the Greater Good.

Andy Tsang Wai Hong, the head of the police department, told the press that they will continue to investigate the protests and carry out more arrests. On December 14, a total of 20 protesters were arrested in Mong Kok shopping district, seven of whom were minors. Judging from the crackdown on the “shopping” protest, young activists could be a major arrest target.

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