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”:
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:
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:
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:
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.