Amnesty International on Sept. 20 demanded an investigation based upon findings of human rights abuses including torture by the Hong Kong police. Amnesty's report focuses on police brutality during arrests stemming from recent mass protests. Interviews of arrested persons and their lawyers by Amnesty revealed that while police violence most commonly occurred before and during arrest, in several cases detained protesters have also been severely beaten in custody and suffered other ill-treatment amounting to torture.
Protesters are rejecting what they call Hong Kong Chief Executive Carrie Lam's "fake concession," with the demonstrations now in their fourteenth straight week. Contrary to widespread media reports, Lam's supposed "withdrawal" of the extradition bill is actually only a promise to withdraw it when the Legislative Council reconvenes next month—with no date yet set. Lam refused the other four demands of the current unprecedented mass movement: repudatiation of the term "riots" for the protests (with "riot" charges carrying a 10-year prison term); an independent investigation into police brutality during the demonstrations; release of all detained protesters, and the dropping of all charges; and "universal suffrage" in elections of the chief executive and Legislative Council. (Nikkei Asian Review, The Villager)
In Episode 39 of the CounterVortex podcast, Bill Weinberg explores the politics of the Hong Kong protests—and especially how they have been playing out in New York's Chinatown. It is natural that the Hong Kong protesters have made common cause with the Tibetans, Uighurs and Mongols also struggling for their rights and dignity against China's ruling party-state. But some supporters of these movements have come to embrace a separatist position, actually seeking independent states in Hong Kong, Tibet, East Turkistan and South Mongolia. This position inevitably raises certain contradictions. Will self-determination for these regions and peoples be possible without active solidarity with the struggles for democracy and political empowerment by the Han Chinese majority of the People's Republic? Listen on SoundCloud, and support our podcast via Patreon.
Hong Kong riot police used tear-gas, rubber bullets and water cannon to disperse protesters as tens of thousands marched in the city Aug. 31, defying a ban. Police fired live rounds over the heads of the crowd as "warning shots" in Causeway Bay. Some protesters set fires and threw Molotov cocktails and bricks at police lines. TV news footage showed riot police beating people with their batons inside commuter-train cars at Prince Edward station, with many passengers seen to be cowering and bleeding. In a first for Hong Kong, police water-cannon trucks fired dyed water at protesters near government headquarters in an effort to identify those who fled for later arrest. The Civil Human Rights Front, a coalition of around 50 pro-democracy groups, had cancelled a march scheduled for that day in response to the government ban, but many organizations pledged to carry on anyway—with some calling the march a "religious" procession in a bid to evade the ban. (HKFP, BBC News, NPR)
A Hong Kong court on July 31 charged 44 protesters with rioting over their involvement in street protests over the weekend. The peaceful sit-in at a park outside Beijing's Liaison Office July 28 turned into running battles between black-clad demonstrators and police, with security forces using tear-gas and rubber bullets. The 44 are the first demonstrators to be charged since protests over the extradition bill began in June. The defendants were released on bail. Most were ordered to remain in Hong Kong, except a pilot who is able to leave when working; and had a midnight to 6 AM curfew imposed on them, except for a children's home worker. Hong Kong's anti-riot law defines rioting as an unlawful assembly of three or more people where any person commits a breach of the peace. If convicted under this law, the sentence can be up to 10 years in prison. This heavy sentence has sparked outrage, and protesters demonstrated at the courthouse where the 44 defendants were charged. While the protests initially began in June to demonstrate against the extradition bill, they have since developed into a call for wider democratic reform.
Chinese official media (Global Times, Xinhua, China Daily) are making much of a "white paper" issued by the State Council Information Office entitled "Historical Matters Concerning Xinjiang," which seeks to deny the national aspirations and even very identity of the Uighur people of China's far western Xinjiang region. It especially takes aim at the "separatism" of the emerging "East Turkistan" movement, asserting that never in history "has Xinjiang been referred to as 'East Turkistan' and there has never been any state known as 'East Turkistan.'" It denies that there has ever been an independent state in what is now the territory of Xinjiang (a name not in use until the 18th century): "Xinjiang was formally included into Chinese territory during the Han Dynasty (206 BC-AD 220) and the central government of all dynasties maintained jurisdiction over the region. The region has long been an inseparable part of Chinese territory. Never has it been 'East Turkistan.'" The Turkic roots and identity of the Uigurs are even challenged: "The main ancestors of the Uygurs were the Ouigour people who lived on the Mongolian Plateau during the Sui (581-618) and Tang (581-907) dynasties, and they joined other ethnic groups to resist the oppression and slavery of the Turks."
Hong Kong protesters stormed and occupied the city's legislative chamber on July 1, which marked the 22nd anniversary of the handover from British to Chinese rule. The protesters, many wearing helmets, spray-painted the walls with slogans including "Oppose Chinese colonialism." But some, at least, betrayed a nostalgia for the earlier colonialism. Hong Kong Free Press writes: "A British colonial flag—often used in protesters—was also unfurled at the president's chair." And sure enough, the former colonial power has emerged as defender of the protest movement. UK Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt warns China of "serious consequences" over the Hong Kong repression, and will not rule out sanctions, BBC reports.
Despite limited victories, leaders of the declaredly "leaderless" protest movement that has brought hundreds of thousands to the streets in Hong Kong over the past weeks pledge to keep up the pressure. The unpopular bill that sparked the protests and would have allowed extradition to mainland China has now been suspended. But six student unions issued a call to escalate protest actions if the government does not respond to their outstanding demands in the coming days. These include that the extradition bill be formally withdrawn, that all charges be dropped against arrested protesters, and investigations be opened into cases of police brutality. Protesters are also demanding that Chief Executive Carrie Lam step down.