A city divided: Hong Kong’s 6 months of tumultuous protests

A city divided: Hong Kong’s 6 months of tumultuous protests

Central Hong Kong protest Jul 28
Protesters march during a demonstration in Hong Kong on Jul 28, 2019. (Photo: AFP/Anthony Wallace)

HONG KONG: People in Hong Kong have a track record of making their views heard through rallies and marches.

More often than not, they’ve generally made their point in peaceful ways. For instance, the Occupy Central campaign in 2014 was mostly organised and non-violent.

Over the past few months, however, stark divisions over Hong Kong’s political future have been laid bare, with scenes of open conflict being beamed to global audiences.

EXPLORE: Voices of Hong Kong, an interactive special

What began in June as peaceful marches against an extradition Bill put forward by Chief Executive Carrie Lam has escalated into clashes on the streets, civil disobedience and a fractured society. More than 5,000 arrests have been made so far.

Protesters walk down the road with traffic cones to build a barricade in Causeway Bay
Protesters walk down the road with traffic cones to build a barricade in Causeway Bay, Hong Kong, China November 11, 2019. (Photo: Reuters/Thomas Peter)

Despite the government’s efforts to quell the unrest, including withdrawing the controversial Bill and a robust police response, the protests have continued.

Anti-government demonstrators attend a protest march in Hong Kong
A police officer fires tear gas near a burning barricade during an anti-government protest in Hong Kong, China, October 20, 2019. (Photo: Reuters/Tyrone Siu)

For now, no resolution seems to be on the horizon.

As protests hit the six-month mark, CNA spoke to a sample of Hong Kong society, including politicians, protesters and those affected, about what they remember about these tumultuous events. 

THE BEGINNING: PEACEFUL MARCHES

On Jun 9, one million people were said to have marched in Hong Kong island against the extradition Bill, which would allow for criminal suspects to be extradited to places where Hong Kong does not have an extradition treaty with, including mainland China.

HK protesters march during a rally against a controversial extradition law proposal
Protesters march during a rally against a controversial extradition law proposal in Hong Kong.  (Photo: AFP/Dale De La Rey)

In a city where anti-China sentiment has been growing, the Bill stoked fears among some people that those against the mainland could be extradited.

Despite the large gathering, the government said a second legislative reading of the Bill would proceed as scheduled three days later.

“The major reason why I joined the protest at the very beginning is basically to protect my freedom and safety … Some of the articles (I have written) are censored in the mainland. So it is very possible in the long run that I or other people who have become targeted will be sent to mainland China,” said Jack, 22, who works in Cyberport business park.

FILE PHOTO: 30th anniversary of the crackdown of Beijing's Tiananmen Square in 1989, in Hong K
Thousands of people take part in a candlelight vigil to mark the 30th anniversary of the crackdown of pro-democracy movement at Beijing's Tiananmen Square in 1989, at Victoria Park in Hong Kong, China June 4, 2019. (File photo: Reuters/Tyrone Siu)

Mr Cheung, 31, an engineer recounted: “At the very beginning, actually the police and protesters were quite friendly. They would just talk and laugh with each other.”

“I remember the protesters actually singing worship songs to the police. It was sort of funny, but at that time they could still make jokes with each other.”

The situation became tense after tear gas was used by the police against protesters for the first time near the Legislative Council on Jun 12, and lawmakers were forced to postpone the second reading. 

There were also allegations that the police had used pepper spray. The government characterised street actions on that day as a riot. Under the law, rioting carries a jail term of up to 10 years.

“They (the police) shot tear gas for no reason on Jun 12 … I don’t agree that it was a riot. We didn’t even have any weapons on us … but the police had all sorts of weapons like guns, tear gas and rubber bullets,” said a 19-year-old university student who only wanted to be known as E.

Hong kong sunday march
Protesters march during a rally against a controversial extradition law proposal in Hong Kong on Jun 16, 2019. (Photo: AFP/Hector Retamal)

People clear rubbish outside the Legislative Council building after violent clashes in Hong Kong
People clear rubbish outside the Legislative Council building after violent clashes during a protest against a proposed extradition bill with China in Hong Kong, China, June 13, 2019. (Photo: Reuters/Thomas Peter)

Despite the government announcing on Jun 15 that the Bill would be suspended, two million people reportedly took to the streets the day after. By then, protesters were calling for an independent investigation into the use of force by the police.

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Pro-establishment legislator Regina Ip, in her office at the Legislative Council building (Photo: Jeremy Long)

“I think the numbers – one million, two million – they are exaggerated. But whatever the exact numbers, a great many. We don’t dispute that,” said Mrs Regina Ip, a pro-establishment legislator.

She noted that since day one of the protests, there has been a typical pattern of the proceedings starting peacefully, only to quickly morph into road blockages.

“On Jun 9, after the large numbers of mass protesters went home, immediately a splinter group, a violent radical splinter group, started blocking the roads, throwing bricks at the Legislative Council. Now, these are criminal acts.”

SHOCK, ANGER OVER STORMING OF LEGISLATIVE COUNCIL

The situation escalated on Jul 1 as protesters stormed the Legislative Council, sending shockwaves through the political system.

A person sprays paint over Hong Kong's coats of arms inside a chamber after protesters broke i
A person sprays paint over Hong Kong's coats of arms inside a chamber after protesters broke into the Legislative Council building on Jul 1, 2019 during the anniversary of Hong Kong's handover to China. (Photo: Reuters/Tyrone Siu)

After thousands of protesters marched peacefully on the anniversary of Hong Kong’s return to Chinese sovereignty, a smaller group of several hundred people stormed the building. Some defaced portraits, spray-painted slogans and destroyed surveillance cameras.

READ: Commentary - Storming of LegCo building a turning point in Hong Kong politics

Mr So Man Ying, 67, a retired teacher, recounted that he had attended a rally on that day. When the event ended, youngsters standing on railings near Admiralty were appealing for more to join them in surrounding the council building.

So Man Ying 02 - HK Interactive
Mr So Man Ying speaks to CNA during an interview in Hong Kong about his thoughts on the protests. (Photo: Jeremy Long)

“We were very conflicted after hearing their request … Finally, I chose to leave, as we knew that they will use some radical ways to express their demands … We cannot accept the use of force to achieve the demands." 

People are seen inside a chamber, after protesters broke into the Legislative Council building duri
People are seen inside a chamber, after protesters broke into the Legislative Council building during the anniversary of Hong Kong's handover to China in Hong Kong, China July 1, 2019. The banner reads "There are no thugs, only tyranny". (Photo: Reuters/Tyrone Siu)

Mrs Ip, who is also a non-official member of the Executive Council, remembers being “shocked” as the events unfolded.

“It would not have been allowed in any territory. I was disappointed that the police left LegCo because they thought they were outnumbered ... For several hours, there was no one to protect us. I was really shocked and angered and disappointed by that,” she said.

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Pro-democracy legislator Alvin Yeung, in his office at the Legislative Council building (Photo: Jeremy Long)

Pro-democracy legislator Alvin Yeung also said it was “totally unexpected”.

“I was wondering where the police were. Usually, you would expect some police force heavily guarding the LegCo building, a very symbolic building,” he said.

“As a member of the system, of course I felt responsible too … We have to ask why we failed the people, why we failed the youths, why we disappointed these young men and women who would rather be storming the building … instead of voicing out, staying on the streets and being peaceful protesters. Because they had tried in June and they got disappointed.”

YUEN LONG MOB ATTACK A “TURNING POINT” IN PERCEPTION OF POLICE

Anger towards the police grew after protesters returning to their homes in Yuen Long on Jul 21 were attacked in the Mass Transit Railway (MTR) station. Dressed in white, the attackers were believed to have links with the triads. At least 45 people were injured.

Collage of violence at Yuen Long MTR station
Screengrabs from a video showing the violence at Yuen Long MTR station. (Images: Facebook / Lam Cheuk Ting) 

The police took around 40 minutes to respond, citing lack of manpower. Two officers were deployed but after witnessing the attack, were said to have turned around and left the station.

E - HK Interactive
A Hong Kong student protester who goes by the name "E". (Photo: Jeremy Long)

In July, instances of policemen’s families being harassed also became more common.

“I think the police should have done more that day (in Yuen Long). Two officers chose to turn away … They had guns. They should either shoot (at the attackers) or shoot to the sky to let everyone know that the police had arrived. They should have told the white shirts not to beat the people anymore,” said E, the university student.

Mr Yeung, who is also leader of the Civic Party, said: “July 21 was the turning point for everyone. In the eyes of Hong Kong people, we witnessed the downfall of the Hong Kong Police Force. Before this whole incident, this movement, they loved to claim themselves as Asia’s finest. What a joke, not anymore.”

Hong Kong chef recounts triad terror
Calvin So, 23, a resident of the rural town of Yuen Long near the border with mainland China, shows his wounds and bruises in a hospital corridor in Hong Kong, Jul 24, 2019. (Photo: AFP/Anthony Wallace)

Mrs Ip, the pro-establishment legislator noted that there were two sources of grievance with respect to the Yuen Long incident.

“One is the mob attack, very likely to be by triad members. The police should arrest the triad members and they have done so,” she said.

“As for the inability to protect the innocent Yuen Long residents … maybe there might have been a misjudgment on the part of the (local police) command, that they might be outnumbered because prior to that, there had been petrol bomb attacks on police stations ... Yuen Long police station might have been overawed by the attacks and under-resourced. Anyway, I think the police should review that.”

ALLEGATIONS OF POLICE BRUTALITY GATHER MOMENTUM

More allegations of police brutality emerged in August.

Protesters light fire outside Hong Kong police station
Protesters start a fire near Tsim Sha Tsui police station in Hong Kong on Aug 3, 2019. (Photo: Reuters)

Hong Kong protests police in riot gear
Police in riot gear march on a street as they confront protesters in Hong Kong on Wednesday, Aug. 14, 2019. (Photo: AP/Vincent Yu)

Mr Yeung, the legislator, said: “I believe there was a change of tactics in August, with the police force adopting a more brutal strategy”.

“We witnessed a complete change of attitude towards protesters. It was more unkind … they did not give them sufficient time to go, before that the police somewhat allowed protesters to leave … It became chase, arrest, beat up and the beating up was way more than necessary.”

Riot police detain a protester at Kowloon Bay in Hong Kong on Aug 24, 2019
Riot police detain a protester at Kowloon Bay in Hong Kong as a standoff descended into violence. (Photo: AFP/Lillian Suwanrumpha)

Brian, 21, said his impression of the police changed.

Brian 01 - HK Interactive
Brian, who wishes to remain anonymous, speaks to CNA during an interview in Hong Kong. (Photo: Jeremy Long)

“While you are watching the riot cops on TV, you are not really thinking about who the people are behind the mask, you just see them as riot cops. But when you think about it, they are people who have got families, whether they are just following ordinances or really politically aligned with the government,” said the chef, who has a family member who used to serve in the police.

“Seeing them do certain actions such as using live rounds or tear gas from high elevation, that was very alarming for me.”

READ: Commentary - Has the use of violence in Hong Kong’s protests backfired?

PROTESTER SHOT IN THE EYE BECOMES ICON OF MOVEMENT

On Aug 11, a woman was struck in the eye by a projectile, said to have been fired by the police. Protesters made an icon of the woman, who was later discharged from hospital.

The police said that there was no evidence linking their actions to her injury and have asked to access her medical reports. However, her lawyers have blocked the police bid.

Hong Kong protesters
Protesters wear eyepatches during a protest at the arrival hall of the Hong Kong International Airport. (Photo: AP/Vincent Thian)

“It was really bad in the sense that we finally felt how brutal (the police were) … The police force treated Hong Kong people like their enemies … What is the job of the police? To keep peace. Shooting people in the eye? That is far far far from acceptable,” said Mr Yeung.

READ: Open homes, free rides - The people helping Hong Kong's protesters

On the contrary, Mrs Ip said: “We cannot just take highly generalised accusations of police brutality at face value. If you have a complaint, the complaint must be substantiated by facts … She has not been able to produce any concrete evidence that the projectile was from the police.”

“In fact, the police obtained a warrant against the medical report and I heard the victim applied for a judicial review of the warrant. What is she worried about? Can’t she go public?”

AIRPORT BLOCKADE BRINGS INTERNATIONAL ATTENTION

In a bid for international attention, protesters swarmed the Hong Kong International Airport on Aug 12, affecting operations for more than 24 hours. More than 50,000 passengers were affected.

Anti-extradition bill protesters rally at the departure hall of Hong Kong airport in Hong Kong
Anti-extradition bill protesters rally at the departure hall of Hong Kong airport in Hong Kong, China August 12, 2019. (Photo: Reuters/Thomas Peter)

A passenger waits at the departure hall as anti-extradition bill protesters rally at of Hong Kong a
A passenger waits at the departure hall as anti-extradition bill protesters rally at of Hong Kong airport in Hong Kong, China August 12, 2019. (Photo: Reuters/Thomas Peter)

Some tied up and beat two men from mainland China. They suspected one of being a security officer, and the other turned out to be a Global Times reporter. A group of protesters later apologised for their actions.

suspected chinese spy hkia aug 13 hong kong protests
An injured man who was suspected by protestors of being a Chinese spy is taken away by paramedics on a stretcher at Hong Kong’s international airport, late on August 13, 2019. (Photo: AFP/Anthony Wallace)

“We needed to give economic pressure to the government and blocking the airport was one of the ways,” said Jack, who participated in the airport event.

“I think the whole airport incident, the blocking of the flights was definitely a big blow to certain public support of the protest … I was actually flying in that month. The day before I flew, there was an injunction order so thankfully it was fine. But I remember worrying about whether I would make my flight and that was quite a shocking incident,” said Brian, the chef.

Protesters block the entrance to the airport terminals after a scuffle with police
Protesters block the entrance to the airport terminals after a scuffle with police at Hong Kong's international airport late on Aug 13, 2019. (Photo: AFP/Manan Vatsyayana)

Mrs Ip described the protesters’ actions as “shocking and highly deplorable”.

“The method they had chosen to adopt, to put pressure on the government was totally disproportionate to their demands,” she said.

“Think of the damage to large numbers of people and the damage to Hong Kong’s reputation by shutting down the airport for two days. The harassment of travellers has really gravely damaged our reputation. Highly reprehensible, highly irresponsible.”

PRINCE EDWARD INCIDENT

Tensions spiked yet again on Aug 31, which marked the fifth anniversary of China’s 2014 proposal to limit direct elections in Hong Kong.

Protesters set fires to barricades and clashed with the police. Police blasted them with water cannons loaded with blue dye, to mark them for later arrest.

The police stormed trains at Prince Edward station in Kowloon, arresting more than 50 people after protesters rushed into the station. The authorities later denied that there was a fatality, despite widespread speculation.

Prince Edward station
Police stand guard at Prince Edward MTR Station, Hong Kong, as small groups of protesters play a cat-and-mouse chase around the city with riot police. (Photo: AP/Vincent Yu)

MTR arrests Hong Kong protests Aug 31, 2019
Police attempt to arrest protesters at Prince Edward MTR Station in Hong Kong on Aug 31, 2019. (Photo: Ring Yu/HK01 via AP)

“I did not go out that day but I watched a lot of videos and live news reports. There was live streaming from a few media but suddenly they were cut off because they were not allowed to enter the station,” recounted Cathy, 28, who works in marketing.

Cathy 02 - HK Interactive
A Hong Kong protester who goes by the name "Cathy". (Photo: Jeremy Long)

“That made me even more scared. Media is very important in monitoring and witnessing the whole incident but when there was no media, I was just too scared to imagine what would happen.”

READ: Medics delayed by Hong Kong police officer in Prince Edward MTR incident, says fire service

WITHDRAWAL OF BILL

On Sep 4, Mrs Lam announced that the government would officially withdraw the contentious Bill - the central demand of the protesters.

"Lingering violence is damaging the very foundations of our society, especially the rule of law," she said in a video statement released via her office. "The government will formally withdraw the Bill in order to fully allay public concerns."

Hong Kong Chief Executive Carrie Lam speaks during a news conference in Hong Kong
Hong Kong Chief Executive Carrie Lam speaks during a news conference in Hong Kong, China, October 8, 2019. (Photo: Reuters/Tyrone Siu)

The announcement did little to allay protesters’ anger, with many of them criticising the move for coming too late.

“I think Carrie Lam withdrew the Bill too late. She should have withdrawn the Bill after Jun 16, when 2 million people protested … Although Carrie Lam announced that she will withdraw the Bill, I still don’t believe what she said because she is a habitual liar,” said E, the university student.

Mr Yeung added: “For every political decision that can be regarded as a good decision, the substance matters, the timing also matters. If you do something that is in principle correct but too late, it is still a wrong decision”.

“She missed all these golden opportunities, and so the withdrawal in September, it was way too late and it was far from sufficient to satisfy people’s demands.”

Anti-government protesters build a Lennon Wall in Hong Kong
An anti-government protester uses an umbrella to stick a banner on a Lennon Wall at Admiralty district in Hong Kong, China September 28, 2019 (Photo: Reuters/Athit Perawongmetha)

On the other hand, Mrs Ip said: “The chief executive has said many times (before September) that the Bill is dead you know, she has stopped all legislative work … The withdrawal of the Bill has some effect. The number of peaceful, non-violent rational protesters has definitely dropped.”

With the Bill being withdrawn, the protesters are still insisting on amnesty for those arrested and retracting the classification of the protesters as rioters. They also want an independent inquiry into complaints of excessive force by the police and universal suffrage.

READ: Hong Kong leader warns US law will hurt business confidence, promises economic relief

ANGER TOWARDS MTR GROWS

At the beginning, protesters’ impressions of the MTR were generally positive, with special arrangements being made like opening the gates and allowing those protesting to ride for free so as to prevent stampedes.

MTR was subsequently criticised by the Chinese state media for aiding protesters’ escape. This, observers said, led to MTR shifting its position and increasing coordination with the police.

Fire at Central MTR in Hong Kong
A fire set by protesters burns at an entrance to the Central MTR subway station in Hong Kong on Sep 8, 2019.  (Photo: AFP/Vivek Prakash)

Protesters’ ire against the MTR began to grow. On Sep 8, protesters set barricades, smashed windows, started street fires and vandalised the MTR station in Central. There has since been multiple incidences of attacks on MTR stations, as well as calls to boycott the network.

“When the whole thing started, people did nothing to MTR … Some of the protesters even put down money at the ticket vending machines and Octopus top-up machines … We didn’t want MTR to be losing money because of the social movement. When we travelled to the protest destinations, the MTR staff, (including) some of the drivers will make announcements to encourage us,” recounted Cathy.

But she said things changed in Yuen Long when the mob entered the station and beat up the passengers. The schedule of the trains were changed, making it harder for protesters to travel, while in the Prince Edward incident, MTR allowed the police to enter and make arrests, she noted.

“After all these incidents, (we thought) you are not helping the protesters but you are a part of the government and trying to suppress the protesters,” Cathy said.

A man looks at the burnt and defaced entrance to the entrance to the Causeway Bay MTR
A man looks at the burnt and defaced entrance to the entrance to the Causeway Bay MTR underground train system after the weekend protests forced the rail network to shut down, in Hong Kong, Oct 7, 2019. (Photo: AFP/Nicolas Asfouri)

However, Mr So, the retired teacher said: “(As a peaceful and non-violent protestor), I think it is a bit too radical".

"At the end of the day, if you keep destroying the MTR facilities, it will create lots of inconvenience for the citizens. These actions are also disconnected from the original intention of the movement."

He added: "They are doing it for hatred rather than achieving justice. Therefore I do not support keeping up attacks on the MTR”.

NATIONAL DAY CELEBRATIONS OVERSHADOWED BY PROTESTS

A protester holds a Hong Kong flag
A protester holds a Hong Kong flag during a protest in Tsuen Wan district, Oct 1, 2019. (Photo: AFP/Philip Fong)

Hong Kong was a scene of chaos on Oct 1 as China marked the opening of celebrations for the 70th anniversary of Communist Party rule.

Running battles raged for hours across multiple locations as protesters hurled rocks and petrol bombs at officers and buildings. More than 200 people were arrested that day.

HK police detain protester
Police detain a protester on a road in the Wanchai area in Hong Kong, Oct 1, 2019. (Photo: AFP/Nicolas Asfouri)

In Tsuen Wan, police shot a protester for the first time with a live round. Authorities said the officer who fired his weapon at close range did so because he feared for his life. The protestor survived.

“It came as a shock to most Hong Kong people when the police officer used live rounds and shot the young man right in the chest … At most he was a protester, at most he could be committing some crime, but did he deserve a shot in the chest, which almost took his life? We have to ask: Was that (use of force) proportional (to the threat)?” said Mr Yeung.

Schoolmates of a student protester who was shot by a policeman on Tuesday sit beside paper cranes
Schoolmates of a student protester who was shot by a policeman on Tuesday sit beside paper cranes while participating in a student gathering at Tsuen Wan Public Ho Chuen Yiu Memorial College in solidarity with the student in Tsuen Wan, Hong Kong, China, October 2, 2019. (Photo: Reuters/Susana Vera)

Mrs Ip, however, said the whole sequence of events should be put into perspective.

“They were attacking a policeman, a policeman was outnumbered and being attacked rather savagely, and another policeman had to help him … (The police had) to defend themselves, protect other people’s lives and to protect their weapons.”

She added: “People should not single out teenagers being shot as some sort of evidence of police brutality. The escalation of violence on National Day, as far as we were concerned, we were anticipating it”.

ANTI-MASK LAW SPARKS FURTHER BACKLASH

In another attempt to quell the violence, Mrs Lam said on Oct 4 that protesters were banned from wearing face masks, under a law that allows authorities to "make any regulations whatsoever" in the public interest. It was the first time the Emergency Regulations Ordinance had been invoked in 52 years.

Massive protests again erupted, paralysing the transportation system as the entire MTR was shut on Oct 5.

READ: Hong Kong Cabinet member floats Internet censorship to contain unrest

Hong Kong protesters wearing masks
This combination image created on Oct 4, 2019 shows protesters wearing face masks during demonstrations in Hong Kong. (Photos: AFP/Mark Ralston, Anthony Wallace, Nicolas Asfouri, Mohd Rasfan)

John, a year-one university student, said the law affected his plans as a publicity volunteer for the movement.

He had planned to set up a station on the street to share the protesters' perspectives with the elderly, especially those who may not use the Internet.

"We knew that some people will take photos of us and post our information on the Internet, so wearing a mask to protect ourselves was important. After this law, we have cancelled our plans,” he said.

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Mr Cheung speaks to CNA during an interview in Hong Kong (Photo: Jeremy Long)

“I think that this law is very important, as anyone can wear a mask and rob a bank. (But) it won’t end (the protests), absolutely not. It would only add oil to fire. They (protesters) are trying to cover themselves with the masks, and what this law is going to do is uncover them,” said Mr Cheung, the engineer.

The anti-mask law was subsequently ruled unconstitutional by the High Court.

In October, protesters continued to up their ante. Police said a homemade bomb, similar to those used in terrorist attacks, was set off for the first time on Oct 13.

FIRST FATALITY: STUDENT DIES AFTER MULTI-STOREY CAR PARK INCIDENT

A university student who fell during protests died on Nov 8, marking the first student death.

Alex Chow Tsz-lok, 22, a computer science undergraduate of the Hong Kong University of Science and Technology, was found lying unconscious in a pool of blood inside a car park on Nov 4. Police had fired tear gas into the building after protesters hurled objects from it.

People pay tribute with flowers to Chow Tsz-lok, 22, a university student who fell during protests
People pay tribute with flowers to Chow Tsz-lok, 22, a university student who fell during protests at the weekend and died early on Friday morning, at the Hong Kong University of Science and Technology, in Hong Kong, China November 8, 2019. (Photo: Reuters/Tyrone Siu)

His death sparked candlelight vigils that quickly escalated to street fires and clashes between the police and protesters.

Reflecting on Mr Chow’s passing, Mr So, the retired teacher said: “The death of Alex Chow Tsz-Lok will only result in a greater shock to the movement”.

“Although the police have explained repeatedly that his death is not due to their actions, most citizens, especially the youngsters, will not accept this explanation. They will only recognise that Chow was a victim of police brutality.”

“I am pessimistic about where the whole movement is going. We are up against an unreasonable and shameless regime that will not respect people’s wishes. The reason there has been no crackdown is because Hong Kong still has value. This is why the People’s Liberation Army has yet to be deployed to the streets.”

hong kong protests
Mourners pay their respects next to flowers and a banner which reads "From all of us - God bless Chow Tsz-Lok" at the site where student Alex Chow, 22, fell during a recent protest in the Tseung Kwan O area on the Kowloon side of Hong Kong on November 8, 2019. (Photo: AFP/Anthony Wallace)

Mrs Ip described what happened as a “tragedy”.

“It will be subject to a coroner's inquest. It is inappropriate to jump to a conclusion or lay any blame pending the conclusion of an inquest,” she noted.

MAN SET ON FIRE AFTER ARGUMENT WITH PROTESTERS

Over the past six months, there have been instances of public disagreements between protesters and their critics, with some incidents spiraling into bloodshed.

Hong Kong man set on fire
These screengrabs from a video circulating on Telegram show a man being doused in clear liquid and then set on fire. 

A 57-year old man was set on fire following an argument with protesters on a footbridge in the northern district of Ma On Shan. He had multiple burn injuries and was admitted to a hospital in a critical condition.

Police are investigating the incident as attempted murder.

“The ruthless arson attack on the 57-year man was a heinous act of crime. The offender should be apprehended and brought to justice,” said Mrs Ip.

READ: Commentary - This may be the end of Hong Kong as we know it

Brian, the chef, added: “(It is) definitely a scary prospect that mere disagreement can lead to such devastation”.

“It does lead to a lot of precaution when attempting to discuss these things in public. I can't say I'm too worried for my personal safety as I've been lucky to not have been caught in the middle of any protests. But I know a lot of people who live in or near the hot zones and find themselves caught in the crossfire often. I worry for them.”

PROTESTERS STOCKPILE WEAPONS IN UNIVERSITY SIEGE

Universities became the latest battleground, as protesters turned several campuses into fortresses stockpiled with petrol bombs, bows and arrows as well as other homemade weapons. Police said on Nov 13 that the Chinese University of Hong Kong may have been used as a makeshift “weapons factory”.

READ: Catapults, flaming arrows: Hong Kong police face new weapons in street violence

FILE PHOTO: An anti-government protester holds a bow as he stands at a makeshift gate during a stan
An anti-government protester holds a bow as he stands at a makeshift gate during a standoff with riot police at the Chinese University of Hong Kong, Hong Kong, China November 14, 2019. (File photo: Reuters/Tyrone Siu)

A protester (L) carries molotov cocktails on a tray
A protester carries Molotov cocktails on a tray at the Chinese University of Hong Kong (CUHK), Nov 13, 2019. (Photo: AFP/Anthony Wallace)

On Nov 17, the police surrounded the Hong Kong Polytechnic University and barred protesters from leaving. More than 1,100 people were detained near the campus over the next two days, the largest roundup of protesters over a 24-hour period.

A protester is detained by riot police while attempting to leave the campus of Hong Kong Polytechni
A protester is detained by riot police while attempting to leave the campus of Hong Kong Polytechnic University during clashes with police in Hong Kong, on Nov 18, 2019. (Photo: Reuters/Thomas Peter)

“I think what the police did was unforgivable, they were making the citizens who were still inside frustrated. The Polytechnic University was worse than a prison … Hong Kong people will always remember what the police have done in the past few months,” E said.

Eventually, police entered the campus, looking for petrol bombs and other dangerous materials left behind. 

CAN HONG KONG SOCIETY COME TOGETHER AGAIN?

For now, a cloud is hanging over Hong Kong. Based on the landslide win by the democrats in the district council elections, support for the protesters appears to be more than just a fringe movement. However, there are little signs that Beijing is considering concessions.

HK elections
Anti-government protesters chant as they celebrate after pro-Beijing candidate Junius Ho lost a seat in the district council elections in Tuen Mun district of Hong Kong. (Photo: AFP/Philip Fong)

READ: Commentary - Hong Kong poll win will embolden protesters

When asked if he was optimistic about the city’s future: Mr Cheung, the engineer, replied with a “no”.

“The political environment is not going to become better anytime soon. This separation between for and against the government is just going to get bigger and bigger … People are just going to one direction, either way,” he said.

One major issue is whether the police action should be subject to further scrutiny.

Protesters clash with police outside Hong Kong Polytechnic University (PolyU) in Hong Kong
Police uses a water cannon against protesters during clashes outside Hong Kong Polytechnic University (PolyU) in Hong Kong, China, Nov 17, 2019. (Photo: Reuters/Thomas Peter)

“We can see that the hatred is so high today, people in both camps are actually being irrational … The biggest conflict is between the protesters and police and the hatred is too overwhelming that the police cannot enforce the laws," said Mr So, the retired teacher.

"If the government does not reform the police, I don’t think it is possible for Hong Kong to get back to what it used to be."

Meanwhile, legislators on both sides of the political divide are not giving up.

Letters reading ''Free HK'' are seen in Tamar Park during a prayer and remembra
Letters reading ''Free HK'' are seen in Tamar Park, outside the Legislative Council building, during a prayer and remembrance ceremony in Hong Kong on Nov 9, 2019. (Photo: Reuters/Shannon Stapleton)

“Politics could divide families, friends, marriages, lovers … But it is also politics that could unite people. It is entirely up to the leaders," said Mr Yeung.

"I am sure Hong Kong people are more than willing to leave all their differences aside and focus on what is most striking - it could be the economy, it could be the rebuilding of the system itself.”

He added: “At the end of the day, you can’t restore everything overnight, it takes a bit of time. But it is always up to the leaders to lead Hong Kong people to a better future”.

Protesters light up their smartphones as they form a human chain during a rally to call for politic
Protesters light up their smartphones as they form a human chain during a rally to call for political reforms in Hong Kong's Central district on Aug 23, 2019. (Photo: Reuters/Kai Pfaffenbach)

Mrs Ip also said that it will take a long time to arrive at a consensus.

“I think we will have to launch an honest and in-depth community-wide debate about all the issues that are bothering Hong Kong people, especially the young people, to set their minds at ease.”


Source: CNA/aw

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